Statutes of Limitation for Quiet Title Claims

Updated on December 29, 2023

What is the statute of limitations in California for a quiet title claim? In this article we will explain the statute of limitations, and discuss California’s methods to determine how long one has to start a quiet title claim. 

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is the collective term commonly applied to a great number of acts, or parts of acts, that limit the periods beyond which a plaintiff may not bring a cause of action. In other words, the statute of limitations for a claim determines when a plaintiff must bring a claim to avoid a defense that the claim is too stale. Indeed, the public policy behind the statute of limitations is to prevent litigants from asserting stale claims once evidence is no longer fresh and witnesses are no longer available. This is to protect defendants from plaintiffs who overly delay bringing a claim.

Statute of Limitations in California for Quiet Title Claim

Quiet Title Claim Limitations in California

Unlike many other causes of action, quiet title claims do not have a specific statute of limitations. This is because the Legislature has not established a specific statute of limitations for actions to quiet title. Therefore, courts refer to the underlying theory of relief to determine the applicable period of limitations.

How to Determine the Applicable Period of Limitations

To determine the applicable period of limitations, the first step is to identify the nature, i.e. the gravamen, of the cause of action. For example, is the nature of the quiet title action based on an adverse possession claim? Or, is the nature of the quiet title claim involving a claim of fraud? Or, is the plaintiff seeking to cancel an instrument.

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The Nature of the Claim

After identifying the gravamen of the claim, the next step is to determine what the relevant statute of limitations is for that claim. For example, if the nature of the quiet title action is based on an adverse possession or prescriptive easement claim, the statute of limitations is usually five years, subject to other conditions and considerations. Or, if the nature of the quiet title claim involves fraud, then the statute of limitations is three years from when the claim accrued, subject to the discovery rule. Or, if the nature of the claim is to cancel an instrument, then the statute of limitations that applies is four years.

At the outset of bringing or defending any claim involving use and possession of real property it is always a good idea to examine the applicable statutes of limitation. This is true because they can either present a possible winning defense or, if you are the plaintiff, they can provide a potential pitfall that you have to carefully navigate around.

For example, quiet title claims have no particular statutes of limitation. The limitations period is instead determined by the underlying theory of relief – fraud, adverse possession, mistake, trespass, etc.

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We frequently see statute of limitation defenses rear their head in quiet title claims where the person out of possession seeks to quiet title after a period of time where they were not in “exclusive and undisputed” possession of the property. Ankoanda v. Walker-Smith (1966) 44 CA4th 610, 616. In Ankoanda, the court determined that the applicable statute of limitations (based on the underlying claims for fraud or mistake) began to run as soon as the owner was not in exclusive and undisputed possession.

One application of this rule could be that a plaintiff suing to quiet title while not in “exclusive and undisputed” possession of the property risks having a trespass/nuisance statute of limitation (3 years) applied to their quiet title claim thus barring relief 3+ years after the claimant is out of exclusive and undisputed possession.

Analyzing and determining the statute of limitations for a quiet title claim in California can be a complex process. Schorr Law, APC has experience analyzing all types of issues involving quiet title claims. The makeup of circumstances usually differ from case to case and it can determine how much time a matter has before it can no longer be resolved legally. If you need assistance simplifying a complex real estate matter such as quiet title, schedule a consultation with one of our California attorneys today. Please give us a call at (310) 954-1877. You can also text us at (310) 706-2265, or send us a message here.

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Stephanie G.