Q: My wife and I bought a condominium in Fairfax County in 1973. However, we were considered "too old" to obtain the necessary mortgage loan, and a family member joined as a co-owner (but not a co-signer) of the condominium unit. This helped us get the mortgage loan, but our co-owner did not send any money nor contribute to the purchase. We have had them sign an unconditional release indicating that they are no longer co-owners, that they no longer have any responsibility nor any claim on the condominium or on us. We have the absolute right to do as we see fit with the condominium, sell it, rent it, or live here without any interference whatever from them. How can we have title cleared and changed over in our name alone? How much would that cost?
A: I would recommend that your family member prepare and sign a quit-claim deed over to you and your wife. If you receive such a deed, it can be recorded in the clerk's office of the Fairfax County Court.
There are three basic types of deeds. A general warranty deed is a warranty by the person giving the deed (the grantor) that the title is good as against any and all claims, and that the grantor will defend that title literally against the entire world.
The third kind of deed is known as a quit-claim. Here, the grantor merely conveys whatever interest he has in the property to the grantee without warranty. Usually, a quit-claim deed is used to clear a cloud on title. Thus, when I give you a quit-claim deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, if I own that bridge it is yours, but I do not give you any guarantee or warranty of ownership.
The quit-claim deed should be used to transfer your family's ownership in the condominium to you. While they could give you a special warranty, this is asking them to guarantee title in themselves, and since they apparently do not want that responsibility, the quit-claim is the preferred method.
Q: My parents, who are now living out of the country, bought an undeveloped lot at a private club near the ocean in Accomack County, Va. The area has not developed at all and consequently very few houses have been built. Although it is a vacant lot, we continue to get bills for "water availability." We do not feel we should have to pay for water we are not using, nor have we ever used. Are we liable for the "availability" charge?
A: We have confirmed with the county that they have no public water authority. The requirement to pay the "availability" charge is being imposed by the private club, and I am sure that your parents signed a contractual agreement to pay this charge.
I suggest you immediately contact the Interstate Land Sales Office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine whether they have received any other complains about this club. Clearly is is unfair to you to have to pay for services not rendered. However, if you were to stop paying these charges, I suspect that this will create a lien on your property and the private club will attempt to foreclose on your holdings.
Unfortunately, you have an uphill fight. Obtain a copy of the contract between your parents and the private club. What does it say about water availability? If the water is in fact available to your property line, the private club has probably met its legal obligations. On the other hand, if the private club has not even run the major sewer and pipe lines to the individual lots, you might have a better case.
Benny L. Kass, a Washington attorney, answers questions through this column. Write him in care of the Real Estate Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington 20071.