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A Quiet Title Story

In 2001, Mick and Toni purchased a home in a Philadelphia suburb. The property actually consisted of two lots identified in their deed as Lot A and Lot B. Their house was on Lot B; Lot A was just additional ground.

In 2002, when Mick and Toni wanted to install an in-ground pool, they were told by their township that there were problems with the amount of impervious surface on the property. Mick was informed that local code required that the two lots would have to be “consolidated” into a new deed if he and his wife wanted to proceed with plans to put in the swimming pool.

Toni and Mick hired professionals to draw up plans and obtained permission from the township to move ahead and install the pool. A new deed of consolidation was then recorded in the county recorder of deeds office.

In 2005 Toni and Mick decided to downsize and move into the city. They put their home up for sale and one Sunday morning Jim and Bruce came by for a tour of the house as well as the yard. After some discussion concerning the property’s boundaries, the parties reached a meeting of the minds and an agreement of sale was signed.

In June of that year the parties went to settlement and title to the property was transferred to Bruce and Jim. They also got mortgage financing from their bank. Once the sale had closed, Toni and Mick trusted all was good and they rightfully assumed they would never hear anything about the deal again. As it turned out, they were wrong!

In 2011, Toni and Mick were served with legal papers filed against them by Bruce and Jim. The lawsuit claimed that the legal description in their deed was erroneous. The Quiet Title Complaint asserted that the description should have identified two separate lots, A and B, despite the fact that the consolidation deed in 2002 changed the description from A and B into one parcel when Mick and Toni wanted to install their swimming pool. The Complaint sought a Court order to change the deed so that Bruce and Jim could have a new deed that identified A and B again.

Mick and Toni did not understand fully what was being claimed, but they knew it smelled fishy. They contacted their title insurance company immediately and the company assigned Mike Bomstein to handle the case on their behalf.

Bomstein reviewed all the documentation involved in the 2005 sale to Jim and Bruce. There was nothing in the sale agreement that promised a new deed would go back to the A and B description. Clearly Toni and Mick had done nothing wrong and had kept all their promises in the sale transaction. Bomstein also confirmed the circumstances leading to the filing of the consolidation deed. It was equally clear that the township had required elimination of the A and B description as a condition of the swimming pool being installed.

What Bomstein learned, however, was that there was an error in Bruce and Jim’s deed. While it should have had the same description as found in the consolidation deed, instead it only described Lot A. The land contained in Lot B was not mentioned anywhere in the document. This was an error that was not the fault of the buyers or the sellers but it did require correction.

Probably no one would have discovered the error except for one thing: Jim and Bruce had stopped making their monthly mortgage payments and had not paid anything for at least a few years. With an $850,000 mortgage, the arrearage was already very substantial. The bank, then, filed a mortgage foreclosure suit against them.

Jim and Bruce happened to be attorneys. They looked carefully at the foreclosure Complaint and discovered something very interesting: Even though the house was located on what used to be Lot B, that lot was not identified anywhere in the papers. It became their contention that the bank did not have a mortgage on Lot B, only on the empty ground known as Lot A. Since the house was on Lot B, they claimed, the bank had no right to foreclose on the house!

Eventually the case went to trial. The trial judge found in favor of Mick and Toni and ruled that the consolidation deed contained the proper deed description. The judge ordered that a new deed be prepared and filed using that description. As a result of that order, however, Bruce and Jim were dissatisfied.

The Court’s ruling meant that they could not get out of the mortgage foreclosure suit against them. They insisted that they never intended to mortgage the house, only the empty lot! Jim and Bruce then took an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and lost. As a result, the correct deed was recorded and Mick and Toni were able to stop worrying about something that they never should have had to worry about in the first place.

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