Real estate law can get complicated, especially when there are questions about who actually owns a particular piece of property. The question can arise virtually any time, from the sale of property to situations where an owner simply wants the answer settled for their peace of mind. Quitclaims and quiet titles are both ways to achieve this end, but they do so in very different ways.
One is voluntary, one is not
When title issues arise, it’s because multiple parties are claiming some interest in the property in question. Sometimes a claimed interest is legitimate and sometimes it isn’t. Regardless, the claim must be addressed; otherwise, it becomes difficult to sell the property, obtain a mortgage on it or acquire title insurance.
A simple way to think of the difference between quitclaim deeds and quiet title actions is how they affect an interest someone is claiming. A quitclaim deed is the act of voluntarily giving up the claimed interest, while a quiet title action involuntarily removes the person’s claimed interest. A quitclaim deed is fairly simple to execute. A quiet title action is a formal lawsuit to settle the dispute.
Imagine that a couple goes through a divorce and, as part of the divorce order, the judge awards sole ownership of their home to the wife. Although the order has been made, that fact does not change the property title on its own. The title must be changed to reflect that the wife is now the sole owner of the property. The change can be easily affected by the husband executing a quitclaim deed, disavowing any interest he has in the property. Once the quitclaim deed is filed, ownership is settled.
But what if, for some reason, the husband refuses to sign a quitclaim deed or is unavailable to do so? This is where a quiet title action would be appropriate – achieving the same result but without the husband’s consent.