Ownership of real property can be a hassle-free experience, but sometimes it can also be a complicated mess. Real property law is full of arcane laws and rules that can be difficult to understand and work with. As a result, despite everyone’s best intentions, property owners frequently run into issues where a “cloud” is found to be on the title to real property, making it difficult to sell or mortgage. Luckily, Florida has a statutory remedy to resolve such issues, and to “quiet” the title to real property.
A quiet title action is a lawsuit that is filed in the circuit court which seeks to remove all clouds on title. What is a “cloud” on title? Liens, claims of prior owners (or their heirs), leasehold interests, wild deeds in the chain of title, and many other issues. The person who files the action is usually the person who believes that they have a valid and superior claim to the property, and is looking to validate that claim to the exclusion of any junior claims. The “respondents” in a quiet title action are those persons or entities who have some inferior claim to the property.
Once all of the correct parties are brought before the court, they are able to argue their claims to the court, and allow a judge to decide which claim is superior, and whether the title to the property should be confirmed in the name of the party who brought the suit. If the judge enters an order in favor of the party seeking to quiet title, the rights of the respondents are permanently extinguished, and the party who brought the suit has clear, marketable and insurable title – that means that the property can be conveyed by them, and it means that they will be able to have a title insurance policy issued to insure that transaction.
Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, quiet title actions are often more difficult and messy. A primary requirement for the action is to ensure that all interested parties are properly served with the complaint. That is easy enough when two neighbors have a boundary line dispute – you know who the neighbor is, and where you can serve them with papers for a lawsuit.
However, sometimes it isn’t quite so easy to find everyone who needs to be named as a defendant. For instance, assume that you discover a mistake in a deed from a person who sold you your property 20 years ago. If that person is still alive, you may be able to correct that problem with a new deed from that seller. On the other hand, if that person has died, their interest may have passed to their heirs. Now you are stuck finding all of them (and what if some of them have died?), and getting proper service on each of them. And that’s a hurdle that needs to be overcome before the merits of the lawsuit are even considered by a judge! So, while the law does provide a mechanism for cleaning up title issues, it is not always a straight-forward process.
A note: a quiet title action is not a mechanism that allows for the extinguishment of superior liens. Don’t like your mortgage? A quiet title suit is not the answer. Likewise, a quiet title suit is useless if all of the parties who may have an inferior claim to the property are not joined. For that reason, it is imperative that owners have a title search run on the property to properly identify all interests that will need to be cleared from title. The assistance of an attorney who specializes in real estate litigation will likely be required to walk you through both the substantive and the procedural issues that you will face in a quiet title action. Should you have questions, please contact your local real estate attorney.
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC
Article Authored by Daniel Guarnieri, Esq. email@example.com
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