A tax deed can ripen by prescription, but the statute isn’t exactly what it seems.
O.C.G.A. 48-4-48(b) provides that title under a tax deed executed after July 1, 1996 ripens 4 years after the tax deed is recorded in the land records.
Disability exception. But O.C.G.A. 48-4-48(c) has an exception. If the prior owner (i.e. the Defendant in Fi.Fa.) had a legal disability, then the time period does not run until their disability is removed or abated.
Requirement for Prescription. In 2005, the Georgia Supreme Court interpreted O.C.G.A. 48-4-48(b) in the case of Community Renewal and Redemption, LLC v. Nix, 279 Ga. 840, 621 S.E.2d 722 (2005). The Supreme Court held that “ripening of title must occur by prescription, not by the mere passage of time” and that the statute actually “requires . . . adverse possession by the tax deed grantee in order for title to ripen under the statute.”
In 2009, the Georgia Supreme Court again looked at the “ripen by prescription” language in O.C.G.A. 48-4-48(b) in the case of Blizzard v. Moniz, 271 Ga. 50, 518 S.E.2d 407 (1999) and held that “[a]s stated in OCGA § 44-5-160, title acquired by prescription requires continuance of possession for a period of time fixed by law. Therefore, the plain language of OCGA § 48-4-48 (1989) requires such adverse possession by the tax deed grantee in order for title to ripen under the statute.  It is uncontroverted that Blizzard never occupied the property, nor committed any acts or exhibited any conduct which would amount to adverse possession of the property for the requisite period. See OCGA § 44-5-161.”
The Georgia Supreme Court expanded on this issue in 2016 in the case of Nix v. 230 Kirkwood Homes LLC, 300 Ga. 91 (2016). It noted the required showing for adverse possession in this context: “In order for possession to be the foundation of prescriptive title, it: (1) Must be in the right of the possessor and not of another; (2) Must not have originated in fraud …; (3) Must be public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, and peaceable; and (4) Must be accompanied by a claim of right…. Permissive possession cannot be the foundation of a prescription until an adverse claim and actual notice to the other party.” Id at 96. In Nix, the Court held that there was any adverse possession because “the Property consisted of wild, unfenced land, with no dedicated structures to be found on the property and no items being stored there, and with no apparent indication that the Property was being used in any way.” Id. at 98. The Court was not persuaded that possession was shown, although the tax deed purchaser “had maintained the property by cleaning trash, harvesting plants, trying to establish a garden, occasionally storing building materials, and building a garage on a separate property that encroached somewhat onto the Property at issue.” Id.
Establishing adverse possession can be difficult, and therefore it is advisable to consult a real estate attorney to help you demonstrate to the Court the unique requirements of Georgia law with competent evidence.
Accordingly, do not assume that merely because your tax deed has been recorded for four years, that you will necessarily be entitled to quiet title to the property.