The legal ownership of a property, often called title, can become clouded with doubt in many ways. An event many decades ago and many title changes ago can cause uncertainty today, or the event might happen this morning.
Unclear or disputed titles can come from surveying errors, heirs not notified when an owner died, lenders not releasing property after the borrower paid the mortgage paid off, someone claiming “squatters’ rights” (adverse possession) or from many other causes.
Selling property with the chance of unruly title claims is a problem. Insurance companies will not insure the title and buyers will not bite. To assure everyone involved that loud legal arguments are over and will not rise again, the title may need to be “quieted.”
Quieting title in the courtroom
The law takes property ownership seriously and treats the quiet title process like a real lawsuit with plaintiffs and defendants. The plaintiff files, asking the court to settle one or more questions about the title. The defendants are any people who believe they have claims on the property.
When an argument that is raging today inspires a lawsuit, it is usually obvious who the plaintiff is and who the defendant is. But in some quiet-title cases, the history of the property’s title is long, tangled and uncertain. The plaintiff asks the judge to clear the title so they can get insurance coverage.
Quite title proceedings can be risky
Nobody knows for sure if, for example, long-forgotten heirs think they have a claim to the property. To try to have a fair process, it includes posting public notice before the hearing. Those notifications sometimes drum up serious challenges that might be expensive or even successful.
For this reason, plaintiffs can take quiet title procedures seriously. There are other ways to clear up specific issues with a title property, and often those more targeted approaches are safer and wiser. It will depend on the property and the condition of its title.