Monday, July 12, 2021

Registry Reopening Update

 

Effective July 12, 2021, the Trial Court has removed most of the pandemic-related limits on access to courthouses (except for masks which still must be worn by everyone). As a result, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds will operate as follows:

Document Recording - Please continue to use electronic recording or US Mail/Fedex whenever possible. If you must bring your document to the registry for recording, you may drop it off inside the registry office but please have your check made out in advance and bring a self-addressed stamped envelope. (We will record the document after you leave).

Registered Land – Customers with registered land documents must first email them to lowelldeeds@comcast.net for preapproval before dropping (or mailing) the originals at the registry.

Recording a Plan – Customers with a plan to record must first email a digital image of the plan to lowelldeeds@comcast.net for preapproval before bringing it to the registry.

Homeowners - If you have a permit or decision from the town to record or if you need a copy of your deed or have any other questions, please call us at 978-322-9000 or email us BEFORE you come to the registry so we may review the process with you. 

Customer Service (copies of deeds, plans, homesteads, etc.) – All Customer Service will be conducted remotely. Please call or email us with your questions (at 978-322-9000 or at lowelldeeds@comcast.net) and we will assist you. We will email or mail to homeowners copies of documents or plans at no charge. (We will not provide in-person paper copies). 

Research Room/Research Computers – There is no dedicated research room at the registry of deeds. There are no computers for public use. Please use our website for all of your research needs. (If you cannot find the document you seek on our website please call or email us for assistance).

Real Estate Closings – There is no dedicated space for real estate closings at the registry. (There are public spaces within our building that might be used for closings but all of it is controlled by the Trial Court). 

Fedex/UPS/Couriers – The registry accepts packages addressed to the registry, however, we will refuse any packages addressed to a third party in care of the registry.

Notary Service – The registry does not notarize documents.

Declaration of Homestead – Blank homestead forms are available on our website or will be mailed to you when requested by phone or email. Once you have filled out your homestead and had it notarized you may mail it to us or drop it off (include a check payable to Registry of Deeds for $35 for the recording fee). 

Corporate Certificates – Customers may order corporate certificates from the Secretary of State’s website and have them sent to the registry for printing and pickup. Before coming to the registry, please call us at 978-322-9000 to ensure your certificate has arrived.

Oath of Office – Customers may MAKE AN APPOINTMENT to take an oath of office at the registry. Call us at 978-322-9000 to make your appointment.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Tuesday, February 2, 2021 Schedule

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is scheduled to open at 10am on Tuesday, February 2, 2021, when all Courthouses in Massachusetts open. The delayed opening is due to the overnight snowstorm. 

Call the Registry after 10am at 978-322-9000 if you have questions about Registry operations today.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Registry to Close at 1pm on Monday, Feb 1, 2021

 Due to the impending snowstorm, all courthouses in the Commonwealth will close at 1pm today (Monday, Feb 1, 2021). Since Middlesex North is inside the Lowell Justice Center, we will close too.

However, we will remotely process electronic recordings during our normal business hours. 

Given the weather forecast, it is likely the courthouse will be closed or have a delayed opening tomorrow, so please check back for updates. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Protecting Your Home Title from Theft

 

This article originally appeared in the November 2020 edition of the Merrimack Valley Housing Review.

Protecting Your Home Title from Theft

By Richard P. Howe Jr.

A number of homeowners have recently called the Registry of Deeds to ask if the title to their home is safe from online theft. Because my own social media stream has been filled with ads from a company called Title Lock, I understand why they are calling. The ads usually begin with something like this: “Alarming FBI report shows hackers can steal the title to your home in minutes – without you ever knowing it.” For $14.99 per month, Title Lock will provide its “basic protection service” which monitors your title and notifies you if anything is amiss.

So is this a legitimate concern? Well like most things related to real estate law, it's complicated. First, your “title” is not a thing. Instead, it is a legal opinion based on a review of all the records at the registry of deeds about who owns or has a legal interest in a particular parcel of real estate.

That said, here is the scenario contemplated by Title Lock and its competitors, at least as I understand it: A wrong-doer creates a deed that purports to transfer ownership of your property from you to him, forges your name on the deed then forges a notary public's signature and stamp on the deed; and then records this forged deed at the registry of deeds. Next, the wrong-doer applies for a mortgage that uses your property that now appears to be in the name of the wrong-doer as security for the loan. The lender consults the registry records, sees that the applicant owns the property, grants the loan, and records a mortgage in the name of the applicant (not you) that encumbers the property. The wrong-doer/applicant never makes a payment and the lender eventually begins foreclosure proceedings against the property. The wrong-doer likely listed his mailing address as something other than the property address so you, still living in the house and unaware of all this, would not get any notices of the foreclosure until one day when an auctioneer showed up on your front steps to sell your house at auction.

Sounds pretty scary – rightfully so - but under Massachusetts law, a forged signature does not convey ownership so the forged deed would be void as would the new mortgage that is being foreclosed. The real risk is not that you will lose your property, it is that you will be saddled with the hassle and cost of proving to everyone that you did not execute the forged deed. Because of all the layers of forgery involved (your signature, a notary's signature) it would not be very difficult to prove that, however, the burden would be on you to initiate the lawsuit needed to determine that.

Whenever a document is recorded at the registry of deeds, we immediately add the names of anyone listed on the document and the address of the property involved to our computerized index. Much like the index at the back of a textbook, the registry index is the key to finding relevant documents in the registry of deeds records.

What this Home Title Lock service purports to do is to continuously scan the registry of deeds index and anytime your name appears on a newly-recorded document to then notify you of this fact. Because the registry of deeds index is online and freely available to anyone, a homeowner concerned about this could periodically enter his or her name in the registry website and perform an identical check. That would take about 30 seconds but it would require you to go to the website on a recurring basis. 

Also, several registries of deeds in Massachusetts already offer a similar service for free, however, most registries (including this one) are not yet able to offer it. When the pandemic struck we were in the process of selecting and installing an entirely new computer system with many advanced features including this automatic monitoring capability but its deployment has been delayed because of the pandemic. 

In any case, whether you paid for Title Lock, had a registry-provided automated alert, searched the registry records yourself, or just waited for the auctioneer to show up, you would be in the exact same position: having to initiate a lawsuit to expunge the fraudulent deed and proving that the deed was forged. As I said, it should not be too difficult to prove the forgery but you would still bear the cost of hiring a lawyer to handle the matter. Title Lock does offer an enhanced “resolution service” to help with this but I am not sure of the cost and coverage. Also, some title insurance policies would cover this, but some do not – you have to read the fine print. (Most people obtain title insurance when they buy or refinance the home but since it is hardly ever used, few people are familiar with it).

All this begs the question what does the registry of deeds do to prevent the recording of forged deeds? The answer is not very much but that is a public policy decision made at echelons of government high above the registry. Specifically, our land records system relies on documents being rapidly recorded. If the registry were to have to investigate every signature on every deed to determine whether it was a forgery, the recording process would grind to a halt and the multibillion dollar real estate economy would be severely disrupted.

While the incidence of this type of fraud may be on the rise, it is still very rare. In my 25 years as register of deeds, I've never encountered a case where this has happened. There have been a couple of forged deeds, but they involved family members or friends of aged and incapacitated homeowners, not an anonymous interloper on the internet.  

 


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Snowstorm closure on Dec. 17, 2020

The Lowell Justice Center, home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, will be closed all day on Thursday, December 17, 2020, due to a major snowstorm. 

During the closure, Registry personnel will continue to record documents submitted electronically, however, there will be no mail delivery and no ability to drop off. We do expect to reopen on Friday morning at 8:30am. 

Also during the closure, you may reach us by emailing to lowelldeeds@comcast.net


 


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Scheduled outage of masslandrecords.com this weekend

 Due to necessary maintenance, the masslandrecords.com website will be DOWN from 8pm on Friday, December 4 until 9pm on Saturday, December 5.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

New Limits on Building Access

Due to rising infection rates, the Trial Court seeks to substantially curtail the number of people entering courthouses. Consequently, beginning on Friday, November 27 and extending at least until Friday, December 4, 2020, those delivering documents and plans to the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds for recording will be required to place the items to be recorded in the Drop-Box that is just inside the entrance to the Lowell Justice Center. 

After dropping off your documents, please call us at 978-322-9000 to tell us so we may go out and retrieve them. 

As soon as documents are recorded and scanned, they are available on the registry website for viewing, printing, and download.  

Members of the public who drop off documents for recording may email us at lowelldeeds@comcast.net afterwards with the name and address on the documents and we will email a PDF copy of the recorded document to them. 

Anyone seeking a copy of their deed, plan, or other document, should call the registry at 978-322-9000 or email us and we will assist you over the phone or by email. 

Finally, any documents being dropped off for recording should be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope so that we may return the original documents to you AND a check payable to Registry of Deeds in the proper amount for the recording fee.