Quieting Title to Real Estate
The phrases “removing clouds from title,” “quieting title” or “clearing clouds from title” refer to the legal process of removing clouds on real property and identifying the true and lawful owner of the land. Quiet title actions often concern a direct challenge to the ownership/title of the property, but not always. Void tax deeds and assessments, lis pendens, and other matters can act as clouds on title appropriate for a quiet title action. The main goal of quiet title lawsuit is to change the record title owner to a property. Having title to property in Florida simply means that someone has a legal interest in the property.
There are several different methods by which you can take title in Florida, such as:
- Sole Owner – you take title to the property in just your name alone.
- Shared Owners – you take title to the real estate with one or more additional people as joint owners. Examples of shared ownership include real estate that is held as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship”, “tenants by the entirety”, and as “tenants in common”.
- Real Estate in a Trust – here the real estate is held in a Trust. Legal title to real estate is held in the trustee’s name for the benefit of the beneficiaries under the Trust. Examples of Trusts include a Florida Land Trust and a Living Trust.
Quiet title lawsuits originate from English common law but have been codified in chapter 65 of our Florida statutes. In presiding over a quiet title action, the court should consider the nature and extent of all claims of ownership to the land asserted by any party should determine the superiority, validity, and priority of the claims.
What Goes in a Quiet Title Complaint?
A complaint alleging a cause of action for quiet title should identify the legal description of the property as well as the street address, parcel number, and tax id number. This information should also be included in the Final Judgment so that the chain of title is crystal clear. Additionally, the Plaintiff should allege that he/she has title to the property and show the manner in which they received title to the property as well as what the defect in the title is. Florida statute § 65.061(3) mandates that title to the property be claimed for a period of at least seven years prior to filing suit (unless otherwise ordered by the court), In essence, the plaintiff must claim title to the property from an ultimate source, show title by adverse possession or show title from the defendant. If both the plaintiff and defendant claim title from a common grantor or source, they must demonstrate superior title from the common source in order to prevail. Finally, although verification of the complaint is not necessary to file an action to quiet title, doing so may be helpful in preventing opposing motions for summary judgment.
Who Can File a Quiet Title Action?
Any person having a legitimate interest in the property in controversy is permitted to bring suit to quiet title. If the parties claim title from a common source, a party must demonstrate superior title from that source in order to prevail. The Plaintiff must show his/her title to the property and not merely the right to use the property. The fact that the plaintiff only has the right to use the property is not enough to quiet title. The holders of separate parcels of land may also be joined in as plaintiffs in a quiet title action even though the title they hold under is equitable where a proper case for such joinder is presented. Two or more people who desire to remove a cloud from or quieting title to land against adverse claims may join as plaintiffs in a single action to remove such clouds or quiet the title although their interests relate to separate lands or parts thereof. It is unnecessary to make the mortgagee of the property a party. The State of Florida can be named a party in any lawsuit to quiet title, if the State claims any adverse interest.
Defenses to Quiet Title Lawsuits
Defendants in quiet title lawsuits have the right to assert both legal and equitable defenses. One popular defense is that the instrument or proceeding alleged to be a cloud on the title is actually valid and enforceable.
A Final Word
It is worth mentioning that an action to quiet action does not result in a Judgment declaring that the property in question is superior to the entire world, but only as to compared to the other parties in the lawsuit. A party has a right to a jury trial in a quiet title action if requested, but there is no inherent right to an award of attorney fees absent a showing of a statutory or contractual basis. I have experience representing both Plaintiffs and Defendants in lawsuits over real estate title disputes. Contact Andrew J. Pascale today to discuss the next steps needed to accomplish your title issue.
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