When transacting real estate, most investors, businesses and homeowners focus on the condition of the buildings and fixtures. When buying vacant land, concerns over land-use regulations, planning and zoning tend to be of focus. However, purchasers should be most concerned about title, ownership and deed issues. These issues can be much more difficult to remedy than repairing a roof or sealing a foundation. Issues with title, ownership and deeds directly impact the validity of your ownership over the property.
At Palumbo Law, we help real estate investors, businesses and households securely acquire real estate throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. We apply real-world experience to produce real results. As a real estate investor, senior attorney Richard Palumbo has bought, sold and managed hundreds of properties. Attorney Palumbo understands what individuals, investors and businesses are experiencing and what they need from a real estate law firm. Our attorneys advise clients of all sizes and backgrounds ranging from a family purchasing a residence to multi-national corporations selling commercial real estate. If there’s an issue, we’ve dealt with it before. If you have a real estate matter in Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Connecticut, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.
Titles vs Deeds
There is a common misconception that titles and deeds are the same things. Understanding the difference helps to understand the issues that arise. The title is ownership. A person who validly holds title to a property owns that property. Note that title is not a document – it is the concept of ownership rather than the person who holds a specific document. In contrast, a deed is a document that transfers title.
The Most Common Title, Ownership and Deed Issues
With decades of experience representing real estate investors, businesses and individuals in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, we have seen nearly every real estate issue imaginable for both buyers and sellers. Based on our experience, the most common title, ownership and deed issues are:
- Unknown encumbrances. Persons and other properties may have interests in your property or the property that you’re seeking to acquire. These may be in the form of liens, easements and covenants. For example, secured lenders, governments, and certain private individuals can place a lien against a property for unpaid debts such as mortgages, taxes or for completed work. Similarly, easements allowing others to use the property or restrictive covenants limiting certain use of the property most often carry on with the property when it is sold, and thus are inherited by the new owners.
- Errors in public records. Errors with the filing and recording of a deed can present ownership issues in the future. Here, an administrative error can show a different owner, a different date of transfer, or a different property description. Improperly recorded deeds are often referred to as “wild deeds” and can present significant ownership issues due to deviating chains of title.
- Boundary discrepancies. Surveys show the legal boundaries of a property. Occasionally, surveys may differ in the boundaries of the property and expose the property owner to challenges for ownership. Here, it is common to see two property owners claiming that the same piece of land is a portion of their property based on separate surveys with different boundaries.
- Missing heirs. Although less common, missing heirs can present a significant issue for property owners. When an individual dies and leaves his or her property to an undiscovered heir, the heir may be able to return to challenge ownership if the property has been subsequently sold or transferred. In such cases, these missing heirs may be deemed to have been the true owner at the time of the transfers and thus the transfers are rendered invalid as someone who doesn’t own the property cannot grant ownership to another.
- Fraud and forgery. Unfortunately, fraud and forgery in property transactions is more common than one would like to believe. Here, impersonation of an owner or falsification of documents can render the transfer of property invalid as the would-be seller or buyer is in fact not who they claim to be. Similarly, a forged deed is defective and can produce an ineffective transfer of title, which if left undiscovered, can taint the chain of title through multiple transactions.
Why These Issues Matter
The common title, deed and ownership issues identified above can have significant impacts that last for decades after the initial issue. In property, one must show a chain of title to be the legal owner. To show the chain of title, an individual must show that all transactions leading up to the current owner are valid.
Consider a property that is sold in 2002 by someone impersonating the actual owner – a fraudulent transaction. The purchaser, having unknowingly purchased the property from a fraudulent seller and unaware of the fraud, then sells the property several years later. Upon discovery of the fraudulent transaction, the actual owner (the person the fraudster impersonated) challenges the interest of the person currently holding title – resulting in a legal dispute for ownership. Although there are legal principles and laws that resolve issues such as this, disputed ownership can still present significant stress and financial strain for all parties involved, in addition to major uncertainty.
Real Estate Title and Deed Lawyer in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut
Ensuring that the chain of title is clear is one of the most important requirements when transacting in real estate. Through diligent review, the attorneys at Palumbo Law ensure that you’re protected from any unforeseen or undisclosed title, deed or ownership issues. If you are transacting real estate and are uncertain on whether the property has a clear title or if the deed is effective, or if you have a real estate matter in Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Connecticut that requires legal guidance, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.