Historically, in common law, quiet title actions allowed landowners to commence lawsuits in equity courts asserting their rights to ownership against claims of ownership by other parties. The majority of U.S. jurisdictions enacted statutory laws allowing their residents to file similar lawsuits. In Washington, the Revised Code of Washington allows plaintiffs to file quiet title actions to remove any possible title defects against owners claiming ownership by adverse possession.
Most commonly, quiet title actions are necessary when multiple parties claim ownership to the same piece of land or developed property or when boundary disputes between neighbors exist. Landowners can also file quiet title actions against adverse possession tenants. A tenant claiming a right to ownership through adverse possession claims ownership through open and hostile use that is adverse to the record owner's claim. At common law, a party could claim ownership by using someone else's land continuously and openly for a minimum number of years. Today, most states have statutes providing third parties with the same rights of ownership simply through open use.
Quiet Title Actions
A party filing a quiet title action allows the court to determine proper ownership. By filing an action to quiet title, the owner is seeking to "quiet" everyone else's claim to his property by having the court establish ownership once and for all. Quiet title lawsuits are also effective against purported adverse possession tenants claiming ownership through adverse possession. By filing a quiet title action, the landowner is effectively ending the open and continuous use of his property by the adverse possession tenant.
In Washington, adverse possession tenants can claim ownership to property by using it exclusively for at least 10 years. The tenant's use must be open, hostile, notorious and uninterrupted. By trespassing, an adverse possession tenant allows the tenant to claim ownership without purchasing land. State legislatures enacted these prescriptive statutes to encourage landowners from wasting their land by actively using it. An example of adverse possession is when an individual maintains his adjoining neighbor's lawn by mowing it weekly for 10 years. The neighbor mowing the lawn could claim ownership of the land he mowed for 10 years through adverse possession. However, his neighbor, the actual property owner, would challenge his claim by filing an action to quiet title.
Once a landowner obtains a judgment in his favor after filing an action or lawsuit to quiet title, the adverse possession owner's claim to ownership is nullified. Any subsequent use without the owner's permission is considered legal trespass.
Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.