Although there has been a steady growth and recovery of the real estate market in Florida from the foreclosure surge and fraud that has been prevalent in the market since 2010, homebuyers still need to be very thorough when handling title issues.
This is because title assessment and clearing is a very delicate process in real estate and if not handled properly, could cause future complications and losses for both the home buyer and the current homeowner.
A quiet title action is simply defined as a lawsuit filed in a Florida court that presides over property disputes to establish a party’s claim, usually the homeowner’s, especially in the face of a dispute. It is a civil action performed to clear the property’s title, remove any lingering clouds on the title, and settle conflicts over the property.
A quiet title action can also clear the title to an abandoned property or property that has been unoccupied for a while thus, allowing for external parties to make offers for the purchase of such property. Florida’s legal system is committed to protecting the chain of title to real estate and thus, allows quiet title actions as a means to clear title defects.
A quiet title lawsuit results in a judgment which is then signed by a Florida judge and filed in the real estate records to establish that a judge has revoked all adverse legal interests to a particular property. The chain of title is cleared of the debt or lien in the real estate records. Hence, the disputed title is considered ‘quieted’.
A quiet title action typically costs between $1,500 to $4,000 in Florida depending on the region and other possible factors. The costs are broken down into:
- Court case filing fee, which ranges between $300 and $450, depending on the county in which the case is filed
- Title search fee, which usually costs between $125 and $250
- Publication fees, which typically range between $150 and $400
A quiet title action is generally considered to be successful if it completely removes all encumbrances such as debts, liens, and judgments from the title of a property. While all these are true, a quiet title action has to meet the following criteria to be considered truly successful:
- A quiet title case has to be filed and ruled on by the court. Prior to this, a detailed and thorough research has to be carried out to bring to light any potential claim that could be brought against the property
- All superior liens such as government tax or mortgage lien on the property have to be satisfied with proof
- A written judgment has to be approved by the court and recorded in the public records of the state or region where the property is situated
- A title insurance underwriter must verify that all potential claims to the property have been properly accounted for in the lawsuit and that said potential claims have been withdrawn or satisfied.
The duration of a quiet title action normally takes between 2 to 3 months to be finalized. In extreme cases, however, it can take up to 6 months. This is because the duration is influenced by several factors and variables peculiar to the case. Things as little as the locations of the claimants or how actively the various parties are disputing ownership can affect the duration of quiet title action.
The process of filing for a quiet title action usually differs between states, however, there is a general pattern followed in Florida:
- The owner procures a copy of the deed, which will show if there are any liens against the property. It can be gotten from the county assessor office
- A thorough records check is carried out to ascertain the exact details and description of the said property, to understand why there is a dispute
- The owner then files a complaint for a quiet title action, in the appropriate court that presides over the property dispute. Ensure that the complaint correctly describes the owner’s claim to the property, as well as the dispute for which the quiet title action is required
- The name of all parties involved in disputing the title is compiled and documented
- The complaint then notifies and is given to all parties involved in the quiet title action.
- Finally, a court order is obtained from the jury.
A cloud on a real property title simply means an external claim or encumbrance on the said property title that does not allow the property owner free access and use of the property such as leasing or sale of the property. A cloud may also contest the owner’s legal possession of the property as well as deny the owner title insurance.
Therefore, potential buyers need to carry out proper and in-depth research on the property including a title search before going ahead with the purchase. Some of the popular clouds encountered in real estate include:
- Forgery or fraud
- Boundary disputes
- Unknown heirs
- Errors in filing or clerical documentation
- Liens i.e mortgage, mechanic, federal tax e.t.c
- Errors in will documentation
- Unreleased deeds of trust
- Incorrect marital status representation
- Encroachment or easements.
The process of adverse possession varies with state law. In Florida, the criteria a claimant needs to meet to adversely possess a property include:
- The individual who claims adverse possession must possess the land openly, notoriously, and in an obvious manner
- The individual’s claim must conflict with the owner’s right to the property
- The individual must have substantial proof on which to establish the claim of title such as bills or property taxes paid on the land claimed to be adversely possessed
- The individual must possess the land continuously and exclusively for at least seven years(statutory period).
Real estate is a very lucrative and valuable investment hence, disputes over ownership tend to be extremely complicated and costly. Therefore, a quiet title action is one of the tools that can be employed to settle disputes as well as establish an individual’s right to ownership of real property.