Consider this scenario: An Executor of an elderly family member’s
will contacts you because you have inherited a commercial building in
New York City. While you live in upstate New York and aren’t in
the area very often, you go through the proceedings to transfer the property
into your name and timely file your dead with the County Clerk in the
proper borough. Although you have no plans to immediately sell or renovate
the property, you hope the market will eventually improve and you will
be able to make a handsome profit when you sell the property years down
the line. For now, however, you leave the property unattended assuming
that you are protected through the formalities of recording.
Without your knowledge, another person who doesn’t care much for legal formalities has observed that the property has been unattended for quite sometime. This person finds a way to forge a deed stating that you have conveyed the property either to them, or another person, has it notarized either by presenting false credentials or finding a notary willing to look the other way in order to make the documentation official. This documentation usually takes the form of a quitclaim deed that is not protected by a title company’s assurance there are no other’s claiming ownership to the property. When the County Clerk is presented with such a deed that appears legal and legitimate on its face, despite carrying the least amount of protection for the current filer, the Clerk is required to record the deed in the normal course of business.
Months or maybe years have passed and you find yourself in the neighborhood where your inherited property is located. You decide to make sure that there are no major issues with the upkeep of your asset. When you arrive at the location, the locks have been changed and after several conveyances of title to the property, a seemingly innocent business owner has taken title to it. You are left with few other options than to contact an attorney in order to “quiet title” or essentially undo all of the conveyances of title beginning with the fraudulent transfer. However, if you do not have insurance to cover this type of incident, this route will require you to pay attorney fees out of pocket.
You find yourself asking: “What if anything should I have done in order to protect this from happening in the first place? New York City has started a program that will alert property owners anytime a document is filed with the County Clerk relating to a specific piece of property. This program, however, is only voluntary and requires the property owner to take the necessary steps in order to be afforded this protection. Property records in New York city are also public knowledge and easily accessible online. A property owner should make periodic to ensure they are the current holder of title of the property. Additionally, it is always wise to have a third party check on the property if you are unable to do so for an extended period of time. This simple step will make legal proceedings by shortening the amount of time and hopefully the number of conveyances to simplify legal proceedings should they be required.
Even by taking such proactive steps, not every property owner will be successful at protecting their property interests and may be required to a hire an experienced attorney to recover control from the current person asserting title to the property.