In real estate terms, title is the right of ownership and possession of a particular property, so to quiet title means to take legal action to settle a title dispute. A title dispute can arise when there are conflicting claims of ownership over a piece of property. Therefore, in a quiet title action, a court proceeding removes a "cloud" or possible encumbrance on the title to real property to firmly establish in law ownership of the property. Thus, this action would "quiet" any challenges or claims to the title.
Traditionally, quiet title causes of action were between co-borrowers, co-owners or family members who disputed each other’s’ contributions and interests. In a non-judicial foreclosure states such as California, a quiet title actions can be brought to challenge lenders and trustees who appear on a borrower’s deed of trust, but no longer have any interest or no longer exist.
When Does a "Cloud on Title" Occur?
A quiet title action usually occurs when there is a cloud on title, most likely from:
- Recording problem (such as an old lease that was never recorded or failure to clear title after payment of a mortgage)
- Error in the description of the property which may cast doubt on the amount of property owned
- An easement existed for years but was never properly recorded
What Is the Purpose of a Quiet Title Action?
The purpose of a quiet title action is to establish title of the property and determine who actually has legal interest in the property. A quiet title action may also resolve other existing issues between the parties and the property and the court has the discretion to hear other motions of any party and require that the issue be resolved.
How Do You Go about Taking Action to Quiet Title?
To initiate an action to quiet title, the property owner must do all of the following in their local Court:
- Identify the full description of the property to be "quieted"
- File a complaint with the court followed by a Notice of Pendency Action that is recorded by county clerk
- Describe on complaint how the plaintiff’s title was obtained and facts supporting the claim of title
- Any adverse claims to the title that the plaintiff is claiming
- Name anyone who might have an interest in the described property as a defendant to the lawsuit, and include supporting facts why they have a claim
- Give notice to all potentially interested parties
If the court finds that the party seeking to quiet title actually owns the title, the court will grant a quiet title judgment, which provides that the party has legal and good title. A quiet title judgment may and should then be recorded in the county recorder's office. A quiet title action must be brought in the superior court in which the real property is located and once the action is brought to court, the court has the complete power to determine who has legal interest in the property.
How Long Does a Quiet Title Action Take?
A quiet title action usually takes 8-10 weeks to complete. The process may take longer or may be shorter depending on certain factors surrounding the dispute such as the Court rulings on certain matters.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
Because conflicts in property ownership may lead to possible litigation, it is wise to consult a property attorney. An experienced attorney can examine your title, title search results and title insurance policy, to ensure that you are protected against possible clouds on title.