Is an unrecorded deed valid? This reader transferred ownership of the home but is receiving tax bills, are they still the legal owner of the property?

Q: My wife and I had a lakehouse. The home originally belonged to her ex-husband before he went to prison. We had an agreement with him that while he was in jail, we would care for the property and he would reimburse us for any monies that were spent. 

Once out of jail, he decided he wanted the property back and money was exchanged. We are now finding out that the house was never transferred and it is still in our names. We are getting the tax bills and are having to deal with dock issues for the boat that should be his responsibility. 

Our question is, if all this is still in our name then are we technically the legal owners of the home, and he is living in our property? What recourse do I have to get him out of the property? These expenses will eat all of the money we received due to his negligence and his attorney’s negligence in failing to transfer the property.

Is an Unrecorded Deed Valid?

A: Let’s get this straight: you are square with your wife’s ex-husband. By this we mean that you got paid what was owed to you and you delivered the documentation needed to convey any ownership interest you had in the home back to your wife’s ex-husband. It seems to us that you should be done with the place and not look for more problems or issues with it.

Sam would say that once you delivered the deed to her ex-husband and he took it, he’s the owner of the property. Having said that, most states require that the buyer and seller give official notice to third parties. That notice is given by recording or filing the deed. Once recorded or filed, the world has notice of the ownership of the property. 

We don’t know why your wife’s ex-husband has failed to record or file the deed. He should do that. We’d like to believe that you have copies of the documents that you gave him conveying the ownership back to him and have copies of the payments made to you. You’d want to have that in case anybody were to claim that you still own the property. 

Risks Associated with an Unrecorded Deed

Her ex-husband runs the risk that third parties might think he doesn’t own the property and that your creditors could lay claim to that lakehouse while it’s still showing in your name. On the other hand, if someone is hurt at that property, the injured person could try to sue the owner. Upon looking at the public records, they would find you listed as the owner and try to sue you. You’d then have to prove that you are not the owner. We’d suggest you talk to an attorney in your area and find out what steps you should take, if any, to protect yourself. 

Usually, tax bills are the responsibility of the property owner. In your situation, the property owner is your wife’s ex-husband, even if he has not recorded or filed the conveyance document. The attorney you speak with might suggest you sign a quitclaim deed and record that deed yourself. Furthermore, you can contact the tax collector’s office and have them change the address on where to send the tax bills.

On issues relating to the property and the dock, you can notify those individuals or companies to contact your wife’s ex-husband and tell them that he is the owner of the property. 

Finally, you mentioned that the ex-husband had an attorney represent him when the title of the property transferred. Have you tried calling that attorney to find out why he or she has failed to record or file the deed? If not, perhaps a call to the attorney might get the attorney to file the document without further cost. Good luck and if you need further help, talk to a real estate attorney in your area.

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