There are many ways real estate is not like other forms of property. One of the most fundamental differences is that, simply put, the land in question was there before anyone first claimed ownership of it, and it has remained there no matter how many people have lived on or built on the land.
This may seem like an abstract, philosophical point, but it has very practical implications. This becomes clear when you think of the concept of “title.”
In real estate law, the term “title” refers to legal ownership of property. Owning property means you have title to it. Selling real estate means selling title to the property.
However, a lot of things can get in the way of title. Over the years, after many sales of the property, records can be lost, and so there may be a gap in the chain of title.
Sometimes another party acquires a lien on the property as a way of seeking payment for a debt. This is a partial challenge to the title.
Another common problem with title involves estate law. When an owner dies and leaves real estate to their relatives, this can, in some cases, mean dividing ownership between multiple parties. The relatives may find a way to make this arrangement work for them, but these arrangements often get more difficult to manage in later generations, leading to complex title issues.
Clearing away challengers
Because owning property means having title to it, any challenge to that title can interfere with the ability to buy, sell, alter or maintain the property. For this reason, buyers and sellers want an untroubled title.
One way to clear away challenges to a title is through a type of lawsuit known as a quiet title action.
When you file a quiet title action, you ask anyone who challenges your title to the property to come forward and argue why their claim is stronger than yours. If they don’t convince the court, the court will declare that your title is “quiet,” or unencumbered by legal challenges.
In this way you can clear away any old liens, gaps in the chain of title or other challenges.