Slander of title is a real estate legal cause of action. It occurs when a person publishes a fabricated or derogatory statement about another’s property, which could then negatively affect the value of the property.
Although we often connect slander with oral statements, and libel to written; this claim is focused on the publishing of a false statement, by whatever means. This is generally seen in real estate cases, where someone records a document in the files of the county recorder that falsely smears the property title. Thus, it is usually evidenced by written false statements.
There are four elements to a slander of title claim in Minnesota:
(1) a false statement was made concerning the real property owned by the plaintiff;
(2) the false statement was published to others;
(3) the false statement was published maliciously; and
(4) the false statement concerning title to the property caused the plaintiff pecuniary loss in the form of special damages.
Some examples of slander of title are:
• A recorded forged deed of trust;
• A deed executed by someone with no interest in the property;
• A recorded abstract of judgment when execution has been stayed; and
• A letter to prospective buyers claiming an untrue interest in the property.
When deciphering whether a defendant’s conduct was wrong, courts will consider, not whether doubt was in fact cast on the title, but whether the defendant could foresee that a third party might cast such doubt. There is also no rule requiring that an actual transaction was thwarted due to the slanderous title.
It must be demonstrated that the defendant knew the document was false.
Overall, damages that a plaintiff can recover are:
• The value of depreciation in the market value of the property;
• Attorneys’ fees;
• Court costs to remove the false document;
• Litigation costs;
• Expense of time and inconvenience to repair situation; and
• Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was fraudulent.
In Minnesota, slander of title has a two-year statute of limitations which starts to run when the plaintiff discovers the disparagement as the basis of a lawsuit, or when s/he could reasonably be expected to discover a slander of title claim was viable.
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