Real Estate Disputes

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Real Estate Disputes

Real estate disputes surrounding title to property can be layered and complex. If you have a problem regarding the title to your property, you will need experienced counsel to navigate the various rights of the competing parties.

What is a Title?

Real estate title is more than just a patch of land. It is a bundle of rights that can represent legal and equitable interests, land or resource rights. These rights can all be held by one person or entity, or also split between multiple parties. Sometimes issues surface that can interfere with some or all of that bundle of rights, called “clouds on” or “exceptions to” title.

Examples of clouds on a title can include:

  • Mistakes or omissions in legal documents; 
  • Unrecorded transfers;
  • Breaks in historical ownership succession; 
  • Liens, such as mortgages, or smaller liens placed on property by a third party to secure some unpaid debt;
  • Boundary disputes;
  • Easements;
  • Problematic covenants and land-use limits; and/or
  • Claims of adverse possession.

Defective title can result in problems establishing ownership, which can complicate resale or impact the exercise of rights over the property.

Action to Quiet Title

A judgment quieting title is a type of declaratory judgment. This is highly sought after because it is ordinarily conclusive as to the rights of the parties and their successors with respect to all matters in issue that were or should have been determined in the action. This means that any decision would bar subsequent litigation based on the same claim or cause of action. It should be noted that a default judgment (where no defendants appear) is just as conclusive as if the judgment had been rendered in a litigated case.

The Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law sets forth that a claim to a quiet title must contain the following:

  • A statement that the action is being brought pursuant to the statute;
  • A description of the property;
  • Facts identifying the nature of the plaintiff’s interest and how it was acquired;
  • Allegations that the defendant claims or might claim an interest in the property adverse to that of the plaintiff, and the nature of that interest; and
  • Whether the defendant(s) is known or unknown, is a minor, or is under some mental disability.

The demand for judgment should seek that the defendant and every person claiming under him or her be barred from all claim to an estate or interest in the property described in the complaint, and/or that possession be awarded the plaintiff, along with other appropriate relief.

Usually these actions do not involve damages unless they are demonstrated by the property owner. However, under certain circumstances, attorney’s fees have been granted, such as where the defendant’s actions caused a diminution of the value of the property. 

Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is the acquiring of title to real property owned by someone else by means of open, notorious, hostile and continuous possession under a claim of right for a statutory period of time (10 years in New York). This sort of interest is exactly what might be litigated in an action to quiet title, though it can also be a defense in claims like trespass.

An owner should be aware that the title can be lost by their neglect to take countermeasures to protect her ownership of the property when someone else takes control. All that is required to establish that adverse possession was happening is a showing that the possession actually infringed upon the owner’s rights (rising to the level that would give the owner a claim for ejectment against the occupier). Adverse possession may be found even when the possession occurred inadvertently or by mistake.

If someone has taken possession of some or all of your property, do not wait to pursue your rights and remedies. Contact us now.

Easements

Easement claims are similar to claims of adverse possession, but instead of possession of land, easements generally involve the right to use or to pass through land. Also, unlike adverse possession, easements can be granted by an owner as part of their “bundle of rights.”

Partition Actions

Partition actions are generally litigations between joint tenants or tenants in common for the division of their property between them, according to their respective interests, or if such division cannot be made, then for a sale and a similar division of the proceeds.

Boundary Disputes

Boundaries are the lines between adjoining properties. Uncertain boundaries can be defined cooperatively through:

  • Written agreement;
  • Conveyance;
  • Parol agreement; and/or
  • Actions of the parties over a considerable period of time.

While a boundary is usually fixed by deed, will or other instrument of conveyance, boundaries may also be established by equitable doctrines like adverse possession and estoppel.

When the parties cannot agree, parties can submit their boundary-line matter to arbitration or mediation to settle the dispute. 

Our firm is experienced in all aspects of title disputes, and can help you to discover and clear title issues.

Down Payment Dispute

While unrelated to title in a property, another common real estate dispute involves the disposition of the down payment when a sale of property falls through. During most commercial and residential sales, the purchaser is required to put down money in advance before closing, known as the down payment or deposit. Provisions relating to the down payment are usually present in the contract of sale for the property. If the purchaser backs out of the contract, then the seller will keep the down payment as damages for the breach (the seller can also alternatively pursue general damages, specific performance or rescission). So long as the seller can establish that it was ready, willing and able to perform pursuant to the contract, a provision providing for the retention of the down payment will be enforced as a matter of course, regardless of whether the down payment exceeds the seller’s actual damages.

A purchaser will usually counter and seek rescission of the contract if the seller could not convey marketable title or the seller could not convey title in accordance with terms of the contract. Rescission has also been granted when the purchaser couldn’t obtain a mortgage commitment within the time specified in the real estate sales contract.

Therefore, if a sale falls apart, there can still be significant sums at stake between the parties.

If you or your business is involved in a real estate dispute, contact us now for a free consultation.

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