Friday, July 17, 2020

Reopening Update: July 17, 2020


Here are some observations on our first week of being open to the public:

We are only open for limited purposes. Please consult the REOPENING page on our website for details on the services we offer and those we cannot.

The primary reason people have come is to drop off documents for recording. If you have Registered Land or Plans, you must still email them to lowelldeeds@comcast.net for preapproval before bringing them here.

If you have Recorded Land documents, you may email them for preapproval although that is not required. However, you must have your documents, check and return envelope fully ready before you arrive.

If you are a homeowner with an Order of Conditions, Certificate of Compliance, or other document from Town Hall, please call us at 978-322-9000 before coming so we can explain the procedure and answer any questions.

We are also able to administer oaths of office for those with new or renewed notary commissions. You must call in advance and schedule an appointment. Call 978-322-9000.

Finally, all of our documents, plans, and certificates of title are scanned and freely available on our website. If you believe something is not there, please read our Search Records Instructions page which explains how to find everything, especially our oldest documents. After reading these instructions, if you still cannot find something, please email us at lowelldeeds@comcast.net and we will assist you in obtaining the document you need.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Reopening the Registry

On Monday, July 13, 2020, courthouses across the Commonwealth will reopen to the public on a limited basis. This means the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will also reopen to the public on a limited basis.

Please visit the registry's "Reopening" page for a description of how we will operate starting on Monday. Here are the main points:

  • Walk-in Recordings will be "drop off" recordings. Customers will leave their documents, checks and envelopes at the entrance to the registry. After the customer leaves, registry personnel will retrieve and record the documents. 
  • Registered Land and Plans to be recorded must still be sent by email to lowelldeeds@comcast.net for pre-approval. Pre-approval means don't send the physical documents to us until you have received approval from us by email.
  • No paper copies of documents or plans will be provided in-person. We urge customers to obtain documents from our website but if paper copies are required, they may be requested by mail. 
  • Registry employees WILL NOT notarize documents
  • We will administer Oaths of Office, however, the person taking the oath must make an appointment in advance.
In other words, how we will operate after the building reopens will not be much different than how we have been operating throughout the pandemic. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Looking Ahead at the Registry of Deeds

Last Thursday (May 14, 2020) the Chief Justices of the Supreme Judicial, Appeals and Trial Courts issued a letter on "the path forward during the pandemic." Here are some of the things that stood out when I read it:

  • "We anticipate that our courthouses will likely remain physically closed in June . . ."
  • "We expect that courthouses will physically reopen this summer, but only in stages and only for certain matters that require in-person appearances.
  • "We hope that in September, if schools reopen, we will once again begin to conduct jury trials."
And regarding the rapid progress the courts have made in shifting to video conferences in place of in-person hearings, the Chief Justices wrote, "even when this pandemic is behind us, we do not believe we will or should go back to doing things as we did in February." 

The reason I mention all of this in a post about future operations at the Registry of Deeds is that this Registry of Deeds is physically located within a courthouse and is therefore dependent on the courthouse being open for us to be open to the public.

That said, even when the courthouse reopens to the public, I'll borrow a line from the justices and say we will not go back to doing things as we did before the pandemic struck. Here are some of the things that are likely even after the building reopens to the public:

  •  Walk in recordings will be limited to dropping documents at the entrance to the registry
  • Customer will not be permitted near the section of the registry counter where the recording terminals are located
  • For registered land, we will still require you to email us the documents you intend to register for pre-approval before we will accept the documents being dropped off
  • Same for plans
  • There will be no real estate closings within the registry space (this was going to be the case anyway since there is no such space in the new registry)
  • There will be no opportunity to do research within the registry space (this was going to be case anyway since there is no such space in the new registry)
  • There will be no public computers for pre-recording rundowns. The building has WiFi so if a rundown is important, bring your laptop and do it from outside the registry
In addition to the above, we are still researching how to safely provide some of our other services such as providing over sized prints of previously recorded plans; administering oaths of office; and allowing corporate certificates to be sent directly to this office. 

In the future, as now, we hope to use the telephone, email and our website to provide customer service rather than doing it in person. 

That's it for now. I'll provide more updates as they become available.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Middlesex Probate Courthouse in Cambridge Closed Temporarily

Last evening the Trial Court closed the Middlesex Probate Courthouse in Cambridge. Because the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds is located in that building, it also will be closed. It's my understanding that Middlesex South will be able to process electronic recordings remotely but the ability to process other recordings and  to perform other tasks may be disrupted during the closure.

As of now, no reopening date has been set.

UPDATE on June 5, 2020: The Middlesex South Registry reopened for limited operations soon after this post was published. The Middlesex South Registry continues to accept documents recorded electronically and those sent to the registry via the United States Postal Service.

For more information on the status of Middlesex South, please consult that registry's website.

Monday, May 04, 2020

MassLandRecords outage

The masslandrecords.com website has been malfunctioning since late last night. It is affecting most but not all registries of deeds across Massachusetts including this one (Middlesex North).

The problem has also affected our incoming electronic recordings.

The Secretary of State's IT Department is aware of the problem and has been working on it since overnight but as for 1:20 pm the outage persists.

This post will be updated when additional information becomes available.

UPDATE: At 1:45 pm, it appears that Masslandrecords.com is back in operation. We also have received some e-files but there may still be a problem with some submitters.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Sales and Foreclosure Reports

We have posted our Sales Report for April. You can find it and other monthly reports for this year on the main page of the LowellDeeds.com website. Just scroll down to the Quick References section and look for links to:

Sales Reports

Foreclosure Reports

Please note that there were no new foreclosures to report in April due to the Covid-19 emergency foreclosure moratorium.

As for our volume of documents, the number of deeds recorded in April was down 27% compared to April 2019, while the number of mortgages was up 67% over the same period.





Thursday, April 30, 2020

Help for borrowers and tenants in arrears

The Hampshire Gazette newspaper has published on Op-Ed from Mary Olberding, the Hampshire County Register of Deeds, that explains recent legislation at the state and federal level intended to assist tenants and home owner/borrowers who are in financial distress due to the Covid-19 emergency.

Here's the article:


Guest column by Mary Olberding, register of deeds: Help for those who can’t pay mortgage or rent

Published: 4/29/2020 3:35:52 PM

During these unprecedented times, federal and state legislators are working on relief packages for those financially impacted by COVID-19, including protections for those struggling to make their mortgage or rent payments.

At the federal level, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) includes a moratorium on foreclosures and allowing forbearance for mortgage payments of up to one year. Massachusetts’ version approved last week puts a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the crisis.

These are steps that property owners and renters can use for direct assistance, but consumers need to know what these bills do for them.

In Massachusetts, no evictions or foreclosures can take place for 120 days after the bill was enacted on April 20, or 45 days after the state of emergency has been lifted, whichever is soonest. And, if necessary, the governor can extend the expiration date.

Renters, either small businesses or residential tenants, cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent except in cases of criminal activity or for health and safety reasons. Nor can tenants be charged late fees. The law does not forgive payments or prevent landlords from later recovering monies owed. Rather, tenants must notify landlords in writing of their COVID-related circumstance no later than 30 days after a missed payment. Landlords may access deposit payment of tenants’ last month’s rent to meet their property-related expenses.

For homeowners, it is important to note that the federal CARES Act only covers mortgages that are federally guaranteed like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, while the law in Massachusetts applies to all mortgages. The federal CARES Act moratorium began on March 18th and extends for 60 days. Notably, the federal moratorium includes a halt to foreclosures initiated prior to the act, where state law is more ambiguous on this point.

In all of these cases, creditors are prohibited from reporting delinquencies to credit agencies and the request to miss any payment obligations rests with the debtor. Both laws allow for a period of forbearance for residential property up to 180 days. Forbearance is a suspension of payments, not forgiveness of debt.

There are some critical distinctions between these laws:

CARES allows borrowers to request a second forbearance of up to 180 days, where the Massachusetts law stops with only one 180-day forbearance period.

■CARES does not prohibit balloon payments, meaning someone may owe all of their missed payments at one time.

■Massachusetts law specifies that additional interest or fees beyond what is initially owed in the forbearance period are not allowed and payments subject to forbearance will be added to the end of the term of the loan.

■Better still, Massachusetts law provides for the opportunity to enter into alternate payment plans for those subject to forbearance. That means homeowners can negotiate how they want to make the missed mortgage and interest payments. For example, they can spread it over the life of the loan, make interest-only payments or prepay loans when the economy returns.

How difficult it is to obtain forbearance remains an open question. Banks and other mortgage servicers appear to have sole authority to grant the forbearance and for how long. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau suggests that homeowners able to pay their mortgage should do it. Those that can only pay part should contact their lender.

Much of the financial fallout from COVID-19 is unknown. We can use the housing crisis of 2007-2012 as a guide to prevent some unnecessary turmoil. During that time, banks did not have proper documentation before initiating foreclosures and they were therefore unlawful. Many safeguards have been since put in place, but none of the current legislation requires documentation for forbearance of mortgage payments by either borrower or lender. That opens both parties up for disputes of the agreed upon terms and conditions and possible default action later by the mortgagee.
I strongly encourage anyone seeking forbearance to put all requests in writing — and get it from a lender too. I am also advocating for legislation at the state and federal level for more reporting and accountability by mortgagees.

One remedy would be a notice of default sent to the borrower, much like that required now by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, to give people an opportunity to prove their COVID-19 hardship. They would have a prescribed number of days to respond to the notice and could make an appearance in court to demonstrate the forbearance to avoid foreclosure. The lender would bear the burden of recording that order at the Registry of Deeds and providing public notice. Not only would this prevent unnecessary and unlawful foreclosures, it would give clear chain of title for the property for future sale, either by mortgagor or mortgagee.

Already, the Registries are seeing an uptick in foreclosure-related activity. The moratorium prevents mortgage banks and servicers from taking any action on foreclosures, but with no penalty or enforcement provisions in the legislation, outside of legal action, there is no remedy for homeowners that the moratorium is designed to help.

I have contacted Congressman Jim McGovern’s office, our state legislators and the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office to work on increased protections.
In the Great Recession, we learned how devastating it can be to property owners and to the economy if banks are not accountable for complying with protections. There is potential for the pandemic to cause long-term financial hardship. Unlike the foreclosure crisis of 2008, which largely effected homeowners, the current crisis also impacts renters, landlords and small businesses — anyone with a mortgage.

Here are some resources:

■The CARES Act can be found at financialservices.house.gov
Information about obtaining a forbearance and CARES can be found at consumerfinance.gov

Mortgage information may be found at MassLandRecords.com

Please note: While this is a summary of new legislation, it should only be used as guidance and not as financial or legal advice. Contact a professional financial advisor, attorney, or other expert for individual advice.

Mary Olberding is the Hampshire Register of Deeds.