Category: Easement

Quiet Title Actions In Georgia

What is a quiet title?

A quiet title is a real estate lawsuit filed by a property owner in Superior Court. Property owners file quiet title actions to either (1) remove “clouds” on their title (conventional) or (2) establish that they, and no one else, own the property in question (statutory).

What is a Cloud on Title?

A cloud on a title means a possible adverse interest in real estate. In most situations, property owners cannot refinance or sell a property with a clouded title.

When Should You File a Quiet Title?

Many times, when property owners attempt to refinance or sell their property, the process grinds to a halt when they find out that there is a cloud on their title. While a closing attorney can sometimes fix a cloud on the title with additional paperwork, some situations cannot be resolved without a quiet title.

A forged deed is an example of a cloud on a title. See, e.g., Vatacs Grp., Inc. v. U. S. Bank, N.A., 292 Ga. 483, 485 (2013) (forged deed). Open security deeds (mortgage loans that have not been marked as paid) also cloud a title and must be cleaned up before a refinance or sale is possible.

Other situations that require a quiet title are (1) heir property not formally transferred from the decedent to the heirs; and (2) boundary line, encroachment, easement, and trespass claims.

Tax Deeds and Tax Sales

Real Estate owners also file quiet titles “against all the world.” These quiet titles are all-encompassing and are required in certain situations, such as following a tax sale.

Filing a Quiet Title Action in Georgia

At Gomez & Golomb, we regularly file quiet title actions for real estate owners. Whether you’re trying to get a marketable title following a tax sale or trying to clear up a clouded title, the filing party must own/hold title, and there must be a cloud against the filing party’s title.

Conventional Quiet Titles: Getting Rid of a Specific Claim or Interest

An action for a conventional quiet title is an equity case and must be filed per the venue provisions of the Georgia Constitution. Thus, it must be filed in the county of residence of one of the named defendants. In a conventional quiet title action, the named defendants are served. Then discovery proceeds as in any civil case. And the case is ultimately presented to the judge for a final hearing. As in other equity cases, “there shall be no right to a jury trial.” OCGA § 23-3-43.

Statutory Quiet Titles: Against All the World

A statutory quiet title action is not only against the adverse claimants. But an action in rem against the land itself. OCGA § 23-3-62 provides that it is a proceeding in rem. It shall be filed in the superior court of the county where the land is located. In a quiet title against all the world, the petition must be submitted to a special master. The Special Master examines the title, determines the interested parties, ensures the interested parties are served, holds a hearing, and issues recommendations to the court. The appointment of a Special Master is required. OCGA § 23-6-63. Once appointed, the Special Master substantially controls the course of the case.

Initially, the Special Master determines who is entitled to notice, including adjacent landowners and all adverse claimants. Known claimants must be personally served, and all “unknown claimants” are served by publication. OCGA § 23-6-65. The Special Master exercises “complete jurisdiction” over the case to ascertain and determine the validity, nature, or extent of the petitioner’s title and all other interests in the land and to remove any particular cloud upon the title to the land. OCGA § 23-3-66. The Special Master then makes a report of their findings to the judge of the court. Id.

Unlike in a conventional quiet title case, a jury trial is available. Id. Upon receiving the Special  Master’s report or the jury verdict, the court issues a decree to be recorded in the county real property records. This decree binds the land affected and is conclusive upon all claimants, known or unknown. OCGA § 23-3-67.

Need Advice Regarding a Quiet Title in Georgia

If you have any questions or wish to learn more about your rights and options, please call us at 404-392-9994.

Georgia easements: Do you know what a bridle path is?

This issue came before the Georgia Court of Appeals. See Doxey v. Crissey, et al, A20A0443 (June 26, 2020). For those of you who do not know (the author included), a bridle path is “a trail for horseback riding.” The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed. (2020). See also Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2020) (bridle path is “a trail suitable for horseback riding”).

This case involved the enforceability of an easement originally intended as a bridle path, which the owner of the easement wanted to convert to a walking path. The case highlights two important principles related to real estate easements:

(1) To interpret the scope of an easement, the rules of contract construction apply; this is a question of law for the court. The cardinal rule of construction is to ascertain the parties’ intent. Here, the Court of Appeals found that the term “bridle path” has only one meaning, which is a trail for horseback riding. Thus, per the terms of the easement, the only allowed use under the easement was to ride a horse.

(2) As is typical in the law, there is an exception to the above rule. This occurs when use of the easement changes over time, so long as the change is not so substantial as to cause unreasonable damage to the servient estate or unreasonably interfere with its enjoyment. The servient estate is the property that granted or give the easement. This rule applies even without the consent of the servient estate. So, if the easement became a walking trail over time, and the change did not harm the party who granted the easement, then the easement converts to a walking path.

If you have any questions regarding an easement, please call us at 404-382-9991.

Georgia Easement Disputes

For those interested in easements disputes, a new case from the Georgia Court of Appeals is worth reviewing. Patel Taherbhai, Inc. v. Broad Street Stockbridge, LLC, A19A0820 (October 3, 2019). This case involves adjoining landowners, Patel and Broad Street, who got into a dispute regarding an easement. The easement was on Patel’s property and allowed Broad Street to go over Patel’s property to reach a public street.

Broad Street complained that Patel was blocking access to the easement. After back and forth between the parties’ attorneys, Broad Street filed an ejectment lawsuit against Patel. The lawsuit alleged Patel had constructed improper and unsafe encroachments on the easement. These were denying Broad Street access and diminishing the value of its property. Therefore the encroachments should be removed. Patel denied the alleged encroachments were blocking access. And, even if access was being blocked, Broad Street had consented to the encroachments by failing to timely object.

The trial judge agreed with Broad Street and ordered the encroachments ejected (i.e., removed) from the easement. Broad Street appealed. The appellate court’s analysis focused on whether a party is entitled to file an ejectment lawsuit to remove an encroachment from an easement. In a well-reasoned decision, the appellate court determined that ejectment cannot be used in these situations. Instead, ejectment only applies when a party’s rightful possession to its property is being denied. Here, Patel’s alleged misconduct wasn’t occurring on Broad Street’s property (instead, it was occurring on Patel’s property) and therefore Patel wasn’t interfering with Broad’s Street’s possession of its property. This does not mean Patel is off the hook, only that the correct remedy is these cases is to file an action for damages and/or an injunction.

While many appellate decisions unfortunately provide little guidance, this thoughtful decision arrives at a ruling by carefully examining prior case law (going back to the 1800’s) and opinions expressed by real estate experts. In the end, lawyers (and landowners) now have a definitive understanding of how to handle situations in which an adjoining neighbor blocks an easement.

If you’re in a real estate dispute, please contact us for a free evaluation. Our number is (404) 382-9991.