What Is a Quiet Title Action For Real Estate?

judge gavel and title property law book

In North Carolina, complex laws govern ownership and transfer of real estate. Occasionally, legal issues regarding the title to specific property arise because more than one person claims to have an interest in the property. When that occurs, an owner may initiate a “quiet title” action in court to settle the ownership issues. The action resolves ownership issues and, as such “quiets” the questions about who has title to the property.

Who Can File a Quiet Title Action in North Carolina?

A state statute, N.C.G.S. § 41-10, governs quiet title actions. Generally, the law states that an individual may file an action against another who claims an estate or interest in real property adverse to the plaintiff. In the action, the court resolves the adverse claims. North Carolina courts characterize the purpose of the statute to “to free the land of the cloud resting upon it and make its title clear and indisputable, so that it may enter the channels of commerce and trade unfettered and without the handicap of suspicion.

The Real Property Marketable Title Act, N.C.G.S. Chapter 47B, also applies to real property titles and quiet title actions. The statute supports a stated public policy favoring real property ownership and includes provisions to minimize impediments to the marketability of real estate. The goal is to enable transfer of property expediently and economically. The North Carolina Supreme Court discussed the Act at length in the often-cited quiet title case of Heath v. Turner, 30 S.E.2d 244 (1983), stating that the plaintiff in a quiet title action may establish title by traditional methods or by relying on the provisions of the Act.

If a quiet title action is necessary, assistance from a real estate attorney with experience in quiet title actions is essential. You should never attempt to file a quiet title action in court without talking to a lawyer.

When Is a Quiet Title Action Necessary?

Technical defects in a title or nonpossessory claims sometimes surface during the title search performed as part of a real estate sale transaction. The person selling the property may file a quiet title action to resolve any technical defects or adverse assertion of interest in the property, thus removing any clouds on the title before transferring the property.

There does not have to be an active dispute or transfer in progress before a court action can be filed. Even when real estate is not involved in a sale or transfer, circumstances may occur that necessitate a quiet title action. A quiet title action may be a preventative step to establish clear title and ownership to property and avoid an adverse claim in the future. Examples of situations that may warrant considering a quiet title action include:

  • Property purchased at a tax or lien sale
  • Lienholder or encumbrance claims
  • Property transferred with a quitclaim deed
  • Purchase of property following death of the homeowner, if heirs claim an ownership interest in the property
  • Clerical errors on a deed or recording mistakes
  • Boundary or survey issues, due to an incomplete or incorrect survey (or lack of a survey) or a dispute with an adjoining property owner
  • Existing easements that make property ownership unclear
  • Continuous encroachment on property by an adjoining property owner
  • An adverse possession claim of a person who trespasses or encroaches on land and claims ownership
  • Fraudulent conveyance of property

Sometimes quiet title issues are straightforward, such as clerical errors. Other times, the legal issues can be extremely complex, which often is the case with an adverse possession claim. This type of ownership dispute arises if someone claims to meet the legal criteria for owning a real property, even when title records do not show that person as the owner. Specific state statutes apply in adverse possession cases. In addition, North Carolina courts have created complicated standards that also apply to adverse possession claims.

Should You Bring a Quiet Title Action?

In a quiet title action, the plaintiff (initiating party) has the burden of proving ownership of title to the property. The weakness of the defendant’s claim is not relevant. Providing sufficient evidence to the court in support of the plaintiff’s claim requires the experience and knowledge of an attorney who handles quiet title actions.

If you are in a situation where you think a quiet title action may be necessary, your first step is to talk with an attorney who handles real estate litigation. Your lawyer will discuss the circumstances and explain what options are available to resolve the issues with your property.

Talk With an Experienced Real Estate Attorney in Northeastern North Carolina

At The Twiford Law Firm, our practice includes the full range of transactional and litigation real estate legal services, including actions to quiet title. With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Call us at 252-338-4151 or 252-435-2811 or use our online form to schedule an initial consultation.

Categories: Real Estate Law