ARS 33-420 Liability for recording a false document

Kevin Harper Harper Law, Gilbert, AZ

November 29, 2013

People are often surprised to discover that there is no real mechanism to prevent someone from recording a false document in an Arizona county recorder’s office that purports to claim an interest in real estate even where none actually exists. In other words, as long as someone complies with the technical requirements to record a document, they can record it – the county recorder does not have the duty or the ability to confirm that the document is not fraudulent. Examples of the recording of a false document that can negatively effect a property owner might include a forged deed conveying property to another party, a false easement granting rights to another individual, or a false lien purporting to encumber real property.

Fortunately, the Arizona legislature has enacted laws to help deal with the situation where such a false document is recorded. Arizona Revised Statute A.R.S. § 33-420 states:

  1. A person purporting to claim an interest in, or a lien or encumbrance against, real property, who causes a document asserting such claim to be recorded in the office of the county recorder, knowing or having reason to know that the document is forged, groundless, contains a material misstatement or false claim or is otherwise invalid is liable to the owner or beneficial title holder of the real property for the sum of not less than five thousand dollars, or for treble the actual damages caused by the recording, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney fees and costs of the action.
  2. The owner or beneficial title holder of the real property may bring an action pursuant to this section in the superior court in the county in which the real property is located for such relief as is required to immediately clear title to the real property as provided for in the rules of procedure for special actions. This special action may be brought based on the ground that the lien is forged, groundless, contains a material misstatement or false claim or is otherwise invalid. The owner or beneficial title holder may bring a separate special action to clear title to the real property or join such action with an action for damages as described in this section. In either case, the owner or beneficial title holder may recover reasonable attorney fees and costs of the action if he prevails.
  3. A person who is named in a document which purports to create an interest in, or a lien or encumbrance against, real property and who knows that the document is forged, groundless, contains a material misstatement or false claim or is otherwise invalid shall be liable to the owner or title holder for the sum of not less than one thousand dollars, or for treble actual damages, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney fees and costs as provided in this section, if he wilfully refuses to release or correct such document of record within twenty days from the date of a written request from the owner or beneficial title holder of the real property.
  4. A document purporting to create an interest in, or a lien or encumbrance against, real property not authorized by statute, judgment or other specific legal authority is presumed to be groundless and invalid.
  5. A person purporting to claim an interest in, or a lien or encumbrance against, real property, who causes a document asserting such claim to be recorded in the office of the county recorder, knowing or having reason to know that the document is forged, groundless, contains a material misstatement or false claim or is otherwise invalid is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

As you can see, A.R.S. § 33-420 imposes significant penalties against a party who fails to release or correct the false document within twenty days of a demand from the aggrieved party. The statute also allows for the filing of a special action to address the violation, which is a special court procedure that allows for the expedited consideration of the claim.

If you believe a false or fraudulent document has been recorded against your property you should consult to an Arizona real estate attorney as soon as possible.

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