A recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court, Edmonson v. Popchoi, defines what it means to defend a statutory warranty deed. If you are unfamiliar with the term statutory warranty deed, it's one you should get to know, both as a buyer or seller of real property in Washington.
In simple terms, a deed is a document conveying title of real property from one party to another. However, the statutory warranty deed is a bit of tricked-out deed - because it comes with a warranty; and, as we know warranties are usually a good thing for the buyer.
As the WA Supreme Court points out in Edmonson v. Popchoi, statutory warranty deeds are governed by RCW 64.04.030 and include a covenant to defend against another's claim to title. Specifically, the statute states that "[the grantor] warrants to the grantee, his heirs and assigns, the quiet and peaceable possession of such premises, and will defend the title thereto against all persons who may lawfully claim the same." RCW 64.04.030.
Okay, so what does that really mean and how might this affect you? Well say you purchase real property in Washington State and the seller gives you a statutory warranty deed (FYI: this is probably the most common form). After purchasing the property, you discover there is a discrepancy over the boundary line of the property. More specifically, your new neighbor comes over and informs you that part of your perceived new property is actually their property by something called adverse possession because they put a fence up over ten years ago, that now encroaches upon your property.
So what, it's still your property right? Wrong. Adverse possession can allow someone to take your property (you can read other posts where I've discussed adverse possession here). Okay, so if adverse possession allows someone to take your property what recourse do you have? Well if you have a statutory warranty deed, you can tender defense of the adverse possession claim to your seller who granted you the statutory warranty deed.
This is essentially what happened, Edmonson v. Popchoi. The buyer was approached by a neighbor who claimed part of the land by adverse possession. The neighbor then sought quiet title to the land in court. The buyer tendered defense of the claim to the seller. The WA Supreme Court held that the seller had a duty to defend the title in good faith.
The bottom line is that statutory warranty deeds are good for buyers and if you are purchasing real property you should make sure you get one. To summarize in simple terms, the statutory warranty deed provides three assurances: (1) that the seller has good title and they have authority to sell the property; (2) that the title is free from all encumbrances (i.e. liens, claims of adverse possession); and (3) the seller will warrant the peaceful possession to the buyer and defend the title against claims made against it. RCW 64.04.030.