What Is a Quiet Title Action?
Despite a dip in prices and total sales, the California real estate market remains strong with 19,908 sales in November 2022 with an average price of $763,300, according to the research website Redfin. When someone sets out to purchase a property in California, many considerations have to be made, including the down payment required, the current mortgage interest rate, the condition of the property, and of course, individual preferences on location and architectural style. In addition, mortgage lenders require what is known as a title search.
A title search is designed to determine if there are any liens or encumbrances on the property that cloud the title. Perhaps a former creditor or remodeling company filed a lien for unpaid bills. Those bills would have to be paid before the transaction can go through and title transferred to the new owner.
But what if the title search fails to uncover something that is not so readily evident as a recorded lien? What if sometime in the past, a former property owner passed away and his heirs took possession without bothering with probate proceedings? As a result, the deceased former owner and/or their heirs may still have a claim to ownership. You close the deal, and suddenly find someone knocking on your door with a claim to title. What do you do? For situations like these, you can file a civil action known as quiet title. “Quiet” means to get rid of any clouds on your legal claim to ownership on the title filed in your name. Other instances such as boundary disputes or even errors on the title can require a quiet title action.
If you are about to purchase property or already have in or around Santa Ana, California, and you suspect errors or impediments exist on the title to the property, contact me at the Martinez Law Office, Inc. With more than four decades’ experience as a real estate attorney, I can help you resolve any title disputes or encumbrances so your title will be free and clear. I also proudly serve clients throughout Southern California including Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego Counties.
What Is a Quiet Title Action?
A quiet title action is covered by the California Code of Civil Procedure, which states that: “An action may be brought under this chapter to establish title against adverse claims to real or personal property or any interest therein.”
A quiet title action is a civil proceeding—but without a jury—that seeks to quiet any adverse claims to your property. A quiet title action must be brought in the superior court of the county in which the property is located, and once the court receives the action, it has sole power to determine title issues.
Reasons for a Quiet Title Action
A quiet action can have several causes, all relating to ownership of the property in question. A title search may not always discover issues that can arise later on. The most common causes of quiet claim actions are:
Errors in Public Records: Names may be misspelled or even wrong, there may be an inaccurate property description, or there could be improperly filed papers.
Easement Issues: An easement is the right of someone else to use your property for their purpose. If easements are not discovered or known at the time of purchase, disputes can arise later.
Boundary Issues: Similar to easement issues, disputes can arise over boundaries. One neighbor, for instance, may have built a fence that encroaches on a neighbor’s property.
Forgeries: Forged documents may have been filed regarding your property, jeopardizing your title.
Unknown Heirs: Like our example earlier, title to the property may have passed to heirs without proper ownership transfer (probate proceedings).
Unknown Liens or Encumbrances: Perhaps a lien filed by a creditor is not found during the title search for some reason. That can become a title issue after transfer of ownership.
Illegal Deed: Perhaps a minor or someone incapacitated signed the deed. This has to be straightened out to obtain a clear title to ownership.
The Quiet Title Process
Once the action is filed in superior court, a notice of pending action must be provided to all parties to the action. After that, the plaintiff—the one filing the quiet title action—has the burden of providing “clear and convincing proof” as to their ownership rights. This is a higher standard that most civil actions, where only a “preponderance of evidence” is needed.
The court’s judgment is binding on all parties involved except in cases of “a person who was not a party to the action if their claim was of record or if the claim was actually known, or should reasonably have been known, to the plaintiff” (California Code of Civil Procedure). Thus, it is imperative that every party involved in claims to the title be included in the action.
Not all resolutions require a quiet title action. Some issues can be resolved as simply as getting someone to sign a quitclaim deed; other issues are more complex and can require further legal approaches, including the potential for a quiet title court contest.
Guiding You to Resolve Your Title Issues
The requirements for filing a quiet title action in California are complex. Therefore, the services of an experienced real estate attorney are vital in any quiet title action. If you have a title dispute before or after purchasing a property in Southern California, contact me immediately at the Martinez Law Office, Inc. I will research the situation, advise you of your legal options, and help you clear the title to your property.
I have the knowledge, experience, and resources to help you resolve your real estate issues and move forward. Reach out to me today.