‘Quiet Title’ Law Used to Dupe People Out of Homes

A picture of a house drawn on the beach with the tide approaching about to wash it away.

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Real estate opportunists in several states in the Midwest are using a loophole in “quiet title” laws to seize control of people’s homes, mostly targeting immigrants, Iowa Public Radio reports.

In one case, a 72-year-old immigrant, originally from Mexico, says when she returned to her home of more than 20 years in Marshalltown, Iowa, she found someone had assumed a legal title and put her home up for sale.

Quiet title actions are usually used to resolve boundary disputes or determine who owns a property after someone passes away. But opportunists reportedly are exploiting vaguely written laws in some municipalities to make an argument that the property has been abandoned and thus take possession.

The actual property owner may not receive notifications that this is happening. The petitioner can argue that the most recent owner can’t be found—in the above case, the homeowner was out of the country at the time. Homeowners also may miss the small-print public notice printed in the local newspaper about it, as in the Iowa case. If homeowners fail to show up in court to argue their side, the other party can claim ownership of the home.

Law experts are concerned the law is being misused or unfairly wielded against immigrants, who may miss notices in English-language newspapers.

Between 2018 and 2021, 55 quiet title petitions were filed in Marshall County, around Marshalltown, alone. Housing advocates warn that similar quiet title laws could put properties at risk in Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas as well.

“I’d say the average person knows absolutely nothing about quieting titles or even what the title is,” Mike White, a real estate attorney based in Kansas City, Mo., told Iowa Public Radio.