You've recently purchased property from a foreclosure auction, sheriff's auction, delinquent tax sale, estate sale, or any other indirect sale. It is important that these types of sales don't guarantee you clear title to the property. Or, perhaps you purchased property from a seller, but the title search showed potential claims against the property from mortgages, creditors, or potential heirs.
In either of these scenarios, your first concern with the property is ensuring that your title on the property is free and clear from claim of anybody else. It is important to clear the title so that you are free to enjoy the property without interruption, and so that if you decide to sell the property you can do so. That is when the "Quiet Title" action comes into play.
A quiet title action is defined as "a special legal proceeding to determine ownership of real property." https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/quiet_title_action Any person or business can file a Quiet Title Action in the circuit court to present their claim of ownership and request the court wipe out all other claims to the property. In South Carolina, the plaintiff's case depends on the strength of their claim, rather than the weakness of any other claim. Claims to the property are typically proven through deeds and title records, but can also be shown by tax payments and exclusive use and possession of the property, among other factors.
What happens in a Quiet Title Action?
The first step in a South Carolina Quiet Title action, before filing the case, is ordering a full title search on the property. This step is crucial to confirm all known claims to the property. The title search will reveal mortgages against the property as well as the title history. Once the search is completed and reviewed, your attorney can determine all parties that must be named as defendants.
The actual case begins with filing the summons and complaint in the circuit court for the country where the property is located. For example, if the property at issue is on Hilton Head Island, the action would be filed in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas. Along with the summons and complaint, is a Lis Pendens, which serves as notice against the property of the pending litigation. If any other person conducts a title search on the property, the Lis Pendens would be pulled up. Once these are filed, the next step is serving all defendants. This is where the majority of issues arise in quiet title actions.
Some quiet title actions only have mortgagees as the defendants. Service upon them is typically simple and easy to complete. However, the majority of these actions either have defendants who cannot be located or are unknown, both of which require substantially more effort to complete service. If the defendants are known, service is attempted at their last known address. If this is unsuccessful, service would be completed through publication in the local newspaper. If, however, the defendants are unknown - typically in heirs' property cases - a third party will need to be appointed to represent their interests, called a Guardian ad litem. In publishing the pleadings for service, a notice of the Guardian's appointment will also be published. If any unknown party wishes to make a claim to the property, they may contact the Guardian. Because the plaintiff is responsible for paying the Guardian's fees, this can increase the costs of the action by at least several hundred dollars.
Once everybody has been served, if no other parties make an appearance or file any claim to the property, a final hearing is held where evidence of the plaintiff's claim is provided to the judge and he grants clean title and extinguishes all other claims.
When can a Quiet Title Action be filed and how long does it take?
An action to quiet title can only be filed once title is obtained. In other words, if you are buying a property at a tax sale or foreclosure auction, the quiet title action cannot be filed until you have received a deed for the property. You can, however, get the ball rolling with a title search on the property.
The time frame for the action to be completed depends on various circumstances, such as difficulty of perfecting service, if any defendants appear and file a claim, and the court's case load. Keep in mind, too, that completing service by publication, alone, takes two months to complete (three weeks of publication plus 30 days for defendants to answer). However, typically a quiet title action can be concluded within 6 months.
How can the Dills Law Firm help with a Quiet Title Action?
Our firm and our attorneys routinely handle Quiet Title actions in South Carolina. Because of our experience, we are able to streamline the entire process and obtain fast, efficient results for you. And, because we charge a flat-rate fee, we don't spin our wheels to generate billable hours. Instead, we generate results. Our firm will coordinate the title search, Guardian appointments, and service of process, all at a flat rate of $4,000 plus expenses. If you have recently acquired an investment property, purchased a property at tax sale or foreclosure auction, or purchased property with potential heirs claims, please contact us today. We are excited to help clear title to your new property!
DISCLAIMER: This post, and all posts on DillsLawFirm.com are meant to provide basic education on a range of legal issues. Nothing written here should be construed as legal advice regarding any particular situation. No attorney-client relationship is created by this post or the information contained herein, and this post may constitute attorney advertising. To get specific legal advice, you should seek out the services of an attorney.