When buying real estate, purchasers want to ensure that they have clear title to the property. Clear title means that there are no liens or levies against the title and no challenges to their rightful ownership, and is required to close a real estate transaction. Disputes over property ownership are common, resulting in the need for quiet title action. The experienced attorneys at Palumbo Law represent clients in these complex legal proceedings throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Here is what you need to know about quiet title actions.
The Basics of Quiet Title Actions
A quiet title action establishes who actually owns the subject property. The purpose of these cases is to remove all claims, objections, and doubts as to the rightful legal ownership of a given property. A plaintiff may wish to pursue a quiet title action for a host of reasons, including:
- Boundary disputes
- Easement challenges
- Adverse possession
- Gaps in the chain of title
- Estate sales
These problems, known as clouds on title, may be spotted upon title searches conducted before closing. A cloud on title is often created by an invalid instrument, recording, or proceeding, the invalidity of which is not apparent on its face but rather requires extrinsic evidence to be proven. Likewise, if some form of illegality (such as forgery) renders an instrument invalid, that instrument constitutes a cloud on title. Common clouds on title are:
- Tax and assessment proceedings
- Restrictive covenants
- Survey errors
- Clerical mistakes
- Fraudulent conveyances
Litigation for Quiet Title Actions
In a quiet title lawsuit, the plaintiff asks the court to declare that he or she has a clear title to the property and compels any adverse claimant to prove competing ownership claim or forever be precluded from asserting it. The court is then tasked with deciding which of the parties has clearer title.
A successful plaintiff will then have full ownership and possession rights over the property in perpetuity (forever), such that the plaintiff’s heirs will also be fully protected from any future ownership challenges or claims of title to the property. In some cases, a court may award damages for a cloud on title to compensate for the loss or prejudice suffered.
In order to maintain a quiet title action, the plaintiff must own or have legal title to, or have an interest in, the subject property. Some jurisdictions also require the plaintiff to be in possession, or peaceable possession, of the property when the quiet title action is commenced. The mere belief that an adverse claim will be asserted against the plaintiff’s legal title to the property is not sufficient. This means that a plaintiff will have to wait until his or her rights have been actually interfered with before filing a quiet title suit.
Common-law quiet title actions are distinguishable from ejection actions, which require proof that the plaintiff is illegally being kept from possession. By suing to remove a cloud on title, the plaintiff is not demanding possession of the property but is merely asserting that the defendant has no right, title, or interest adverse to the plaintiff’s interest.
Quiet title actions often arise due to boundary disputes, so if each neighboring owner agrees to the title of the other but disagrees as to the physical location of the boundary, there is no genuine title controversy. Such disputes are generally litigated via ejection action rather than quiet title actions.
The party being sued in a quiet title action can fight the claims by furnishing a deed and other documentary evidence providing that he or she has superior title. A defendant may also raise equitable and legal defenses. For example, a claim to quiet title may be barred by the doctrine of laches, which arises from the claimant’s procrastination in the assertion of his or her rights. If the claimant has sat on his or her rights for an unreasonable period of time and the delay results in prejudice, the defendant may argue laches.
The defense of estoppel may also be invoked. Equitable estoppel arises when a property owner stands by without objection while an opposing party asserts an ownership interest in the property and incurs expense in reliance on that belief. The property owner’s failure to object results in estoppel only when the silence is such that it would convey a message to a reasonable person that the neglectful party would not in the future pursue his or her legal rights.
Choose Palumbo Law
Quiet title actions are designed to settle property disagreements and give peace of mind to rightful owners. Hiring a skilled and knowledgeable real estate litigation attorney is critical for both pursuing and defending such claims. The Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut quiet title action lawyers at Palumbo Law are experienced and well-versed in all aspects of these complicated legal proceedings. Contact us today to discuss your foreclosure case.