Title Deeds And The Form They Should Take

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On a forum I frequent, someone posted this advice for prospective property purchasers: At closing, at the title office or bank, when signing the title, contract for sale or any transfer instrument (use a single obliterating line) mark out the word "tenant" and write above it "landlord" or "buyer".

Better yet, require a free simple title to transfer ownership without the buyer identified as a "tenant".

I do not understand this "advice" and am turning to you for clarification. Thanks!

I only work in California, but the only times the word "tenant" should appear on a title transfer deed is if it's a leasehold, or to describe the manner in which two or more grantees hold title amongst themselves.

It is possible that someone might contend that a title granted as "tenant" was a leasehold or rental interest of some nature. I can't see it working in the face of a purchase contract, though, unless there's a whole lot of scamming going on, and everybody involved would basically lose their license and their livelihood, and be liable to the purchaser for what they should have gotten, and didn't. Be advised, however, that I'm not a lawyer, so consult one. With that said, however, such words shouldn't appear unless there's a reason for it.

Here in California, the deeds typically read "(A) grants (B) (type of title or interest) in (legal description of property). It doesn't say seller, buyer, or anything else along those lines. It simply transfers title from one group of holders holder to another. There can be commonality between the first group and the second - say a parent granting the property from themselves to themselves and their child. Spouses usually automatically join title by action of law, but it can be beneficial to have them officially on title of record in some cases. They can also be used to remove a particular party to the deed, by omitting them from the list of parties the property is being granted to, as in from W, X, Y and Z to W, X and Z.

There are two kinds of transfer deeds most people will see: A Grant Deed conveys any interest in the property, including interests that may accrue due to operation of law at a later time. A Quitclaim Deed conveys only what interests you many currently have. An actual purchase should use a Grant Deed, transfers within a given family most often use Quitclaims. There are others: Warranty Deeds and Special Warranty Deeds, the latter being mostly used in lender owned property. Both are insurable, marketable title, but there are differences and if you need to know, consult a licensed attorney. Sometimes people acquire title through court judgment, and the title being granted is as strong as anything else, if subject to appeal.

The holder or holders can be lots of different things. It can be a corporation, husband and wife, a single individual, a trust, an estate, a partnership, etcetera, or even a combination.

It also includes how the grantees are going to hold title: joint tenants, tenants in common, common property, etcetera. Each of these has legal implications, and those implications change from state to state. Consult a lawyer in your state for more. Joint tenants, also known as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (i.e. survivor gets the entire share of title), is the most common way for married couples to hold property, but there are many others. There can be layers of this - say a husband and wife hold their share of title as joint tenants, but they are only part owners in a tenancy in common. Any time there are two or more owners, the title deed has to say how they are going to hold title between them. Each of the possibilities has legal meanings and consequences. Single property owners can be and usually are described as "a single man/woman", "an unmarried man/woman" (not the same thing as single!), "a married man/woman as his/her sole and separate property" and many other things, but the word "tenant" does not appear in any of the possibilities I am aware of. Each of these implies things about the state of title as they hold it, but a full description is beyond the scope of this article and changes from state to state. Consult your attorney for details.

The interest being granted can be one of several things or a combination of interests. A "fee" is a piece of actual land. An "easement" is the right to use a particular piece of land in a particular way, but without the rights of ownership. The most common easement is access. The owner of parcel A gives the owner of parcel B the right to travel over a specified part of parcel A in order to get to their own parcel, or for other purposes. Utility easements are part and parcel of this, and the parcel owner granting an easement is giving up rights to do things with their property that conflict with that easement - for instance, building a garage or granny flat over the gas line. If conflict happens, the property owner is required to do what is necessary to give the easement owner their rights. Quite often, easements run with the ownership of a given property, in which case the title being granted is a fee and one or more easements. A leasehold is a time interest - for a specified period of time. Think of it as a rental interest to get the idea. Finally, there is a condominium interest, in which someone holds title to a share of an underlying property, which interest cannot be partitioned off, and usually comes with some rights of exclusive use to a portion of that property. In plain English, you own a defined share of the entire thing, and exclusive rights to your condominium unit, your assigned parking space, and anything else that may have gone with a particular unit under the Condominium Plan, but you have no rights to split yourself off from the common ownership interest. Just because you live in detached housing does not mean you don't live in property that is legally a Condominium. It irritates me no end to read "title being conveyed" in MLS being "fee simple" and then below read that are homeowners association dues on the property. These two things never go together. If there are association dues on the property, it isn't a fee simple.

Whether the person signing a title transfer deed had a right to grant the ownership interest conveyed (or all of the ownership interest conveyed) is a different story. I can grant my interest in a property on the moon to anyone else, but if I don't have any interest in the property granted it is meaningless - a wasted piece of paper. This is the strongest of many reasons for title insurance. People granting interests that they may not own or control happens all the time. Usually, it is to clear up a cloud on title, but fraud is a real and significant factor, and sometimes people legitimately may believe that they are (or were) the owner, but it turns out they weren't due to some unforeseeable or unknown factor. If someone sells you a property they don't own, and you don't have title insurance, you are out the money, still owe the money on any mortgage you may have taken out, and you don't own the property. Here is a not too untypical example: Owner A dies, and sibling apparently inherits. Sibling sells property to someone, who eventually sells it to you. But Owner A had a long forgotten marriage that was never dissolved, and that spouse had a child. Child discovers undissolved marriage, checks to see what property may have been left by Owner A, finds your property. Child sues for title and wins, as they've got the law on their side. It can happen to you, no matter your current situation. Back in the late nineties, an heir of Alonzo Horton (who laid out what is now downtown San Diego well over a century ago) got several million dollars out of an interest in land it turned out he had inherited but lots of people had been using the entire intervening time.

Words in title grants can be important. Unless I was buying a leasehold, I probably wouldn't accept a title deed granted to a "tenant" (unless it was "joint tenants" or "tenants in common" with any co-purchasers in the property), and I'd decline to pay the money until the seller furnished a correct deed. Why should I, when they haven't lived up to their end of the bargain? Why allow them to create a potential can of worms when you don't have to? Lenders, for their part, have also wisely instituted requirements to make the title deeds they are lending money upon conform to certain requirements before they will consummate the loan. They are in the business of making loans that are going to be repaid, not of repossessing property where the owners didn't, but they're not going to tolerate needless clouds on their title if they do need to take over the property. Bottom line: Be careful about wording on the title deed. Word order and even the presence or absence of commas can be important. If at all in doubt, consult your own lawyer.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 31, 2020 7:00 AM.

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