Sometimes clouds and defects in the title are easy to clear with a few phone calls. In more extreme cases, however, an attorney may need to file a quiet title action to close the sale.
A quiet title action is a lawsuit that asks a circuit court judge to declare the title clean. The title work as it stands is presented to the judge, and the judge declares that any competing claimants to the title have 20 days to come forward and prosecute their claim, or else give up their claim forever.
- If known potential claimants exist — those claimants must be served notice of the quiet title action. The clock starts on their twenty-day window to respond as soon as service of process is confirmed.
- If no known potential claimants exist — i.e. there could be competing claims, but no one can verify from whom, process cannot be served directly. However, the process can be counted as served if a notice of the lawsuit runs in a publicly-circulated local newspaper every day for four consecutive weeks.
If any claimants come forward during the set period of time, the judge will rule on the validity of those claims.
If no competing claimants come forward, or if the judge finds their claims lacking, the judge will rule that any competing claims on the title are invalid (aka “quieted”) and declares the title clean. The sale or transfer can then proceed just as if there never had been a problem in the title work.
A quiet title action can be used to correct a number of clouds or defects in a chain of title, including but not limited to:
- Missing heirs – a previous owner tried to bequeath the property, but the heir was never found.
- Fraudulent conveyance – someone sold or transferred the property without actually being the owner.
- Tax Deeds – a county property tax lien that was filed but never foreclosed upon.
- Foreclosures – a foreclosure proceeding that was filed but never executed.
- Adverse possession – occupation of the property by someone who is not the owner and refuses to leave.
- Prescriptive easements – the right of someone else who is not the owner to enter the property.
- Alternative to probate – allow the house to convey to heirs quickly without sitting in probate for years.
- Boundary disputes – disagreements about where the property begins and ends.
- Surveying errors – mismatched surveys that leave it unclear about which dirt belongs to which parcel.
It depends on how complicated the cloud is and whether or not the potential competing claimants can be identified.
If you know exactly who might try to claim the property and can find them to serve them notice, a quiet title action can take less than 60 days.
But if no potential claimants are known, you have to endure that four consecutive weeks of public notice in a local newspaper. This can stretch the proceeding to as long as 90 days.
If the judge approves the quiet title action, the title is ruled to be clear with all clouds and defects invalidated or “quieted.” The only encumbrances that might remain on a title after the judge has ruled on the quiet title action are bank mortgages and property tax liens.
If title cannot be verified as clear, that doesn’t mean the sale is off. It might take a little longer, but a quiet title action is an effective way to use the judicial system to push the deal through.