REMOVING ALL DOUBT: How a Quiet Title Action Parts The Clouds on Title and Makes Your Newly Acquired Property Insurable

Imagine that you buy a piece of property. You move into a house on that property (or rent it out if it’s an investment), and after you or your renters have been living in that house for a few years, someone sends you a letter claiming that they own the house that you paid for. This scenario plays out more often than you might think. When it does, homeowners will often file a quiet title action in order to legally establish that they own the property in question.

So what is a quiet title action? A quiet title action (also called a “suit to quiet title”) is a lawsuit, the outcome of which establishes the true ownership of real property. A suit to quiet title is filed when two or more parties claim to own a particular parcel of land. Why would two or more parties have a claim to ownership of a single parcel of land, you ask. One common scenario is when multiple parties claim ownership if a new “possessor” of a piece of property claims that they have acquired ownership over the land via adverse possession. Another scenario is that in which a seller sells a parcel to two different buyers by using a forged deed. Another is when a lender failed to take the necessary steps to clear title after a prior mortgage was paid off.

The most common scenario, however, is when a buyer purchases property via a tax sale. When a tax sale purchase is the case, a suit to quiet title is almost always filed to clear the cloud on title that has resulted from a governmental “taking.” Regardless of which situation calls for the filing of a quiet title action, the idea is to have a court determine who legally owns the property so as to “quiet” all other claims.

Tennessee, like other states, has its own quiet title statutes, but as with other states, Tennessee requires the claimant (the plaintiff, in this case) to show two things. First, the claimant must be show that they have a legitimate claim to the property in question. Second, the claimant must prove that they took possession of the property in good faith. If the claimant is able to show both of these things, then their claim to the property is deemed valid, and the court will grant a judgment quieting title announcing that the claimant’s claim to the property supersedes that of anyone else on the property. So how does one go about proving those two things?

Due Process

Due process is an essential element in any suit to quiet title. Due process requirements have heightened dramatically in recent years due to a decision in 2015 by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Turner v. Turner, No. W2013-01833-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. 2015). That decision requires that a claimant make a “diligent effort,” not only to locate and provide notice of the action to prior owners of record, but, if those owners are deceased, also to their heirs.

Needless to say, a simple Google search does not suffice in attempting to locate prior owners and their heirs. Actions that used to take 4-6 months are now taking 8-10 months due to the demands that courts are making on claimants in meeting the “due diligence” standard set forth by Turner.

Need Legal Advice?

As long as there is a cloud on your title, your property will not be insurable with a title company. If you live in Tennessee and would like to file a quiet title action because you’ve purchased property out of a tax sale, have been contacted by someone else claiming ownership of your property, or otherwise have clouded title on your real property, contact the Law Office of Akin Maloney. Our real estate attorneys have the experience necessary to help you navigate the cloudy waters of a quiet title action. Call us at (615) 627-3845.