What should I do ifthe person who sold me my home was not the legal owner?

UPDATED: May 30, 2011

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What should I do ifthe person who sold me my home was not the legal owner?

We recently found out that the lot and home we bought 10.5 years ago were sold to us by a neighbor who did not own the property but included it in a quit claim deed. The real landowner does not want to sell. Our property that we have invested in for 10.5 years is not really our/!

Asked on May 30, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Kentucky


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You need to speak with a real estate attorney IMMEDIATELY, bringing with you *all* documentation relevant to the purchase, home, etc.

As a general rule, someone can't sell something he or she doesn't own; that is, the person cannot convey rights he or she doesn't have. Therefore, as a general matter, if you "buy" a home from someone who doesn't own it, you don't own it--the real owner can't be made to convey the home to you, and you can't get it from his or her.

You of course would have a cause of action against the purported seller, for not just the return of the money paid, but also for other out of pocket costs (e.g. improvements) you made.

However, this is a complex situation, with the following wrinkles:

1)  If you paid taxes for the real owner and/or made improvements on his/her behalf, you *may* be able to recover the value thereof from him or her under a theory of "unjust enrichment."

2) If the real owner had acted in some way that caused the person you bought it from--and therefore you--to reasonably believe that the purported seller owned that property, then it's possible that the owner *could* be forced to convey it to you--or at least that you'd have some additional cause of action for compensation against him or her, based on actions which caused others to think the home had been conveyed.

3) If you had a title survey or title insurance, you may have recourse against the title company.

4) It's unlikely that you could claim the property by adverse possession after 10.5 years, but it's worth looking into.

As you can see, there are several possible grounds for, at least, some compensation. Consult with an attorney about the specifics of your situation immediately, and good luck.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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