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Quiet title action can resolve land ownership disputes

Real estate in and around Philadelphia has been bought and sold, platted, subdivided and leased for over 300 years. Numerous parcels have been sold many times over. What happens when a decades-old transaction is discovered to have created conflicting interests in the same piece of property? These conflicts can be the result of errors in transcribing legal descriptions, misunderstandings about the size or shape of the parcel being sold or any of the myriad of other mistakes that humans can make during this complex process. The disputes can range from the validity of a deed, a property line dispute or whether a lien or mortgage has been satisfied.

Pennsylvania law provides a solution: an action to quiet title. Any person with a claim to real property that conflicts with or limits the claim of another party can commence an action in the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the property is located by filing a complaint that describes the property and states the nature of the plaintiff's interest. An action to quiet title can ask the court to determine the validity of "any right, lien, title or interest in the land or determine the validity or discharge of any document, obligation or deed affecting any right, lien, title or interest in land."

An action to quiet title proceeds is like any other civil action, except that all quiet title actions are tried before a judge without a jury. Quiet title actions are often determined by default, that is, the party that holds the interest that creates a "cloud on the title" does not respond to the complaint. If the adverse party files a response, the plaintiff must then submit evidence proving the validity of his interest or the invalidity of the interest claimed by the adverse property.

Anyone who owns property where the title is not clean, that is, another party has a colorable claim to the same property, should consult an attorney who specializes in such cases. Such a consultation may reveal different ways to solve the problem that do not involve litigation. If a quiet title lawsuit is necessary, a knowledgeable attorney can suggest strategies for pursuing the case and a helpful evaluation of the likelihood of prevailing.

Source: Pennsylvania Code, "Subchapter D, Actions to Quiet Title," accessed on Oct. 11, 2015

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