What is a Quiet Title Action?
A Quiet Title Action is a legal proceeding to clarify ownership of real property. When we talk about “title” to property, we are usually referring to a person’s right to ownership of that property or the documents establishing that right. “Quieting title” means resolving a dispute related to or a defect in that title. An “action” is just another word for a lawsuit. So, a Quiet Title Action is a lawsuit intended to resolve questions about the ownership of a particular property.
What is the Purpose of a Quiet Title Action?
A Quiet Title Action provides a way to resolve a dispute over property ownership or to correct a defect in the records establishing ownership. These problems occur surprisingly often. One of the most common examples we see in our practices is a boundary dispute.
Boundary disputes in Washington typically result from the discovery of longtime encroachments, such as fences or buildings, across the original property line or into an easement. This “discovery” might occur when a new owner next door has a survey conducted and then begins to tear down the existing fence to build a new one along the original property line, which is closer to your house than the old fence line – much to your surprise given your longtime belief that the existing fence was on the boundary line.
And you may be able to keep that property up to the old fence, in this example, if you and the previous owners of your property, together, acquired the property through adverse possession. In Washington, for a party to obtain property through adverse possession, a claimant must show that he or she has possessed the disputed property for at least 10 years in a manner that is (1) open and notorious, (2) actual and uninterrupted, (3) exclusive, and (4) hostile. If the elements of adverse possession are met, title to the disputed portion vests in the claimant automatically, but, without legal action, there is no public record of the transfer of ownership. The discrepancy between the public records and the actual possession of the property often leads to a conflict between adjoining property owners and can create problems when either party attempts to sell, develop, or refinance the properties. A Quite Title Action is the mechanism for resolving this conflict and avoiding title-related problems down the road.
By bringing a Quiet Title Action, the plaintiff asks a judge to evaluate the facts and issue an order correcting the record of title to reflect the true ownership of the disputed property – by either granting title to the adverse possessor or rejecting the adverse possessor’s claim and restoring clear title to the original owner. Often, the issue of possession is contested, in which case the parties will likely resolve the dispute through adversarial litigation. In other situations, however, both sides acknowledge the adverse possessor as the true owner of the property despite learning that the surveyed boundary line is not located where they had previously thought. When the parties agree as to the true boundary, a “friendly” Quiet Title Action is often the best mechanism for correcting the record. In a friendly Quiet Title Action, both parties acknowledge that the surveyed boundary line is incorrect, recognize the need to correct the record of title, and agree to submit a stipulated order changing the property line. Some may question the need for a friendly Quiet Title Action when the same result can often be accomplished through the county’s Boundary Line Adjustment (“BLA”) procedure. In our experience, however, friendly Quiet Title Action is a far better solution because it is usually less time-consuming, less expensive, and subject to less county or city oversight than a BLA.
How Long Does a Quiet Title Action Take?
How long a Quiet Title Action takes depends on the facts of the individual case. The most significant factor affecting the time required is whether the Quiet Title Action is contested or friendly. If the Quiet Title Action is friendly, title will likely be resolved in a matter of weeks or months. On the other hand, if the suit is contested – meaning there is a defendant actively opposing the action – the timing will be akin to other lawsuits in your jurisdiction and could take several months or even over a year to resolve.
How LvBC Can Help You be Successful in a Quiet Title Action?
The real estate lawyers at Levy | von Beck | Comstock are experienced in handling boundary disputes and other issues related to defects in title. Our attorneys can help you identify the best evidence, evaluate the facts of your case, and advise you as to the best avenue for resolving a present dispute or avoiding complications in the future. If you are considering a Quiet Title Action – whether friendly or contested – we can help. Give us a call to discuss how we might help you understand and succeed on your claims.