Chapter 3: Common Title Issues

Liens and Encumbrances

Liens: A lien is a legal claim or right that a creditor has over a property as security for a debt or obligation owed by the property owner. Liens can arise from unpaid taxes, mortgages, judgments, or other outstanding debts. If a lien is placed on a property, it typically means that the property cannot be sold or transferred until the debt is satisfied or cleared. Clearing a lien often involves paying off the debt or resolving the underlying issue.

Encumbrances: Encumbrances refer to any other claims, restrictions, or limitations that affect the use, transfer, or value of a property. Encumbrances can include easements, restrictive covenants, rights-of-way, leases, or other agreements that impose obligations or limitations on the property. These encumbrances may be disclosed in the property’s title documents or revealed through a thorough title search. They can impact the property’s marketability, the buyer’s rights, or the property’s intended use.

When purchasing a property, it is crucial to conduct a title search and obtain title insurance to identify and address any potential liens or encumbrances. The title insurance company will examine public records to identify any existing issues and provide protection against financial losses resulting from undiscovered or undisclosed title defects.

Resolving title issues, such as liens and encumbrances, may involve negotiations, legal procedures, or payments to satisfy outstanding obligations. It is advisable to seek professional guidance from real estate attorneys, title companies, or experts familiar with local property laws and regulations to address and resolve these title issues effectively.

Easements and Rights of Way

Easements and rights of way are legal arrangements that grant certain individuals or entities the right to use or access another person’s property for specific purposes. Here’s a closer look at these terms:


An easement is a legal right that allows someone who is not the property owner to use or access a portion of the property for a particular purpose. This can include rights such as the right to cross over the property, use a pathway, or install utility lines. Easements can be created through written agreements, court orders, or by prescription (through continuous use over a specified period).

There are different types of easements, including Appurtenant Easements: These easements are attached to the ownership of a specific property and benefit a neighboring property. For example, an easement may grant a neighboring property the right to access a public road through the owner’s land.

Easements in Gross:

These easements are granted to individuals or entities rather than being attached to a specific property. For instance, a utility company may have an easement to access and maintain utility lines on private property.

Rights of Way:

A right of way is a specific type of easement that provides a person or entity with the legal right to pass through another person’s property. It allows access for transportation purposes, such as roads, pathways, or driveways. Rights of way are often granted to provide access to landlocked properties or to create public or private access routes.

It’s important to note that easements and rights of way do not transfer ownership of the property. They simply grant specific rights to certain individuals or entities for designated purposes.

When purchasing a property, it is essential to conduct a title search to identify any existing easements or rights of way that may impact the property’s use or value. Understanding the terms and conditions of these arrangements is crucial to ensure compliance and proper property management.

If you have concerns about easements or rights of way affecting your property, it is advisable to consult a real estate attorney or a professional experienced in property law to fully understand your rights and obligations.

Boundary Disputes

Title boundary disputes arise when there is a disagreement or uncertainty regarding the location or ownership of property boundaries between neighboring landowners. These disputes can be complex and may involve conflicting surveys, unclear property descriptions, or differing interpretations of historical records. Here’s an overview of title boundary disputes:

Causes of Boundary Disputes:

Survey Discrepancies: Differences in surveys conducted by different surveyors can lead to conflicting boundary lines.

Unclear or Inaccurate Property Descriptions: Inaccurate or vague property descriptions in legal documents, deeds, or historical records can contribute to boundary disputes.

Adverse Possession: Claims of adverse possession can arise when someone occupies and uses a portion of land without the legal owner’s permission for a certain period, potentially leading to disputes over property boundaries.

Resolving Boundary Disputes:

Communication and Negotiation: In many cases, disputes can be resolved through open communication and negotiation between the parties involved. Engaging in constructive dialogue and seeking a mutually agreeable solution can help avoid costly legal proceedings.

Professional Surveying: Hiring a professional land surveyor can help accurately determine the property boundaries based on established legal principles and measurements. Surveying techniques, such as boundary retracement surveys, can aid in resolving disputes.

Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution: Mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution can be used to reach a settlement outside of court. A neutral third party can assist in facilitating discussions and finding a resolution that satisfies both parties.

Legal Action: If negotiation and alternative dispute resolution methods fail, legal action may be necessary. This can involve filing a lawsuit to seek a judicial determination of the property boundaries. The court will examine evidence, including surveys, property documents, and witness testimonies, to make a binding decision.

Resolving title boundary disputes can be a complex and lengthy process. It is essential to seek legal advice from an experienced real estate attorney who specializes in property disputes to guide you through the process and protect your rights.

Unrecorded Claims and Fraudulent Transfers

Unrecorded claims and fraudulent transfers are two potential issues that can impact property ownership and transactions. Here’s an explanation of each:

Unrecorded Claims:

Unrecorded claims refer to legal interests or rights in a property that are not properly documented or recorded in public records. These claims can arise due to various reasons, such as errors in record-keeping, omissions, or failures to file necessary documents. Unrecorded claims can include unrecorded liens, undisclosed easements, or other rights that may affect the property’s ownership or use. The absence of these claims in public records can create challenges when determining the property’s true status and potential encumbrances.

Fraudulent Transfers:

Fraudulent transfers occur when a property is transferred to another party with the intent to defraud creditors, evade legal obligations, or conceal assets. This can involve transferring the property for inadequate consideration, hiding assets from creditors, or engaging in other deceptive practices. Fraudulent transfers can lead to complications in real estate transactions, as the true ownership and validity of the transfer may be called into question. These transfers are typically considered voidable, and legal remedies can be pursued to undo the fraudulent transaction.

To mitigate the risks associated with unrecorded claims and fraudulent transfers, several precautions can be taken:

Conducting a thorough title search and examination:

A comprehensive title search, performed by a qualified professional such as a title company or real estate attorney, can uncover potential unrecorded claims or irregularities in the property’s ownership history.

Obtaining title insurance:

Title insurance policies provide protection against loss or damage due to undisclosed or unrecorded title issues, including unrecorded claims or fraudulent transfers. It offers financial safeguards and can cover legal expenses in case of title disputes.

Exercising due diligence:

Parties involved in real estate transactions should engage in due diligence by carefully reviewing all relevant documentation, verifying the identities of the parties involved, and ensuring compliance with legal requirements and regulations.

Seeking legal advice:

Consulting with a real estate attorney who specializes in property transactions can help identify and address any potential risks or issues related to unrecorded claims or fraudulent transfers.

Taking these precautions can help mitigate the risks associated with unrecorded claims and fraudulent transfers and ensure a smoother and more secure real estate transaction process.