Monday, March 30, 2020

Contingency Planning

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds continued pandemic-operations today, recording documents submitted by e-file; by mail; and by customer drop-off (as described in prior posts on this site). The "Red Team" of registry employees staffed the place today while the "Blue Team" which was on duty all last week, stayed home. Since I'm on the Blue Team, I operated from home today. Our new phone system allows calls to my office phone to automatically ring on my cell phone and my computer is able to access everything I could access at work.

While things are going smoothly, that's almost certain to change given the rapidly evolving situation we find ourselves in. For instance, here is (some of) a notice now appearing on the Suffolk Registry of Deeds website:
Courthouse Closing

As of Saturday, March 28, 2020, as the result of a COVID-19 exposure at the Edward Brooke Courthouse, the entire facility is now closed to both the public and all courthouse employees.

The Suffolk Registry of Deeds staff cannot access the facility and, therefore, cannot record either recorded land or registered land mail sent in by Fed Ex, UPS or the U.S. Mail.

From Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3, the only recording that will occur is the electronic recording of recorded land documents – which will be recorded by staff remotely from home.

From Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3, please do not send any mail to the Registry since there is no one present to retrieve, accept or sign for it.

If this is to happen at the Lowell Justice Center, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds would react similarly: we would have to halt all recordings of tangible documents (mail and drop-offs) and be able to (remotely) record electronic filings only. Such a situation would persist for at least five working days, perhaps longer.

We all hope nothing like this happens, but I wanted you to know that it was a possibility so that you can plan accordingly. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Week One Wrap Up

Friday (March 27, 2020) marked the end of our first week in the new home of the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in the Lowell Justice Center. Moving the registry in the midst of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic was a challenge but it went relatively smoothly and we continued recording documents throughout the process. 
Here is where we stand now and going forward until circumstances change. (And remember, circumstances could change for the worse which could cause the shutdown of all but electronic recording or they could change for the better which would mean current health and safety restrictions are eased):
·        Electronic Recording - We continue to accept recorded land documents for recording via our electronic recording system. Prior to the pandemic, this method already handled 65 percent of our recording volume. I assume that most who weren’t using the service a month ago have signed up by now. If you haven’t, you should.
·         Mail - The registry continues to receive documents by US Mail, Fedex and UPS. However, because of health-related restrictions on people entering the building, the carriers are not permitted past the front entrance. Thus far, the Court Officers staffing the security checkpoint have been accepting mail and signing for packages after which registry of deeds personnel go and retrieve it. While this method of delivery has proved reliable thus far, it could change suddenly based on rapidly changing circumstances. If and when that happens, I will share the news on this site.
·         Drop-Off Box - We have placed a drop-off box in the lobby of the Justice Center. This is for those who cannot e-file and who don’t want to mail their documents. For this service, you may come to the Justice Center at 370 Jackson Street, Lowell, enter the lobby, and drop your package in the Registry of Deeds box which sits atop a small pushcart just inside the main entrance to the building. Then you call the registry at 978-322-9000 and tell us you’ve dropped off a document. Then leave the building. Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope so we can mail your original documents back to you (there is no scan-and-return service during the pandemic).  
·         IMPORTANT - Registered Land - If you have registered land documents to register, before dropping them off you MUST email us all of your documents for us to review. Send them to lowelldeeds@comcast.net. Someone in our Registered Land Department will review the documents and email you back, either instructing you to make changes or authorizing you to drop off your documents. (This requirement is due to the frequency with which registered land filings are rejected for defects: we have no way of getting your documents back to you so they have to be correct the first time you present them to us).
·         Coming into the Registry is NOT ALLOWED - No customers are allowed into the Registry of Deeds space. Consequently, many of the services we previously provided are not available during the pandemic shutdown. These include acknowledging signatures (notary service); administering oaths; picking up corporate certificates; conducting research on registry computers; printing plans and documents on registry printers; and anything else that requires in-person presence.
·         Enhanced Virtual Customer Service - During the pandemic and afterwards, we will use technological tools to provide virtual customer service. These tools include our website (lowelldeeds.com); email (lowelldeeds@comcast.net); and the telephone (978-322-9000).
Looking into the future . . . 
Once the restrictions imposed by the pandemic are loosened, we will be delighted to have you see our new space. However, it is quite a bit smaller than our prior home in the Superior Courthouse. That was not a choice; it was a limit set by the building designers from the beginning. Here are some consequences of that:
Closings at the Registry - The common (but diminishing) practice of doing closings at the registry of deeds will be marginally available but not necessarily practical.  At Superior Court, we had a large room filled with tables and chairs (the “closing room”) that made it convenient to conduct closings there. But that was not always the case. When I first became Register of Deeds that room was our Plan Department. It was filled with plan storage cases, reproduction equipment, and four employees worked there. To do closings, lawyers would try to snag one of the tables outside the second floor criminal courtroom or settle on a table amidst are oldest record books in the unfinished courthouse basement.  
When I asked the Justice Center designers about closing rooms, they responded “there are more public conference rooms in this building than in any courthouse ever constructed in the Commonwealth.” That is true, as far as it goes. Each of the 19 courtrooms in the building has two conference rooms immediately outside it. These conference rooms are supposed to be available for anyone to use so a closing could conceivably be conducted in one of them. However, there are some practical problems: the conference rooms are scattered throughout the building and there’s no way to “reserve” one, so only when you get to the building will you be able to find one that you can use to do your closing.
Mailing or Couriering Documents Addressed to a Third Party to the Registry. We have long had a policy to refuse to sign packages brought by UPS, Fedex, or couriers which packages were addressed to a third party in care of the Registry of Deeds. We will not change that policy in the new space. Anyone sending documents in this manner will assume the risk that the package will be refused and returned to the sender. This means that your closing documents could be locked in some Fedex depot when you need them to do your closing. FIND ANOTHER WAY TO RECORD YOUR DOCUMENTS.  
Research/Computer Use at the Registry - All recorded and registered documents and plans are on the Middlesex North portion of the Masslandrecords.com website. If you can’t find what you are looking for there, call us or email and we’ll add what you need to the website (or upload a clearer copy if that’s the issue). Original record books and plans have not been available for public viewing since 2007 (except in rare circumstances). There is no “research room” with registry-supplied computers at the Lowell Justice Center. There are four “run down” terminals that are available solely for pre-recording rundowns. These four computers are directed to the Masslandrecords.com website, not to the legacy Search application. 
That’s it for now. Please check back to this site each day for the latest registry news.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Remote Video Notaries Coming to Massachusetts?

In my daily update posted last night, I added some thoughts on a new bill pending in the legislature that would permit notaries public in Massachusetts to take acknowledgements by video rather than in person. This move seems to be gaining considerable attention in the media, so I decided to copy and paste what I wrote about remote video notarization into a separate post:


Also, State Senator Bruce Tarr and many co-sponsors have filed legislation that would permit a type of remote video notarization. In the 20 or so states that already allow remote video notarization, most contemplate that being done with an electronic document. The person signing has the document on a tablet or mobile phone and then activates the device's camera so the notary can see the person electronically signing the document. The video of the procedure is all archived in case questions arise, and the fully executed electronic document can then be whisked via the internet to the proper registry of deeds for electronic recording.

The Massachusetts proposal, SD. 2882, is kind of a hybrid of the traditional notarial act that takes place by signing a piece of paper with pen and ink and the remote video laws of other states. The Massachusetts law seems to require a lawyer to (snail)mail or courier a paper document to the client who would then sign it while on video camera with the lawyer watching the video feed from a distant location. Once the paper document was signed, the client would then mail or Fedex it back to the lawyer. The lawyer, once receiving it, would sign the paper document with pen and ink and then record it via electronic recording with the registry of deeds.

I've long had an interest in this area and have previously written about in-person electronic acknowledgements and also about remote video acknowledgements.

My experience has been that many lawyers who work in this field have long seen remote video acknowledgements as an existential threat to their business model and have therefore done everything possible to prevent such legislation from moving forward in Massachusetts. This bill seems precisely crafted to protect the interests of those lawyers while at the same time allowing them to continue doing business notwithstanding the extreme distancing requirements demanded by the pandemic. In other words, it's unlikely that they will try to kill this bill.

I find nothing objectionable about this bill and do hope it's enacted because by keeping people separated it will reduce the risks of infection spread. But hopefully this is more of a foot-in-the-door for remote video acknowledgments rather than the first and final move in that direction in Massachusetts.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Thursday, March 26, 2020, update

Another busy day at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds. The systems we've put into place for receiving and recording electronic recordings, mailed-in documents, and dropped-off documents are all working well (see my recent blog posts for details on each).

We're also spending a lot of time unpacking and organizing our records and equipment in our beautiful new space in the just-opened Lowell Justice Center. In one way, having the public kept out of the building by the emergency orders in place has made it easier for us to accomplish all the necessary housekeeping and IT tasks.

This is especially true because we've divided the registry workforce into two teams with one working this week and the other next. The twofold purpose of this measure is to reduce the number of employees in the office and thereby increase the spacing between us. The second reason is to build some redundancy in case someone gets sick and all who have been working with that person have to self-quarantine for two weeks. If that happened with the entire staff present, we'd have to shut down the registry for two weeks. With two separate teams, the second team could step in and run the office during the quarantine.

While we do have the capability of processing incoming electronic recordings from offsite, I think we better serve the public by being in the office to handle mail and drop-off recordings as well as e-filings.

Last night I mentioned a new procedure promulgated by the Land Court for obtaining approval for certain documents. The Land Court has actually issued a number of orders relative to the pandemic, all are available on the Court System Response to Covid-19 page (scroll down to Land Court).

Also, State Senator Bruce Tarr and many co-sponsors have filed legislation that would permit a type of remote video notarization. In the 20 or so states that already allow remote video notarization, most contemplate that being done with an electronic document. The person signing has the document on a tablet or mobile phone and then activates the device's camera so the notary can see the person electronically signing the document. The video of the procedure is all archived in case questions arise, and the fully executed electronic document can then be whisked via the internet to the proper registry of deeds for electronic recording.

The Massachusetts proposal, SD. 2882, is kind of a hybrid of the traditional notarial act that takes place by signing a piece of paper with pen and ink and the remote video laws of other states. The Massachusetts law seems to require a lawyer to (snail)mail or courier a paper document to the client who would then sign it while on video camera with the lawyer watching the video feed from a distant location. Once the paper document was signed, the client would then mail or Fedex it back to the lawyer. The lawyer, once receiving it, would sign the paper document with pen and ink and then record it via electronic recording with the registry of deeds.

I've long had an interest in this area and have previously written about in-person electronic acknowledgements and also about remote video acknowledgements.

My experience has been that many lawyers who work in this field have long seen remote video acknowledgements as an existential threat to their business model and have therefore done everything possible to prevent such legislation from moving forward in Massachusetts. This bill seems precisely crafted to protect the interests of those lawyers while at the same time allowing them to continue doing business notwithstanding the extreme distancing requirements demanded by the pandemic. In other words, it's unlikely that they will try to kill this bill.

I find nothing objectionable about this bill and do hope it's enacted because by keeping people separated it will reduce the risks of infection spread. But hopefully this is more of a foot-in-the-door for remote video acknowledgments rather than the first and final move in that direction in Massachusetts.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Wednesday, March 25, 2020, update

Nothing major to report today which is one reason why I didn't write earlier. Another reason is that we've been very busy. There are a lot of documents to record but we're also unpacking and settling in to the new place which is very nice.

Today, Governor Baker announced that schools will stay closed until at least May 4. While he didn't mention courthouses (that I know of), I suspect the current limits on public access will move in tandem with the schools.

We're dealing with a steady flow of e-files and are having no trouble receiving our mail and Fedex/UPS. Those are the best ways to record. We do continue to have a drop off box in the lobby. That's mostly been used by people with Registered Land since those documents cannot be e-filed.

This evening, Land Court issued a memo updating the procedures used to get Land Court approval on documents that require such approval before being registered. I'll post a summary or maybe even the full text if I can tomorrow on this site.

We did have one minor glitch today. Because of the volume of e-recordings, we contacted our land management application company and asked them to activate electronic recording on two additional terminals. They did this remotely but somehow when we used those two terminals, the electronic recording cover page that was automatically inserted in the newly recorded document was from the Hampshire Registry of Deeds, not Middlesex North. By the time someone caught it, we had already processed two dozen documents this way. We did go back and create new cover sheets for all so that was resolved by the end of the day.

That's it for tonight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tuesday at 1pm update

Everything is running smoothly at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds today. There's a lot less mail on Tuesday than on Monday, so we don't have as many mailed-in documents to record today as we did yesterday.

We are still accepting documents that are dropped off for recording. Just enter the front door of the Justice Center and look for the gray bin pictured below. Put your documents in the bin and then call us at 978-322-9000 and we'll come out and get the documents.


Remember, registry customers are not permitted into the registry area.

Also, if you have registered land to record, you must first email your documents to us for review. Only after you have received our OK should you drop off the documents at the Justice Center.


Tuesday morning update

It's 6am on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Here's what I expect at the Registry of Deeds today:

We will be processing electronic recordings throughout the day

We will be recording documents received by mail or Fedex/UPS (assuming the carriers get to us)

I believe we will be able to take dropped-off documents, even after noontime.

Regarding dropping off documents, remember, the drop off box is just inside the front door of the Lowell Justice Center. Come inside, put your package in the Registry of Deeds bin, call us at 978-322-9000 to say you've just left a package. Then leave. We'll take care of the rest.

For Registered Land, we require you to first email your documents to lowelldeeds@comcast.net. We will review your documents and send a reply email authorizing you to drop off the documents.

The best way to communicate with us is via email at lowelldeeds@comcast.net.

As always, things can change very rapidly so please check back here for updates throughout the day. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Status of E-Recording on Tuesday

Monday, March 23, 2020 at noon update

I do believe we will be able to continue e-recording documents, even after noon tomorrow.

However, I am unsure if we will be able to accept drop off documents after noon tomorrow. As soon as I get clarification on that, I will post an update.

As of now, you can drop documents off today and tomorrow and we will record them. See my prior posts for the procedures you must follow to do that.

Governor's Order - meaning for registry of deeds


Whether or not we’ll be opening and processing e-files is unclear right now given the latest order from the governor. The best way to keep track of our status is to check here at the registry blog which I will update as soon as our status is for tomorrow and afterwards is determined.

Richard Howe

Monday status report: 9:30am

Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is established in our new home at 370 Jackson Street. There was a slight delay in switching the phone service to our new location but that seems to be resolved now.

We do have a document drop-off box just inside the front entrance of the Justice Center. It is a plastic bin on a table with a Registry of Deeds sign on it. Here's how it works:


  • Come to the Lowell Justice Center at 370 Jackson Street, Lowell
  • Enter the front entrance
  • Immediately to your left is the drop-off basket
  • Place your ready-to-record documents in the basket
  • Call the registry at 978-322-9000 and tell us you just dropped off some documents
  • Leave
  • We will go out and pick up the documents, record them, and mail them back to you
  • Your recording information will be available on our website as soon as we record the documents
IF YOU HAVE REGISTERED LAND you must first email your proposed documents to lowelldeeds@comcast.net. We will review the documents and email you back with any changes that must be made. Only after getting this pre-approval email may you bring your documents to the Justice Center.

Check back for more updates later today.