Q: A number of years ago, my housekeeper “quit claimed” a vacant lot to me “for security purposes only.” I originally intended to return it to her when she got back on her feet financially, but I’ve paid back and current taxes on the property as well as the homeowner association dues for the past seven years.

I wish to make it my own. I have now paid expenses equal to what the property is worth. She is now homeless and I have been unable to find out where she is. Is there any way I can legally do this since the quit claim deed says “for security purposes only?”

A: Your question raises a number of interesting questions and problems. It is intriguing that you have come to hold a quit claim deed for your former housekeeper.

If your housekeeper was attempting to hide the ownership of her lot and you were aware of problems she was facing, you may have participated in an illegal scheme with your housekeeper.

On the other hand, if you took the property as collateral for a loan given to your housekeeper to help her out, the deed would serve as evidence of the loan you had given her. The true question that needs to be answered is what was the intention of your housekeeper when she quit claimed the property to you? Was it akin to a mortgage for a debt? Was it to hide the home? Was it a gift to you?

You will need to take the deed along with any other documentation you have to a real estate attorney in your state to discuss your situation further. You may also seek help from a title insurance company in your area. They can search the title to the property and give you their determination as to whether they believe the deed transferred title to you.

There are at least several possible outcomes to the situation you have described relating to the deed.

The first is that the deed transferred title to you even though it stated that it was for “security purposes only” and you are the owner of the property. It’s possible that the way the deed was drafted, title was conveyed to you and the additional language placed in the deed stating that it was for security purposes only will be given no validity.

The second alternative is that the deed purportedly created a lien on the property. The language in the deed that it was for security purposes may have been enough to create a type of mortgage on the property. However, the deed does not state a length of time for the lien to exist nor any other legal terms. In general, it would seem deficient in creating a lien on the property and as such the deed may protect you against other liens or right of other parties. It may, however, be evidence of your housekeeper’s intention to give you a lien.

The last alternative is that the deed was not drafted properly and conveyed no interest in the land to you. If the deed did not transfer your housekeeper’s interest in the land to you, and did not create a lien on the property, you have a document that is basically worthless.

Unfortunately, without seeing the documentation, it’s difficult to say which of these situations is most likely.

You have invested lots of money into the property over the years and that may have some bearing on your ability to gain control of the lot. Unfortunately, I don’t think that making sure that you have clear title to the land will be an easy accomplishment.

You need to gather your documents, review them and then sit down with a real estate attorney to decide how you will need to proceed.

Don’t be surprised if you are required to publish information in various newspapers to give notice to the world that you have an interest in this lot and want to claim it as your own. You may also have to take additional steps to find your housekeeper and see if she would be willing to transfer the property to you with a property deed.

You may have other rights under the laws of your state. Some states allow people who pay taxes on land and claim the land to be theirs to obtain title to the land after a number of years. In some cases you may be able to do this after seven years.

In other cases, if you occupy the land and claim it as your own, you are able to get title to the property after 20 or 21 years. In any of these circumstances, you must fulfill certain statutory requirements to claim ownership.

Your attorney can guide you further.

Aug. 5, 2005.