Many people are familiar with the term “quiet title,” but few have a clear understanding of what this term actually means. Fewer still understand when it is necessary to file a lawsuit to quiet title, and when there may be more efficient and more cost-effective options available. In this article, we will provide an overview of what is involved in filing a lawsuit to quiet title in Washington, and we will briefly discuss some of the alternatives that may (or may not) be available, depending on the specific circumstances involved.
When Is It Necessary to File a Suit to Quiet Title?
The purpose of filing a quiet title action is to confirm your legal ownership of a piece of real property. In Washington, as in other states, ownership of real estate is established by title, and title ownership is evidenced on a “deed” that gets recorded with the local county records office. While the recorded deed for a piece of real property should always reflect the current owner, there are a variety of reasons why this may not necessarily be the case. If you recently purchased a piece of property – or if you have owned a piece of property for some time – and you have learned that the title records are incorrect, then you may need to file a suit to quiet title.
Why would the title records for a piece of real estate in Washington be incorrect? Examples of some of the more common issues include:
- Filing and transcription errors that have resulted in incorrect title records;
- Outstanding liens on the property;
- Unrecorded transfers of ownership, including transfers by will, trust, or divorce;
- Conflicting surveys and boundary disputes; and,
- Unenforceable transfers of ownership, including purported sales involving owners who lack the mental capacity to contract under Washington law.
How Do You File a Suit to Quiet Title?
A suit to quiet title is a formal legal proceeding that must be filed in the appropriate jurisdiction. You must file a complaint against the other party claiming ownership in the property, and he or she will have the opportunity to file an answer and dispute the allegations in your complaint, just like in any other type of lawsuit. Once both parties have presented their arguments and evidence, the judge presiding over the quiet title action will render a decision regarding true ownership of the property.
What Are the Potential Outcomes of a Quiet Title Action?
If fully litigated (i.e., the complaint is not withdrawn or dismissed without a final judgment being rendered), a quiet title action will result in one party being deemed the legal owner of the property in question. It is important to note that this could be an entire parcel of property (as in the case of conflicting claims of ownership arising out of a purported transfer at death), or a portion of a deeded parcel (as in the case of a boundary line dispute between neighboring property owners). However, while the judge’s order will be final and binding, the party that “loses” the quiet title action may have grounds to file an appeal.
What Are the Potential Alternatives to Filing a Suit to Quiet Title?
While filing a lawsuit will sometimes be necessary, it will not always be the most desirable option. Due to time, cost, and other considerations, in many cases, it will be preferable to pursue an alternative to an action to quiet title. Depending on the specific circumstances at hand, some potential alternatives to quiet title actions include:
- Execution of a Quitclaim Deed – A quitclaim deed is a legal instrument used to disclaim one party’s legal interest, if any, in a piece of real estate. If the other potential owner is (or other potential owners are) willing to execute a quitclaim deed, then filing a lawsuit to quiet title will be unnecessary. This may be the case, for example, if you identify an issue during a title search and the person whose name shows up in the records has no interest in claiming a stake in the property.
- Negotiating an Amicable Settlement – As an alternative (or perhaps a precursor) to the execution of a quitclaim deed, another option is to negotiate an amicable settlement. If you can come to terms with the other putative owner, then it will not be necessary to take him or her to court. It is also possible that you could reach a settlement while your quiet title action is pending.
- Exercising Warranties Granted by a Deed– Depending on the type of deed used to grant your ownership interest, the deed itself may come with certain warranties by the seller. These warranties may include the right to peaceable possession and the warranty that the seller has good and clear title in the property. If those warranties are breached, you may have an action against the seller.
- Filing a Claim with Your Title Insurance Company – Title insurance covers many (but not all) issues that can give rise to the need to file a quiet title action as well. Before going to court, it will likely be a good idea to assess your insurance coverage and see if filing a claim is a viable option.
Title disputes and other real estate-related legal issues present a number of unique challenges. The law is complex, and the options you have available may be limited. If you have run into an issue and would like to speak with an attorney, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential initial consultation.
Speak with a Real Estate Lawyer in Tacoma, WA, at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S.
For more information about securing your legal ownership of real estate in Washington, please contact us to discuss your situation in confidence. To schedule a confidential initial consultation at our offices in Tacoma, WA, call us at 253-272-2997 or inquire online today.