Tag: quiet title

Quiet Title, Adverse Possession, and Color of Title

The title of this blog encompasses three differing but often overlapping areas of Georgia law. The Georgia Court of Appeals decided a case involving all three: quiet title, adverse possession, and color of title. See Brownphil, LLC v. Cudjoe, __ Ga. App. __ (March 14, 2024, A23A1762).

To understand the case, we have to quickly review the title history. The property was obtained by Earnest and Louise McClendon in 1958. They conveyed their interest to Grier Construction Company (owned by Freddie Grier). In 1997, Freddie Grier—not Grier Construction—conveyed the property to Cudjoe. Brownphil got involved when he got a quitclaim deed from Earnest and Louis McClendon’s heirs.

Brownphil filed a quiet title action to clear the title of the property, claiming that Cudjoe did not have an interest in the property because Grier Construction was not incorporated at the time it received the property from Earnest and Louise McClendon and because Freddie Grier—the party that granted the property to Cudjoe—was never on the title. Cudjoe argued that he obtained full title by adverse possession.

Interestingly, the special master appointed to the case sided with Brownphil. But, after a hearing, the trial court ruled in favor of Cudjoe.

An appeal followed in which Brownphil argued that Cudjoe had not done enough to establish adverse possession. After receiving a deed from Freddie Grier, Cudjoe paid the property taxes and mowed the lawn. Brownphil argued that paying taxes and lawn mowing are insufficient to gain title by adverse possession.

After reviewing the facts and prior cases, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Cudjoe. The Court of Appeals cited the legal doctrine of “color of title” as the main reason for favoring Cudjoe. Color of title means that someone has a writing (usually a deed) that appears to grant them title. When someone has color of title, importantly, they only have to show seven years of adverse possession and the element of “notoriety” usually required for adverse possession is waived. Notoriety means placing the world on notice that you adversely possess the property. Only having to show seven years and not having to establish notoriety makes it much easier to display adverse possession.

Based on this easier standard, the Court of Appeals found that Cudjoe had shown enough to obtain title to the property through adverse possession.

If you have any questions regarding a quiet title, adverse possession, or color of title, please call us at 404-382-9994.   

A No-Brainer (and Free!!) Way to Prevent Real Estate Fraud in Georgia

Real Estate Fraud in Georgia

Real estate fraud in Georgia is alive and well. Folks filing fake real estate deeds in Georgia are common. And if you have ever encountered a sovereign citizen, you may have seen some interesting paperwork recorded on Georgia’s public record. Once an improper deed is recorded against your property, it is not always easy to remove and may require filing a quiet title action.

One easy way to combat real estate fraud in Georgia is to register your name with the Georgia Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority (“GSCCCA”). These days, most Georgia real estate deeds and documents are recorded using GSCCCA’s online portal. So, to combat fraud, the GSCCCA created a webpage titled the Filing Activity Notification System.

Filing Activity Notification System (a/k/a “FANS”)

To prevent real estate fraud, FANS is a system that allows individuals in Georgia to sign up and receive notifications whenever real estate and personal property records are filed, indexed, and transmitted by Clerks of Superior Court. You can get notifications for all Georgia counties or you can select just one county. So, for example, if someone files a fraudulent quitclaim deed in Bartow County using your name, you will get notified by email or text.

You can opt-in to this system by creating a notification request, which will send an email or text whenever a document in select official county records is filed and index data is entered and transmitted to the GSCCA by the Clerk. The system matches the notification criteria you set up when you register. Notifications are generated for a document filed and index data only for your established parameters.

Notifications

Notifications generated by the system depend upon the index data entered and transmitted by the Clerk of Superior Court in the county of filing. Therefore, it’s not guaranteed that the notices generated by this system will be comprehensive, but it costs nothing and is, therefore, a no-brainer to sign up. With being notified, you may completely unware of the real estate fraud.

Obviously, this system may not work well for you if your name is John Smith. But if your name is less common, like this blog’s author, this system is a great way to protect your real estate proactively. Even if your name is more common, you can limit the counties to only those where you own real estate.

Quiet Title: Cancelling an Expired Security Deed

Expiration of Security Deeds in Georgia

We have previously discussed that security deeds (i.e., a mortgage) can automatically expire in Georgia. If a security deed expires, the lender cannot foreclose, and the security deed no longer acts as a lien against the property, and the security deed can be canceled. Generally, under OCGA § 44-14-80, a security deed expires (1) seven years after the maturity date of the security deed, or (2) if there is a statement in the security deed that says the maturity date is perpetual or infinite, 20 years from the date of the conveyance.

Recent Quiet Title Action

The above statute was tested in a recent quiet title action. See Freeport Title & Guaranty, Inc. v. Braswell, A23A0442 (2023). In Freeport, a property owner, A, conveyed real estate to B in 2004. The owner financed the sale, meaning that B borrowed money from A to purchase the property and gave a security deed to A.

B defaulted on the loan, but A did not foreclose on the security deed until 2020. A claimed that the security deed was valid because the security deed has “perpetual/infinite” language and, therefore, the above 20-year rule applied. Conversely, B argued that the security deed (and the 2020 foreclosure) were invalid because the seven-year rule applied.

The Court of Appeals ruled for A, finding that the security deed contained sufficient language to activate the 20-year rule. The Court rejected B’s argument that the language in the security deed was insufficient to show intent for a perpetual duration.

Read the Security Deed

The lesson here is that you must closely read the security deed to determine the expiration date of a security deed. Please call us at 404-382-9994 if you have questions regarding whether a security deed on your property is enforceable and whether you are entitled to file a quiet title to remove the security deed.

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.

Tax Deed Services For Owners of Tax Deeds

If you own a tax deed, we offer two services related to tax deeds: (1) barring the right of redemption and (2) quiet title.

(1) Barring right to redeem/Notice of Foreclosure of Right to Redeem. In Georgia, you are entitled to bar/foreclose the right to redeem any time after one year has passed from the tax sale. Barment notices need to be sent to the owner of the property at the time of the tax sale and to any other party that holds an interest in the property.  

We are normally willing to charge a fixed fee (depending on the circumstances of the tax deed) plus expenses. Expenses include title search (about $300), publication (about $150), sheriff’s service ($50/service), and certified mail ($6.80/envelope).

The average cost to foreclose/bar the right to redeem, including expenses, is approximately $1,500.

(2) Quiet Title Against All the World. This is done after the barment is complete in order to obtain marketable title. A quiet title involves filing a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the county where the property is located. On these, we charge attorney’s fees on an hourly basis. Normally, the attorney’s fees are about $2,500, but like any lawsuit, we can’t quote an exact amount because the time required varies from case to case. In a quiet title, the court will appoint a special master: a special master is a local attorney who reviews the case and gives a recommendation to the court regarding title. The special master will cost an additional 2,500 (this amount is approximate). Court costs are an additional $500 (filing fee is approximately $250 and service on each defendant is $50).

The total cost of a quiet title is about $5,000.