In 2001, John Carr (“Carr”) claimed adverse possession of a vacant lot (the “Property”) in Riverside. The owner of record was a decedent’s estate in probate. In 2003, a judgment was recorded transferring from the estate one half of the Property to Ernest Ortiz (“Ortiz”) and the other half to Anna Colón (“Colón”). In March 2004, Colón executed a deed conveying her half of the lot to Michael Lopez (“Lopez”). However, the deed to Lopez was not recorded until two years later, in October 2006.
In May 2006, Carr filed a quiet title action against Ortiz and Colón (but not against Lopez, as Lopez’s deed had not yet been recorded). A few days after filing the lawsuit, Carr recorded a lis pendens against the lot. The lis pendens was not mailed to anybody. Instead, Carr’s attorney attached his own declaration to the effect that Ortiz and Colón had no known address. However, as of the date of recordation of the lis pendens, the latest county assessment roll listed Ortiz and Colón as the owners, with a “care of” address for an attorney in Oceanside.
In August 2007, Lopez executed a deed of trust on the lot in favor of Rondo Resources (“Rondo”), a mortgagor, who recorded the deed two months later. In December 2007, a trial court entered judgment on the adverse possession lawsuit, quieting title to the lot in favor of Carr as against Ortiz, Colón, and purportedly Lopez. However Lopez had never been made a party to the prior action.
In 2011, Carr filed a second complaint to quiet title against Lopez and Rondo over Colón’s former half of the Property. Lopez and Rondo both argued that under CCP §405.22 and CCP §405.23 the lis pendens was void because it was not mailed to Colón’s address, as shown on the assessor’s roll. Carr argued that he did not have to mail the lis pendens to the address on the assessor’s roll because that address was not valid and the lis pendens would not actually have reached Colón. The trial court ruled against Carr in favor of all defendants, finding that Plaintiff Carr’s quiet title judgment does not bind Lopez because the lis pendens was void.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision that the lis pendens was required to be mailed to the owner’s address as shown on the tax assessor’s roll, regardless of whether that address was actually valid. The Court determined that where this was not done, the lis pendens was void, not only as against one owner but also as to the owner’s transferees.
WHY THIS DECISION IS IMPORTANT:
The opinion expressly states what actions a claimant must take to provide valid notice of a lis pendens to a property owner. Defective notice of a lis pendens can be fatal to a claimant’s rights and the opinion clarifies the mailing requirements after recordation of a lis pendens.
Interestingly, the Court particularly clarified the distinction between a “known” and “unknown” address. The Court stated that CCP §405.22 and CCP §405.23 favor the claimant because all the claimant has to do is mail the lis pendens to the address shown on the assessor’s roll; the claimant does not have to make the sure the address is valid. “If a properly addressed lis pendens is returned as undeliverable, that is not the claimant’s problem.” It is immaterial under the statute that the owner’s address listed with the assessor is incorrect. Once the claimant does check the assessment roll, the owners’ addresses become “known”. If the address is unlisted in the assessment roll because it is unknown to the assessor, then and only then may the claimant satisfy its obligation to mail the lis pendens to that owner by submitting a declaration that the owner has no known address.