How to Perform a Quiet Title Actionby Keith Olsen
There are circumstances that arise in real estate where someone purchases, inherits or is given a property and it is not known whether the title is "free and clear," meaning it is not know if others have a claim to full or partial ownership. To clear up any claims of ownership, liens or encumbrances against the property, the new owner must perform a lawsuit known as a "quiet title action." Although laws pertaining to quiet title actions may vary slightly from state to state, the process is similar.
Hire a title company to perform a title search immediately upon gaining an ownership claim to a property. The search will reveal any other ownership claims, liens or other encumbrances associated with the title. These are commonly called "clouds" on the title, although a lesser "cloud" may include a problem involving an instrument conveying the property and may not pose an actual claim to the land.
Understand that the plaintiff's claim to a property is based solely on the relative strength of his claim and is not based on the weakness of other claims. With your attorney's help, access the strength of your claim to the title versus other claims before proceeding with the relative expense of a quiet title complaint, which usually runs around $1,200.
Know your local laws concerning quiet title actions. Under common law, the plaintiff must have possession of the property to file a quiet title lawsuit. Hire an attorney if the title search uncovers clouds that could potentially threaten your claim to ownership. The attorney should immediately file a quiet title lawsuit in the appropriate court in the county in which the property is located. Most quiet title action will take 3 to 6 months to complete.
Once the quiet title action is filed, you become the plaintiff in the suit. The plaintiff must name all known claimants and anyone with a claim who is discovered by reasonable diligence and notify him by certified mail of the action. The plaintiff must also place a notice of the complaint on the property and post notice of the complaint in the local newspaper for the benefit of unknown claimants.
The time it takes for the court to make a decision on the plaintiff's complaint and subsequent responses by other claimants, if any, varies from state to state. For example, in Nevada it is 20 days, and in California it is 30 days after actual delivery of notice or from the last date of publication of notice. If no one answers the complaint, a default judgment is awarded to the plaintiff. If anyone answers the complaint, then the result can be a contested legal action with the outcome to be determined later in court.
- Always consult with an attorney if a title search reveals clouds on the title.
- A reasonable search for potential claimants means that you should attempt to contact any known company or individual by registered mail at their last known address.
- Know the law concerning quiet title in the jurisdiction in which the property is located and follow it to the letter.
- It is best to hire an attorney who specializes in quiet title lawsuits because this area of law can pose a variety of problems that an inexperienced person may not appropriately handle.
- Ask your title company for a referral if you are not acquainted with an attorney who is capable of performing a quiet title suit.