It would be nice if all real estate matters were clear and straightforward, but in this imperfect world, that is not always true. In more cases than one might think, the actual ownership of a piece of property is unclear.
This may be the case whenever there is some cloud on the title, meaning a title claim or an encumbrance that puts the title at issue. In such cases, title is unclear until the court considers the issue and tosses out any adverse interest.
Resolving Title Claims
Under Texas law, a property owner should use a cause of action to quiet title to have these claims resolved. A cloud on a title can result from any number of different scenarios, ranging from incorrectly recorded deeds to mistakes in property descriptions, and even to forgery.
The existence of a legal claim itself is sufficient to cloud a title, even if there is no opponent seeking full or partial ownership. A quiet title lawsuit asks the Texas court to eliminate clouds on a title created by other parties.
Quiet Title Actions in Texas
A lawsuit to quiet title in Texas is the fastest way to eliminate clouds against a title to real estate. It is a legal action that asks the court to review and nullify other claims on the property.
A quiet title action is the appropriate legal action to take in Texas if the ownership of property is clouded by another claim. For example, where the property was acquired by a quitclaim or tax sale, or is the subject of adverse possession claims.
In these cases, the purported owner should file a suit to quiet title in Texas state court. The petition asks the court to declare that the petitioner is the sole owner of the property, free and clear of any competing claims.
Potential Problems With Title
Several situations exist when problems with title can be expected to occur in Texas. One is if a property was purchased with a deed called a quitclaim. This deed is generally not used in Texas, and an argument can be made that it is not a legal deed at all.
The person signing a quitclaim deed simply "quits," or gives, any interest they may have in the property to another without any promises of what interest is being passed, or even whether the person signing the quitclaim has any interest to give.
Texas Adverse Possession Claims
In addition, Texas recognizes adverse possession of real property. This is an adverse claim to neglected property acquired by someone occupying it and making use of it for a given number of years. This claim can be brought by true "squatters," but most often arises in boundary disputes between neighbors, when one neighbor builds a fence or a garage on the other's land without realizing where the true boundary is.
In an adverse possession claim in Texas, actual title is vested in another person, but they lose the right to evict the squatters if they have met the requirements for adverse possession. Yet new owners may have trouble selling the property unless a court quiets title in their favor.
If the adverse possession claimant satisfies the requirements under Texas law, they can successfully bring an action to quiet title based on adverse possession.
Quiet Title vs. Trespass to Try Title
The main purpose of a quiet title action is to clear clouds from the title that shows ownership of real property. It is a good idea to get legal advice from an experienced real estate attorney before filing an action to quiet title. Real estate law in Texas can be complex, and a real estate lawyer can assist in steering a claimant in the right direction.
Note that an action for quiet title is not the same as a trespass to try title action. A trespass to try title claim is a legal procedure that can be used to challenge the ownership of the property. On the other hand, an action to quiet title is an equitable remedy used for clearing clouds on the title and establishing one’s right to property ownership against other adverse claimants.
Winning a Quiet Title Case
To win a quiet title suit, an individual must show that:
- They have an interest in a specific property.
- Their title to the property is affected by a claim by the defendant.
- The adverse claim is invalid or unenforceable.
Winning a Trespass to Try Title Action
To win a trespass to try title action, an individual must prevail upon the strength of their own title – not the weakness of the defendant’s claim. They must show:
- Actual, not constructive, possession of the real property.
- Regular chain of title.
- Superior title out of a common source.
- Title by limitations.
- Prior possession that has not been abandoned.
Drafting Petition to Quiet Title
A quiet title petition form or complaint template is used to prepare legal papers for a quiet title action in Texas. Check with the clerk's office of any county district court. In a Texas quiet title action, the petitioner must allege ownership with sufficient certainty to allow the court to see that their ownership interest requires judicial protection.
This can be accomplished by possession of a deed or a promissory note to the land. It is not sufficient to negate the defense's claims of title; the petitioner must prove their own superior title.
Setting a Court Hearing Date
File the petition together with a summons and cover sheet with the clerk's office and send a copy of the petition to the attorneys representing the competing claimants to the property.
The opposing party will have an opportunity to file a answer before the matter will be set for trial by the clerk of court.
The petitioner appears at the hearing on the date and time set by the clerk and presents arguments and evidence that proves their superior title. The opposing party will have an opportunity to present its side of the case. If the court rules in favor of the petitioner, it will issue a judicial decree nullifying the disputed cloud on the property.
- Silberman Law Firm: Quiet Title Actions in Texas
- The Weaver Law Firm: Suits to Quiet Title
- Texas Property Code: Section 22.001 Trespass to Try Title
- Your Texas Attorney: Suits to Quiet Title
- Energy and the Law: Try Title vs. Quieting Title: What’s the difference?
- Jones Property Law: Quiet Title Process
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.