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How Quiet Title Actions Evaluate The True Ownership Of A Property

Kevin Graham4-minute read

June 22, 2021

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Real estate is valuable. Because of this, challenges to ownership can cause nasty fights. An action to quiet title is intended as a mechanism for the courts to clear up property disputes when there are multiple claims for the control and occupation of land.

What Is Quiet Title?

A quiet title is one that has had all claims against it decided so the rightful owner in the eyes of the law has been decided. If there are multiple claims to property that haven’t been legally dealt with, it’s said to have a clouded title. The term quiet title only tends to apply after a dispute over who has a right to control the property. Real estate or other titled items where there is no argument as to ownership are said to have a clear title.

We’ve talked about a couple of different terms surrounding title, but we should probably touch briefly on what title is: Simply, a title is a legal document spelling out what exactly you own and granting you your rights to use the property.

A legal proceeding meant to settle title disputes is referred to as a quiet title action or an action to quiet title. You may also see the phrase “suit to quiet title” used.

How Quiet Title Actions Work

If someone wants to have a quiet title, claiming a superior right of ownership over everyone else who has a claim to the property, they file a quiet title action or a suit to quiet title in a court of law.

The plaintiff in the suit is the person(s) or entity bringing the suit and claiming their ownership interest trumps all others. The defendants in the suit would be anyone else who potentially as a claim to the property.

After all sides have had their arguments heard, a judge will decide whether to grant the plaintiff a quiet title. If the plaintiff prevails, that quashes all future claims against ownership from the other parties. If the plaintiff loses, the property rights can go to the defendants.

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Reasons For A Suit To Quiet Title

A suit to quiet title may be filed for any number of reasons when there is a dispute as to ownership. These are some of the most common reasons:

  • A break in the chain of title: The chain of title represents the ownership history of a property. It tells you that ownership of the house went from Jessie to Becca to Chloe to Patricia. However, if there’s a period of time where no one is sure who owned the property, a quiet title suit could be filed by the new owner to make sure that any existing claims to the property are litigated. If the defendants don’t respond within a certain period of time, a quiet title is awarded.
  • Adverse possession: Commonly referred to as “squatters’ rights,” adverse possession involves someone openly taking up residence in a property for their use that they don’t have legal right to. If they reside there long enough, they can establish a legal right to the property. There are several elements that have to exist for a claim of adverse possession to be successful, but one way to challenge it is to file a quiet title action.
  • Property boundary disputes: Not every dispute is over a title or deed. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as solving property line disputes between claimants.
  • Easements: Easements allow access to your property for specific purposes. For example, you might have a shared driveway. Whether the easement is written down or it’s something that’s been done for years by custom, easements can help resolve property disputes.
  • Removal of the other lienholders: Let’s say you have a contract to do some work for you and they won’t remove a mechanic’s lien placed on your property. You could force a quiet title proceeding so that you can get the lien removed.
  • Quitclaim deeds: A quitclaim deed allows for someone to transfer the ownership of their property to you simply by renouncing their claim to the property. However, the shortcoming of this is that just because the person selling to you gives up their claim to the property doesn’t mean that no one else has a claim to the property. If you can’t get a guarantee of a clear title, you might initiate a quiet title proceeding. If no one comes forward or you otherwise prevail, you’ve cemented your ownership. It’s worth noting that this is a big risk, so you should consider an owner’s title insurance.
  • Estate sale: If you purchase a property as part of an estate sale, there’s always the possibility that family members who have a claim to the property might come out of the woodwork if they weren’t notified of the sale.

How To File A Quiet Title Action

You’ll file a quiet title action with the help of a real estate attorney. One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to have standing to bring a suit as the plaintiff. This is usually established by having an ownership claim to the property. The required paperwork and procedure will vary from state to state as well.

The Average Cost Of A Quiet Title Action Lawsuit

One of the important things to realize about a quiet title action lawsuit is that it involves establishing an ownership history of the property in order to help determine who the proper owner of the property is now. Based on online estimates, a common range seems to be $1,500 – $5,000. However, the price tag can be much higher if ownership of the property is contested in court.

The Shortcomings Of Actions To Quiet Title

Actions to quiet title do have their drawbacks. In addition to the potentially high legal expense, some states don’t let every dispute that could affect the title be rectified through a quiet title proceeding. Before moving forward with this, make sure you can actually accomplish what you set out to do with an action to quiet title in your jurisdiction.

The Bottom Line: Quiet Disputes Against Your Property

Quiet title actions are a way to protect your property against claims by others. One thing to make absolutely sure of is that your claim is rock solid. If the defendants make a compelling case, a judge can rule in their favor. You want to work with a real estate attorney. Common shortcomings are that’s not everything can be resolved through a quiet title proceeding. Additionally, it can be quite expensive.

If this sounds like the right avenue for your property dispute, speak with a real estate attorney. You can also learn more about mortgage basics on our Learning Center.

The Bottom Line: Quiet Disputes Against Your Property

Quiet title actions are a way to protect your property against claims by others. One thing to make absolutely sure of is that your claim is rock solid. If the defendants make a compelling case, a judge can rule in their favor. You want to work with a real estate attorney. Common shortcomings are that’s not everything can be resolved through a quiet title proceeding. Additionally, it can be quite expensive.

If this sounds like the right avenue for your property dispute, speak with a real estate attorney. You can also learn more about mortgage basics on our Learning Center.

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Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Quicken Loans. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Quicken Loans, he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.