Tax Deeds and Quiet Title Actions

Quiet Title ActionTax Deeds and Quiet Title Actions (QTAs)

Title to property in Florida can be held in the following ways:

  • Sole ownership. You can own the property in your name alone.
  • Joint owners. Spouses can own property as “tenants by the entirety.” Two or more people can own real property as “joint tenants with right of survivorship” or “tenants in common.
  • A real estate trust. In this mode, a trust owns the real property. A trustee manages the real property for the benefit of the named beneficiaries.

When you own property, you want to make sure nobody files a claim for ownership after you’ve moved in or when you want to sell the property. Quiet title actions helps ensure your ownership of your real estate.

What is a quiet title action (QTA)?

In a QTA, the court reviews the various claims to ownership and of the real property. The court decides which claim should control – who the true owners are. More formally, a QTA is a lawsuit filed pursuant to Chapter 65 of the Florida state laws.  Real property includes land and the buildings on the land. A QTA essentially involves a plaintiff (the person claiming full ownership) filing a claim against any respondents – requesting that the claims (or clouds) against the plaintiff’s title be terminated so that the respondents can’t file any future claims against the property.

Quiet title actions are necessary in order to sell real property. Sellers need to be able to show that they have clear title (free from any claims include liens or judgments).

If the QTA is successful, the judge authorizes that the QTA judgment document be filed with the county recorder of deeds so that when searches are done on the real property, it will be clear that there are no valid claims against the property. The document essentially “removes and clouds on the title” and “quiets” the plaintiff’s title. In this way, the real property:

  • Can be sold free and clear of any title claims.
  • Can be insured – a title company can write insurance coverage that protects the owner and any subsequent buyers.

QTAs are also called lawsuits to remove clouds. A cloud/claim is any claim of full ownership of the property or a partial claim – such as failure to pay a judgment, lien, or mortgage that is less than the value of the property. Other clouds on title include void tax deeds and assessments and lis pendens actions.

A property owner can file a QTA even if the respondent isn’t asserting a claim to possession of the property. There are no monetary awards in a QTA. The purpose of a QTA is to clarify who owns the property. Some claims, such as a federal tax lien, cannot be terminated by a QTA.

What are the requirements for filing a QTA?

The person or entity filing a QTA files a complaint. The complaint should:

  • Include a legal description of the property
  • The street address
  • The parcel number
  • The Tax ID
  • State in the complaint that the plaintiff is the owner and how they obtained ownership.
  • Identify the clouds against the title.

The state statutes set forth the specific requirements. § 65.061(3) requires that the plaintiff claim title for at least seven years prior to the filing date of the complaint – unless the court orders otherwise. The plaintiff’s claim must be from an ultimate identifiable source, by adverse possession, or through the defendants. When both parties claim title from a common grantor, then the party who can show superior title from that source should prevail.

There may be other requirements that a skilled Indian River County lawyer can explain.

Some of the key considerations are:

  • The QTA is only valid against the claims of the named defendants. This means you need to do research with the help of a skilled real estate lawyer all possible claims against the real property.
  • Any superior liens should be satisfied in writing. [The satisfactions should be recorded too?].
  • The final written judgment signed by the Court should be filed with the appropriate Record of Deeds office.
  • The title claim should confirm that all claims against the real property are either satisfied or removed.

Who can file a QTA in Florida?

Anyone who has a claim to real property can file a QTA. The plaintiff must show title to the property and not the right to possess or use the property. Other people can join in the QTA even if their interest is just an equitable interest – or if their interests are to separate lands.

The mortgagee does not need to be a party.

If the state of Florida claims an interest in the property, the state can be named as a defendant.

Defendants have the right to assert their legal and equitable defenses starting with asserting the validity of their claim.

What costs are involved with a quiet title action?

The costs, in addition to the legal fees, include:

  • A cost to file the complaint in the correct county.
  • The cost to conduct a title search.
  • Publication expenses.
  • A guardian ad litem may be required which is an additional cost.

Overall, the costs, exclusive of the legal fees could run about $1,000 to $1,500.

Filing a QTA if you have a tax deed?

In Florida, if the owner of the property doesn’t pay the real estate taxes and fees, the property can be sold by the tax collector to pay the taxes. The person or entity that pays off the taxes (other than the owner) receives a tax deed for the property.

The holder of the tax deed can then file a QTA to clear title against other claims. A QTA can be filed whether or not the prior owner is in possession of the property.

If an owner has a tax deed then the deed should be considered valid against other claims – unless the delinquent owner states that he/she did pay the taxes before the tax deed was issued.

If the tax deed is issued “before conveyance by sovereign,” then:

“No defense shall be made to the action because of assessment of the property or issuance of the tax deed before the United States or the state has parted with title to the property, and no other attack shall be made on it, except the defense that the taxes assessed against the property had been paid by the person, or a claimant under him or her, to whom the United States patent or conveyance from the state was issued before the issuance of the tax deed.” 

Contact an experienced Indian River County real estate lawyer today

At Lulich & Attorneys, our Vero Beach and Sebastian real estate lawyers represent plaintiffs and defendants in quiet title actions. We fight to show you are the valid owner of your property so you can use it and sell it. We also represent property owners and tax deed owners in quiet title actions. To discuss when a QTA action is required, how it works, and what the defenses are, use our contact form to schedule an appointment.