It is commonly understood that a case for defamation can arise from a false statement injuring a person’s reputation, business, or profession. But it is less well known that the same legal principles can apply to the ownership of real or personal property based on “slander of title.”
Under Ohio law, slander of title is similar to defamation, but there are critical differences, and successfully prosecuting or defending a claim for slander of title can be a challenging endeavor.
In general, slander of title applies against a person who maliciously or recklessly makes a false statement disparaging a person’s real or personal property thereby causing special pecuniary damage. But there is a disconnect between slander of title’s theoretical application and where Ohio courts actually find such claims to be successful.
Slander of title most commonly involves wrongfully recorded claims against real estate. For example, slander of title can arise where a lender falsely and maliciously accuses a homeowner of being in default on his or her mortgage. Another common situation is where an affidavit, deed, or lien is recorded against a property, preventing the owner from completing a proposed sale or lease. It can also arise between contractors and subcontractors related to disputes over payment for building projects. Slander of title is even occasionally seen in cases of property dispute between neighbors. Ohio courts have been reluctant to find slander of title beyond these typical situations.
Ohio courts are also strict in requiring valid damages to support a claim for slander of title. Damage to a person’s reputation is sufficient for a typical defamation claim, but slander of title requires more. A successful claim for slander of title requires a “special pecuniary loss,” which is defined as a loss of money resulting directly from the false statement. This typically means a lost opportunity to sell a property or a sale for a lower price, but under the right circumstances it can also include the expenses and attorney’s fees incurred to counteract the false publication and remove a cloud on the title.
Different privileges and immunities can also arise to defeat a claim for slander of title. An absolute privilege can apply where a slanderous statement is made in relation to a judicial proceeding. A qualified privilege can apply when a person is discharging a public or private duty. And numerous other privileges and immunities can apply depending on the facts of the case.
Similar to all other defamation claims, a strict deadline also applies. The statute of limitations for slander of title is one year under Ohio law. This time limit begins to run from when a false statement is first published, even if the property owner did not know about the publication at the time. Repeated publication does not restart the clock. This relatively short deadline can be a serious problem for many victims, and the only solution is to act quickly to protect your rights.
Successfully litigating a claim for slander of title is a great challenge under Ohio law. There are numerous pitfalls to avoid, and the vast majority of slander-of-title claims are unsuccessful. Whether you are the victim or the accused, hiring an experienced attorney is the first and most critical step to successfully resolving a claim for slander of title.