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Rhode Island Agencies


R.I. MARKETABLE RECORD TITLE ACT - Over time, the land records become encumbered with more and more stale title claims or technical defects due to mistakes in conveyancing. There is no legitimate reason why these types of claims should be preserved. Stale claims should be extinguished because of the common law doctrine of "laches," which holds that undue delay in the enforcement of one's legal rights results in a loss of those rights. There is no legitimate reason to preserve technical defects and errors at all. The R.I. Marketable Record Title Act (R.I.G.L. 34-13.1-1 et seq.) codifies the doctrine of laches as to real estate titles. With certain exceptions, the Act provides that a landowner has marketable title if he or she has an unbroken title for at least forty years prior to the time marketablility is being determined, with nothing appearing of record divesting the landowner of his or her title and no one having recorded a statutory notice of a preexisting claim to an interest in the property.

With the passage of forty years, each recorded title transaction becomes a new "root of title." A landowner has a marketable record title if, subsequent to a "root of title," he or she, or his or her predecessors, have forty years of record ownership, with nothing having been recorded that appears to divest him or her of their ownership. Outstanding claims or interests, real or technical, prior to the "root of title" in the title chain, are cut off or extinguished. The Act states that a person dealing with the land (a buyer, mortgagee, judgment creditor) will take free and clear of all interests whatsoever, subject to certain exceptions, the existence of which depend upon an act, transaction, event or omission that occurred prior to a "root of title."

Example: A owns real estate and gives a mortgage to B in 1968. A conveys the property to C in 1973, with no reference to the mortgage in the deed. The 1973 deed becomes a "root of title" in 2013 and extinguishes the 1968 mortgage.

The fact that a grantor lacks full title does not disqualify the deed from constituting a "root of title," as long as the deed purports to convey, or is capable of conveying, the whole title.

Example: A conveys to B and C (husband and wife) in 1965, with no mention of survivorship. B dies in 1968. In 1973, C conveys the property to D. In 2013 C's deed to D becomes a "root of title" extinguishing the outstanding interests of B's heirs.

The Act does not extinguish defects contained in the "root" or which occur after the "root." Likewise, if a "root of title" is a forgery or an undelivered deed, it cannot extinguish these or other self-contained defects. Title transactions after the "root" cannot revive pre-root interests which have already been extinguished by the Act. If a deed makes a very specific reference to a prior restriction or easement (Book and Page) the restriction will not be extinguished when the deed becomes a "root." A general reference to an "easement of record" or "restrictions of record" will not save the easements or restrictions.

Exceptions to the Act include defects or interests occurring after the "root," adverse possession, easements that can be proved by physical evidence, interests of the United States, the state, political subdivisions thereof, public utilities, and rights of lessors at the expiration of a lease.