How to Clear Title to Real Property - The Basics

By: Lance A. Adair

California law provides a statutory method of resolving conflicting interests in real property, known as an action to "quiet title." A quiet title action may be brought to establish-or to clear title against-any kind of claimed title or interest in real property. The action is available to anyone who holds an interest or a claimed interest in the property.

Quiet title actions are typically brought to establish or defeat easement claims or to resolve competing claims of legal or equitable ownership. But the remedy is not limited to these more or less straightforward situations. The author of this newsletter recently handled a quiet title case involving disputed rights and obligations arising from the foreclosure of a developer's ownership interest, water rights and development rights in approximately 1,100 acres of land covered by a complex, multi-party development agreement.

There is no specific statute of limitations for an action to quiet title; the applicable limitation period generally is based on the underlying legal theory of relief. However, an action to quiet title against a known adverse claim must be brought within five years of the first assertion of the adverse claim. Any question regarding a possible statute of limitations issue should be brought to the attention of an attorney at the earliest possible time.

A quiet title judgment generally will be binding as against all persons, known or unknown, provided that the procedural requirements of the quiet title statute have been met. If the action is handled properly, the quiet title judgment should result in a clear and marketable title that can be insured by any title insurance company.

A quiet title action must be distinguished from an action to remove a "cloud" on title created by the existence and/or recordation of a particular legal instrument. The proper form of action in that type of case typically will be an action for cancellation or "reformation" of the instrument.

Lance Adair is an "AV-Preeminent"-rated attorney who practices in the areas of Real Estate and Land Use and splits his time between our Irvine and Temecula offices. Mr. Adair can be reached at ladair@kringandchung.com.

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