Quiet Title Action: What is it & How To Do It?
At its core, a quiet title action is a lawsuit to remove anyone’s interest in a property other than the person who is filing it. There’s much more to a quiet title action, however, so we’ve put together the basics.
What Exactly Is a Quiet Title Action?
A quiet title action (or action to quiet title) is a way to establish a party’s title to real property against anyone who might have a claim against the property’s title. This lawsuit is brought in the court that has jurisdiction over the area where the property is located. It is a real lawsuit, but usually a friendly lawsuit since there is often no opposition.
If that description left you scratching your head, think about it this way. Perhaps you bought a property from someone without a warranty that the title is free and clear. Today’s complicated legal process is a bit different from the old way of standing on your new piece of land and shouting “This is my property, and unless you speak up in the next 60 days, you no longer have any claims against this property,” but the idea is the same.
After roughly 60 days, if no one comes forth with a valid claim against the property, you now have a property that is free and clear and can get title insurance on it.
When Do You Need to Quiet a Title?
You always need to consider filing a quiet title action if you buy a property at tax deed auctions from the county or from a sheriff’s sale. These properties often have “clouded titles,” meaning broken title chains or other encumbrances that are unknown.
Imagine this common scenario of a property that is sold at a county-run tax deed sale: Mr. and Mrs. Smith are an elderly couple living alone. Mr. Smith bought a number of properties and vacant lands over the past 50 years in several states and counties.
Sadly, he dies suddenly. During this time of distress, his family is only aware of the properties that are local and others that are rented (they have a paper trail of checks going in and out each month).
What about the out-of-state properties that are vacant, like vacant lands or run-down vacant homes? More often than not, these are quickly forgotten, the surviving wife moves, and notices of overdue bills and taxes never get delivered.
The family may not care about the properties if they aren’t worth much, or perhaps they can’t afford the taxes because Mr. Smith didn’t leave a large enough estate. These properties get sold off at tax deed auctions on a regular basis, and the auction bidders are prime examples of those who need to file quiet title actions.
How Much Does a Quiet Title Action Cost?
A quiet title action isn’t cheap; it costs approximately $1,500–$2,500 to have an attorney file one. There are many steps involved, so if the property is worth enough money to justify the expense, you should have an attorney file the action.
Before you hire an attorney, be sure this is an area they specialize in and that they practice law in the county where the property is located. If you pick a firm that rarely deals with property law and quiet title actions, they might not file the action and follow through correctly. This becomes money down the drain for you.
Always be sure to check an attorney’s references, specifically on previous quiet title action clients.
Can I File My Own Quiet Title Action?
Although most people opt for an attorney to file the action on their behalf, anyone can file the paperwork and follow the steps to create a quiet title action. This is a simple thing to do if you know the history of the liens and the previous owner of the property, but that often isn’t the case.
You also must be comfortable filing your own paperwork with the county courts, plus reading title searches and legal documents in official records. The court fees can be upwards of $400. Other expenses include title searches, which can cost $75 to $200, and publication fees for filing public notices in newspapers.
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Quiet Title Action?
Most quiet title actions take approximately 60 to 90 days to complete from the first filing until the final hearing. It might take longer to quiet a title in some situations. There can be mistakes with a deed from 25 years ago and, if you don’t know where those parties are to serve them notice, you have a problem. Oftentimes you’ll need to hire someone to track down any parties that may have a claim on the title, and even heirs to serve them (defendant’s) notice.
Once all defendants have been served with the quiet title action, they have 20 days to file a response in court. If a defendant does not respond within the 20 days, then a default judgment is submitted to extinguish their claim.
If a defendant cannot be located, then the court allows you to publish notice in a newspaper for four weeks in a row. Placing a notice in a newspaper with a large enough circulation is considered notice for those whom you could not serve individually but might have an interest in your property.
After completing these steps, notice is considered to have been served to all parties known or unknown that might have interest in your property. Each state, county, and court has its own procedures and times, so it’s important to plan for this before considering hold times for flip projects, for example.
Although I am well-versed in the above subject, you should ALWAYS fact check with a qualified attorney as Florida property statutes change quite frequently.