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What Is a Quiet Title Action?

Curiale Hostnik PLLC April 27, 2022

When a piece of property (commercial or residential) goes up for sale, the process can come to a halt if a title search unearths conflicting owners, liens on the title, or other encumbrances. Until the title is “cured,” that is, disputes over ownership are resolved, liens paid off, or other issues settled, the buyer and any lender involved will not be able to complete the transaction.

If, for instance, there is a dispute of ownership for whatever reason, the title could be cured by one owner signing a quitclaim deed, but if matters of ownership get too complicated, then a legal process known as quiet title may be necessary.

Quiet title refers to a courtroom procedure in which a judge ultimately issues a ruling on who really owns the property. Though courtroom procedures can be costly in both money and time, sometimes a quiet title action is the only recourse, especially if one of the contesting owners cannot be located or refuses to cooperate.

If you’re a buyer or seller in Tacoma, Washington, who is facing difficulty in closing a transaction because of a clouded or disputed title, contact the real estate attorneys at Curiale Hostnik PLLC. We are experienced in all aspects of real estate law and can help you resolve your title issue.

We proudly serve clients not only in Tacoma, but also in cities throughout Pierce County, including Puyallup, Gig Harbor, University Place, and Lakewood.

Sources of Title Defects

A number of factors can cause defects in the title to a piece of property. One source can simply be errors made in creating the public record. These are referred to as technical errors.

Another source for clouding up a title is the transfer of ownership outside of a will. If grandpa dies and leaves his property to his grandchildren, who then simply divide it up among themselves without going through probate, there can be problems down the road in selling the property. After all, grandpa is no longer around, but he still holds the title to the property.

Title disputes can even develop after you’ve bought the property. A neighbor may have built a fence or other structure that crosses your boundary line and is claiming ownership of it through adverse possession. In that case, a quiet title lawsuit may be needed to correct the situation of who owns what.

Another problem area: If the owner of the property fails to pay his or her utility bills, the companies can place liens on the property for payment. If those liens aren’t resolved before sale, the process will grind to a halt.

Major causes of title defects include:

  • Unrecorded transfers of the property

  • Mechanic’s liens

  • Bankruptcies

  • Liens for child support

  • Liens for past-due spousal support

  • Delinquent taxes

  • Illegal deeds

  • Undiscovered encumbrances

  • Unknown easements

  • Boundary/survey disputes

  • Missing heirs

  • Forgeries

  • Undiscovered wills

  • False impersonation of a previous owner

The American Land Title Association (ALTA) reports that in recent years, disgruntled spouses have taken to forging the other spouse’s signature to take over sole title to the property or even to assign the title to someone else. This can cause the spouse who has been taken off the title great difficulty in trying to sell or refinance the property due to an ownership dispute title-wise.

The Quiet Title Process

If a cloudy title is due to liens and encumbrances that need to be satisfied – paid off, in other words – then a quiet title legal action may not be the route to go. Likewise, if there is disputed ownership, and one of the parties can be located and consents to signing a quitclaim to go off the title, then a quiet title action can be prevented.

However, if there is disputed ownership and an agreement cannot be reached, or one or more of the parties cannot be located, then a quiet title action might become necessary. Court action also might be necessary in boundary/ownership disputes with neighbors who may be claiming title due to adverse possession.

How an Experienced Attorney Can Help

A quiet title action is like any other lawsuit, and you have a burden to prove that you are the lawful owner and not the other party or parties. Obviously, you’re going to need to be represented by experienced legal counsel. You don’t want to go it alone in court in such a complex situation.

If you’re in an adverse possession dispute with a neighbor, or if your title has somehow been clouded by other claims of ownership, rely on the real estate attorneys at Curiale Hostnik PLLC. We will examine the facts and public records and advise you of your best legal and practical options to clear up your title.

Curiale Hostnik PLLC proudly serves clients in and around Tacoma and throughout Pierce County, including Puyallup, Gig Harbor, University Place, and Lakewood, Washington.