Sunday, September 15, 2013

Clear Title

Reading through the classifieds this week I noticed a number of Petitions for Quiet Title in the legal ads. Just so you know what this is, if you recently bought a house—let’s say a foreclosure acquired from a lender or municipality, the chances are you bought the property “as is” without any title insurance, and if you paid cash, there may be no title insurance. Or, you may have bought a short sale and received a “quit claim deed”—which essentially says, “The seller transfers all the rights he has in the property to you”, (but he may not have 100% of the ownership rights, which is always a concern). Or you may have owned a home for some years, without knowing who owned the vacant land next door, and even a bona fide search does not show a live owner. You may even have used the land as though it was your own…land like this might have been planned to be a road but was never built, and the tax cards show it is owned by a bankrupt corporation, maybe a developer. A “quiet title” is a title to real property that does not have any disputes over ownership of the property. It is said that when a deed is filed and recorded and the deed is clear of any encumbrances or claims of ownership, then you are engaging in the act to quiet title. But what if there are other claims—or what if there could be other claims? A petition for quiet title is a lawsuit that you as the probable property owner would bring to quietly settle real or potential land disputes. It is used to determine in court who has rights to the disputed land. A quiet title petition can be filed in Florida by first establishing occupation of the land and then filing a quiet title petition with the local court with proof of who owns the land. This proof can be mortgage documents and title documents. There are many ways for a title to become clouded. The seller's ex-spouse could still have some legal claim to it. An ambiguous will could make it unclear if the seller really inherited the property. Or you might want to remove a lien that's been paid off, but not listed, or make sure that the title you bought at that foreclosure sale is completely free of clouds. By filing to resolve these questions, you can get it on the record that the property is 100 percent yours. You must make a good faith attempt to warn anyone with a claim on the property that you plan to assert your ownership. The first step is to search county land-title and tax records, probate records and any other appropriate information sources. If you turn up any names that might have a claim on the property, you must contact them by mail, if possible, as well as posting a notice in the paper of record. You can't win a quiet title action just by invalidating someone else's claim, the ”Quiet Title Action” website states: To win your case, you have to prove the strength of your own claim to the property. If you can show the judge evidence that the title is yours and nobody responded after your title search, the decision should be simple. If one of the other owners challenges you, determining title may involve weighing the respective claims. If the judge confirms your title, you can record the court’s decree and that gives you a legally valid title. This is something you'll need if you want to sell the property or use it as collateral for an equity loan. There are law firms that will handle this effort for you, although you can bring the petition on your own. But as Abraham Lincoln said, “a man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte Counties. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or by email at See him on the net at

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