Quiet Title Action – or Something Else?

Quiet title lawsuits are certainly common civil actions that Pennsylvania property owners routinely use to protect and to preserve their rights of ownership to real property, as a real estate lawyer in Allentown, PA, like from Hoegen & Associates, P.C., can explain. A property owner can file a quiet title action to obtain an order from a Court confirming the owner’s rights in and to a certain parcel of property.  Often, a property owner who obtains a tax claim bureau to a piece of property through a judicial tax sale will file a quiet title action to make sure that any claims to the property are divested, thereby, “cleaning up,” the title to the property.  In other instances, a quiet title action can be used in order to divest old or ancient claims to a parcel of real property (assuming that service of process is made upon any adverse parties or their heirs or assigns).  A quiet title action serves as a very powerful and useful tool for a property owner.

However, what happens if someone with a right or claim to a property is not in possession of that property?  Is a quiet title action appropriate in such a situation?  Under Pennsylvania law, the answer is no.  When someone has a claim to a parcel of property which is not in his or her possession, the appropriate legal action to take would be an action in ejectment rather than action to quiet title.

Pennsylvania courts have held that a Plaintiff in an action to quiet title must be in possession of the land in controversy; if he is not in possession, his sole remedy is an action in ejectment.  An action to quiet title may be brought only where an action in ejection will not lie.  “Ejectment, being a possessory action, can be maintained if the plaintiff has a right to immediate possession with the concomitant right to demand that the defendant vacate the land.”  An out-of-possession plaintiff may not maintain an action to quiet title because it constitutes an enlargement of that party’s substantive rights, and thus exceeds the court’s jurisdiction to proceed.  Plauchak v. Boling, 653 A.2d 671, 674 (Pa. Super. 1995), citing, Pa. R. Civ. P. 1061(b)(2). 

Importantly, the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure set forth different sets of rules for quiet title actions as opposed to actions for ejectment.  The rules for civil procedure governing actions to quiet title or set forth in Pa. R. Civ. P. 1061 through 1068.  The rules of civil procedure governing an action in ejectment are set forth in Pa. R. Civ. P. 1051 through 1058.  Depending on the circumstances, certain rules will apply for a Pennsylvania Court.

Whatever civil action a property owner has to assert his or her rights, it is important for a property owner to be aware of what means he or she has in order to assert a claim, or to challenge another party’s claims, to property.