This is the next post in a series of articles discussing quiet title actions in Olympia or Tacoma, Washington. The last article provided an overview of the issues to be examined in this series. I also stressed the need to engage experienced real estate counsel if you are involved in a property ownership dispute. The process of removing clouds on title to real property involves technical legal terminology and special legal proceedings, and a knowledgeable attorney can assist in navigating the process. If someone is claiming an ownership interest in your real estate, contact my office to speak with a lawyer.
Under certain circumstances, a property owner may be forced to take action in court to establish ownership rights in real property. Title defects are usually technical in nature (such as an incorrect legal description or misidentification of the buyer in a past transaction). In other cases, a third party may claim ownership rights in the same piece of land, putting the claims on a collision course and requiring legal process to establish true legal ownership. A defect or competing claim may “cloud” the property owner’s chain of title. The legal process to remove such title defects or adverse claims is known as a “quiet title action.” Questions about ownership commonly may arise during real estate sales, when a title company performs its title search. They can also arise at any time, such as when a neighbor disputes the boundary or uses part of the land over the boundary (trespasses) when property owned by more than one person and those people disagree about its use or whether to sell it, or even when a trespasser squats on the land. A quiet title action, along with other legal processes, can be useful in all these situations.
When a party is purchasing real property, the buyer often hires a title company to issue a policy of title insurance. A title policy provides insurance to the buyer that the seller owns the property, is entitled to sell it to the purchaser and covers the cost of clearing any adverse title claims arising prior to the date of the sale. This type of coverage is often required by banks when providing mortgage financing. If, during the records search, an examiner finds outstanding tax or mechanic’s liens or inconsistent property descriptions, for example, a quiet title action to correct the records may be necessary to prove ownership before the policy will be issued. When a true dispute exists, a quiet title action can be contentious and time consuming. This can result in significant delays to a closing, or even prevent a transaction from being completed. Engaging a real estate lawyer can help an owner understand how to respond when such an issue arises.
Suppose for instance that a grandson inherits his grandfather’s house by order of the grandfather’s will. The grandson lives far away and the property sits vacant for twenty years when the grandson decides to sell the property. In the process of conducting the title examination, he learns that a neighbor filed a deed claiming ownership of a one-acre section bordering the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor has mowed and cared for the section of land for over a decade and is claiming ownership rights through adverse possession. To challenge the neighbor’s claim, the grandson files a quiet title action with the court. The outcome will of course depend upon the specific facts of the neighbor’s claim. If the grandson is victorious, however, the court will issue an order in the grandson’s favor, which will act to nullify the third party’s assertion of ownership.
Whether the title defects are technical in nature or legitimate third-party disputes, an experienced lawyer can help you understand your options. Contact us today for assistance. Our Olympia firm also services the Thurston County cities of Lacey, Tumwater, and Yelm, the Pierce County cities of Tacoma, Puyallup, and Lakewood, the Lewis County cities of Centralia, and Chehalis, the King County cities of Seattle, Auburn, Bellevue, Burien, and Federal Way, as well as other areas in Washington, including Grays Harbor, Mason, Cowlitz, and Pacific Counties.