In Florida, quitclaim deeds are one of the most common deeds to transfer real estate. (Other common deeds include general warranty deeds, special warranty deeds and personal representative deeds.) This is because a large number of transactions involving quit claim deeds are interfamily transfers (marriage, divorce, probate, etc.)
The person signing a signing a quit claim deed (the “grantor”) transfers whatever interest he or she may have in the property to the grantee. The grantor is simply releasing all title, interest, or claims he or she may have in the real estate. For this reason, these deeds are often times examined more closely, which is why a large number of these deeds wind up being the basis of a quit claim deed lawsuit.
Quitclaim Deeds in Florida
Under the law in Florida, the grantor of a quitclaim deed does not claim that the title being transferred is legally valid. The grantor is simply passing or releasing any interest he or she may have in the property to the grantee. Furthermore, a grantor in a quit claim deed does not give any warranties or covenants of title to the grantee, which is why these deeds are sometimes the basis for nefarious transactions.
A Florida “quitclaim deed” only conveys that interest in a property held by the grantor at the time of the conveyance. Nothing more. Zurstrassen v. Stonier, 786 So. 2d 65, 71 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 2001).
3 Common Quitclaim Deed Lawsuits
In Florida, real estate lawsuits involving quitclaim deeds usually boil down to 3 kinds of lawsuits. They are:
1. Quiet Title Lawsuits
For a buyer to purchase an insurable fee simple interest (or full title) to real estate in Florida, he or she needs to receive “clear title” to the property. This means that the real estate records do not have any clouds on the title for things like liens, mortgages, or any other interest that creates an adverse claim of an ownership interest in the real estate.
If a property does not have clear title, then the only option may be to file a lawsuit in the civil court where the property is located, seeking a judge’s determination of title. This determination of title comes in the form of an official written order that is recorded in the real estate records, which cleans up the controversy and “quiets the title”, or establish a party’s title to the real estate.
Quiet title lawsuits are filed in the county where the land is located and they need to include as defendants any and all parties that may have an interest in the property. It does not matter if the parties being sued do not care about having an interest in the real estate. If a party has any legal claim or interest, then they need to be a party to a quiet title lawsuit.
In a these lawsuits, the court enters a formal written Judgment that decides ownership of the property that prevents the parties being sued from making any subsequent claim to the property. Basically, the judge enters an order, which determines who has title to the property.
A common quiet title Lawsuit in Florida involves situations where someone has forged a quit claim deed that appears in the recorded chain of title. In this situation, a quiet title lawsuit is filed seeking an order from a judge, which is later recorded in the county land records, confirming the quitclaim deed is forged, thereby removing the cloud on title caused by the document.
Another common quiet title lawsuit involving quit claim deeds is where there is a wild deed. Wild deeds are recorded documents that are not connected in the chain of title.
2. Deed Reformation Actions
In Florida, “reformation” is an equitable remedy which a judge can order on behalf of the party that seeks to clear title to real estate. (Equitable remedies are within the powers of Florida judges, and are not dependent of any statute or law.)
A deed reformation lawsuit fixes a mistake in a quit claim deed that appears in the chain of title. This lawsuit is designed to correct a defective or erroneous deed so that it reflects the true terms of the transaction between the parties to the deed.
Here, the parties to the deed have a deal and there is no conflict as to their agreement regarding the transfer of the real estate. However, the quit claim deed they used to memorialize their agreement is flawed in some way.
Examples of Reforming a Florida Quitclaim Deed
As explained above, a deed reformation lawsuit involves a judge fixing an error usually in a quit claim deed. The judge changes or “reforms” the deed so it reflects the true intention of the parties. See: Losner v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., 190 So. 3d 160 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).
Here are two examples of mistakes that lead to a reformation lawsuit:
a. Grantor’s Intent Missing In The Quitclaim Deed
A common example of a reformation lawsuit in Florida involving a quitclaim deed occurs when the deed fails to state the Grantor’s intention. If there is no language that the owner (“grantor”) wants to sell, give, or otherwise transfer his or her interests in the land, then the judge can confirm the grantor’s intent by entering an order so stating. Once the order, or judgment, is entered, the order is then recorded in the public records removing any cloud caused by the original recorded quit claim deed.
b. Error In The Legal Description of the Property
In Florida, real estate records are indexed by official record books and page numbers in the county where the land is located, as well as by other types of information (plat books, legal description, party name, etc.) that identify the specific real estate and distinguish it from all others.
However, it is shocking how often quitclaim deeds contain errors in the legal description of the property that is being transferred. Even the most minor error can cause the legal description to be incorrect and cause a cloud on title (naming the wrong county, leaving out a book number or page, transposing numbers, incorrect distances or directions, etc.)
Accordingly, when a quitclaim deed contains a mistake in the legal description of the property being transferred, often times a party is left with no option other than filing a reformation lawsuit in order to correct the chain of title.
3. Partition Lawsuits
When a quitclaim deed is the basis of ownership in real estate, it is often necessary to file a lawsuit in order to sever, or partition, the interests of the owners of the property.
In a Florida partition lawsuit, a judge signs a judgment forcing the sale of the property and dividing the proceeds among the owners according to their holdings or percentage interest in the property (subject to certain adjustments).
Often, partition lawsuits are filed when a marriage or business relationship ends, when a boyfriend and girlfriend end their relationship, or where family members inherit the family home and they cannot agree on the disposition of the property.
Other Issues That Can Lead To Quitclaim Deed Related Lawsuits
There are other common real estate issues that give rise to quitclaim deed related lawsuits. These include:
1. Does a Quitclaim Deed Mean The Grantor Had An Interest in The Property?
The quitclaim deed conveys only what the grantor legally has a right to convey. The key characteristic of a Florida quitclaim deed, or red flag, is that the grantor may or may not have any legal title or interest in the property.
As the Florida Supreme Court explains in Goldtrap v. Bryan, 77 So.2d 446 (Fla. 1955),
”[A} conveyance, which was made by made by quitclaim deed, does not amount to a repudiation of the former deed. This is true because of the very nature of a quitclaim deed, whose execution, without more, does not necessarily import that the grantor possesses any interest at all.”
When a quit claim deed appears in the chain of title, and there is no connection to any other document in the chain of title, the deed should be examined closely and a determination should be made if a lawsuit, or other remedy, is needed to address the deed.
2. Recording A Quitclaim Deed After A Grantor Dies
Florida’s real estate records exist to document and provide notice of ownership of all land located within the state’s jurisdiction. The focus here is to create a searchable index of county by county land records, which includes all kinds of documents like Spanish Land Grants, agreements related to mineral rights, easements, death certificates, etc.
When a grantor passes away, his or her death should not have any impact on any recorded document in these land records, as long as the grantor was not subject to duress, lack of capacity, or some other disability.
This is true even if an otherwise properly executed quitclaim deed is recorded after the grantor passes away. That later recording of a quit claim deed does not impact the validity of the deed. Sweat v. Yates, 463 So.2d 306 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985).
3. Alterations To The Quitclaim Deed
When a Florida quitclaim deed has more than one color or type of ink, items crossed through or added by hand, or have different signatures on the document, then those issues can create a red flag as to the validity of the deed.
In those situations, a lawsuit may be necessary to confirm that the deed alterations were not made as a result of fraudulent or illegal activity.
A judge may want to hear the reasons why those alterations occurred, or testimony regarding the circumstances that surrounded the changes.
If the quitclaim deed has alterations that are suspicious on its face, then the person who is claiming ownership under the quitclaim deed has the burden of providing evidence to the court that the quitclaim deed is legitimate and the reasons for the suspicious alternations on the document.
Furthermore, some alterations are void on their face. For example, if the quitclaim deed alters the name of the person who is getting ownership (the grantee), then under Florida law that deed is void on its face. See, Mann v. Mann, 677 So.2d 62 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996).
Are You Having An Issue With A Quitclaim Deed In The Chain Of Title?
If you are having a problem with a quit claim deed in the chain of title, then a good piece of advice is to speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn whether or not a lawsuit is necessary to clear the cloud on title caused by the deed. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
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