The goal of a quiet title claim in a lawsuit is to fix the title in that the result removes a cloud on the title. A quiet title action is an equitable claim so there are no fees awardable unless a contract or statute separately provides for those.
Quiet title is not about possession of property like an eviction or ejectment. Quiet title is focused on the ownership of real property evidenced by the title. Our system of property ownership in Florida is based on deeds recorded in books maintained by the county where the real property is situated. The system of deeds creates the title and chain of title to the property providing a clear record of who the owner is at any given time. While the official records were once kept in physical books, they are now stored electronically and documents can be electronically recorded reflecting the evolution of technology and its impact on property titles.
Quiet title actions also differ from other property claims in that they do not seek or result in money damages. The purpose of a quiet title claim in a lawsuit is to perfect or clean up the title. When a property owner wants to obtain money damages for filings that negatively impacted the title or to clarify certain rights related to the parcel of land the property owner can file claims such as slander of title or declaratory relief.
Slander of title derives from the claim of slander. The term slander is occasionally used interchangeably with the term defamation. Technically slander is the spoken word while libel refers to the printed word. Both slander and libel are referred to as defamation generally speaking but in common parlance people often refer to defamation as slander.
When a recorded document such as a lien or lis pendens detrimentally affects the title to a particular parcel of property the titleholder can sue the other party for slander of title. The purpose of that claim is to obtain damages for the negative impact to the title. Because the claim is based on an intentional tort the proponent can also seek punitive damages if the required conditions are met. In some cases the judge can also award attorneys fees incurred in the removal of the wrongful lien or claim.
In addition to quiet title and slander of title a property owner has the option of bringing a claim for declaratory relief to address issues related to the title. Declaratory relief is a statutory claim meaning it is not part of the common law but that the State of Florida has enacted a statute or law that addresses and controls the issue.
In a declaratory relief claim a party asks a judge to evaluate a very specific dispute and determine the rights of the parties. It is not legal advice but is a determination on an actual disputed fact. For example two parties arguing over the existence of an easement may bring their claim before a judge to have the judge determine their rights.
Another option is a claim for a constructive trust. This claim is a common law claim where there has been a promise between parties enjoying a confidence and a transfer of the particular property such that it is unfair for the recipient to retain the property without compensation. Put more simply one party may loan money to another to purchase or improve property and not be repaid. In that case the first party can seek a constructive trust over the parcel of real property for the amount they can prove they contributed.
Similarly an equitable mortgage or equitable lien is also derived from common law but imposes an actual lien or mortgage on a parcel of real property. In order for such a lien to be put in place there must have been a clear written agreement to have the property serve as security for a debt. For example this claim can arise where parties agree that they will jointly purchase property and one party contributes money toward that purchase but is omitted from the actual purchase deed.
There are other claims available that depend on the particular facts of the situation. In each of these scenarios a lis pendens is often an appropriate compliment to the claims. A lis pendens is notice of a lawsuit affecting real property. The title records for the real estate are kept separately from the documents filed in lawsuits. The lis pendens is a mechanism to connect those so people searching real property titles will have proper notice of a claim on the title to that property.
For almost all lawsuits regarding real property, the venue is the county where the real property is located. For a quiet title suit Section 65.011 of the Florida Statutes even specifies that the lawsuit must be filed in that county.
There are certain situations where quiet title may be appropriate and others where slander of title or declaratory relief may be more applicable. Likewise there are circumstances where those may not apply and a constructive trust or equitable mortgage may be a better fit. The assessment and determination of which if these claims is most appropriate is a decision for you to make in consultation with an experienced real estate litigation attorney.
If you need assistance in clearing up title issues on a property you are trying to sell, or need a title evaluation on a property you are interested in purchasing, we can help! Give us a call at 561-838-9595 or email us at [email protected] to schedule your free consultation.
Source: Law Office of David Steinfeld, PL, Florida