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The Quiet Title Process (Explained by a Real Estate Attorney)

The quiet title process involves four main steps. First, research property ownership and title issues. Second, draft a quiet title complaint or petition. Third, file and serve all quiet title pleadings. Fourth, obtain and enforce a court order clarifying or confirming property ownership.

Steps in the quiet title process:

Step #1: Researching ownership and title requirements.

Step #2: Drafting a quiet title petition or complaint.

Step #3: File and serve the quiet title lawsuit.

Step #4: Obtaining final judgment or a court order.

Other quiet title topics:

Quiet Title Definition: What Exactly Does Quiet Title Mean?

How Much Does a Quiet Title Action Cost?

Can I Do a Quiet Title Myself?

Quiet Title Timeframe (How Long)

Quiet Title and Adverse Possession

Step #1: Research Ownership and Title

The first step in the quiet title process is to research the current status of property ownership. This requires a precise identification of the title problems or title defects that you are attempting to cure via a quiet title action.

Many times, the title problem was identified by a title insurance company in connection with a closing or a refinancing process. If so, ask for a copy of the title work from the title company or lender. Often, the critical document is called a “title commitment” or the “title requirements.”

If you can get a copy of the title commitment or title requirements, you can avoid a lot of painstaking research. The title company has already done the research, and the title commitment should include a description of the title problems that need to be fixed or cured.

If you do not have a title commitment or title requirements, you can research the title issues yourself. Most county land records are available online. But keep in mind that land records can be difficult to search. You don’t want to miss anything.

Usually, the best option is to order title work from a title company. When ordering title work, you should understand the difference between insurable title work and uninsurable title work.

When a title company issues a title commitment or title requirements in connection with a proposed sale of the property, they are proposing to insure the title based on that title work. This means the title work is very detailed and thorough.

In contrast, when a title company issues a simple “title report” without any insurance proposal, they are not putting their money behind the title work. A title report can be had for around $100 at most title companies, whereas a full title commitment with an insurance proposal may cost $600 – $1,200.

A cheap title report (no insurance element) is a good place to start. But if you plan to defend or file a quiet title action, it is best to obtain a full title commitment or title requirements that are prepared to determine whether the property title is insurable. If necessary, you can ask the title company to prepare an “open commitment” or a “litigation guarantee” even if there is not currently a transaction in process.

If you are struggling to understand how to obtain the right title work, feel free to send me a quick question.

Step #2: Draft a Quiet Title Complaint or Petition

The second step in the quiet title process is to draft a quiet title complaint or petition. This is the main legal pleading filed in court to commence the quiet title lawsuit.

Keep in mind that drafting is usually done by an attorney. However, any party can represent themselves in a lawsuit. If you’re wondering whether to represent yourself, read my article: Can I Do a Quiet Title Myself?

Drafting a quiet title action properly would be nearly impossible without using quiet title templates and forms. Even attorneys use them. In addition to the quiet title complaint or petition, you will also need summons, cover sheets, and potentially publication forms.

If you have questions about quiet title templates or how to use them, send me a quick question.

Step #3: File and serve the quiet title lawsuit.

The third step in the quiet title process is to ensure that the lawsuit is properly filed and served. This is a critical but often overlooked step. The entire purpose of a quiet title action is to place all interested parties on notice of your ownership claim.

If you fail to achieve adequate service of process on any party to the lawsuit, the final judgment will not be binding against that party. In order to permanently extinguish the claims of a party, you must be able to prove that the party was served in accordance with state law.

In most states, service of process can occur via a private process server or via certified mail. However, if you choose to serve via certified mail, carefully review your state law for the requirements of service by mail. At the very least, a certified return receipt signed by the named party will likely be required.

When filing the lawsuit, be sure that you are filing in the proper court. In most states, a quiet title action is filed in the lowest level general civil court (often state district court). A quiet title action is not filed in federal court unless there are unique issues involved.

Step #4: Obtain final judgment.

The fourth step in the quiet title process is to obtain a final judgment or court order which confirms ownership of the subject property. This can only occur after all parties have been properly served and had an opportunity to respond.

The process for obtaining judgment will differ dramatically depending on whether the quiet title action is contested or uncontested.

In an uncontested quiet title suit, you will obtain default judgment against the defendants. You can obtain default judgment against a defendant when they fail to respond to the lawsuit within the required timeframe after being served.

If you are fixing a technical title defect and there is not a true dispute of ownership, then you will likely obtain judgment via default. However, if you are dealing with a true dispute over ownership, then the action will be contested. In this case, you will likely obtain judgment via trial or summary judgment.

Navigating a contested quiet title action is a much more complex and involved process. Send me a question, and I can provide more information on forms, templates, or legal representation if necessary.

Whether your action is contested or uncontested, you must pay special attention to the language you use when drafting the final decree. The final order or decree is the document that will be recorded in the land records to repair the chain of title.

For this reason, the final order must clearly explain the nature of the title problem and clearly declare a resolution to that title problem. In the final order, your goal is to tell the story of how the chain of title was broken and how it was repaired, in a step-by-step fashion. When a title examiner reviews the final order, they should have no remaining questions about who owns the property and why.

After you obtain a final order, you will need to enforce it. Most of the time, “enforcement” of the quiet title order simply involves providing the final judgment to your title company to resolve the title defect. However, in a contested situation, you may need to file an eviction or ejectment lawsuit to remove the opposing party from the property. After quieting title in your favor, you will have the right to evict or eject any occupants.