State Associations Ask County Auditors, Recorders to Remain Open

March 19, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the United State, closures and shutdowns have adversely affected the title and settlement services industry nationwide. Because many county offices have closed, title and settlement professionals cannot conduct title searches or record documents. Several state land title and other associations have submitted letters requesting offices of county recorders, registers of deeds and auditors remain open to facilitate the conveyance of property or the refinance of mortgages.

The Ohio Land Title Association and Ohio Association of REALTORS on Wednesday co-signed an open letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) requesting an executive order be issued requiring county recorders and auditors “maintain minimal hours of operation for official filings and requests, processing of recorded information and providing accurate records of the counties’ official records.” If this solution is not possible, the Ohio associations asked that at minimum a drop box or something comparable be maintained to ensure business continues without direct physical contact.

In a similar move, the California Association of REALTORS, California Land Title Association, California Escrow Association, California Bankers Association and California Mortgage Bankers Association co-signed an open letter Wednesday to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). Concerned that interruptions to certain government services could have severe economic ramifications, the California associations requested that the work of the county registrar and recorders “be declared an essential service which should remain open, with steps taken in order to minimize any risk to workers.” Their solutions included permitting recordings of documents submitted online, via U.S. mail or in-person delivery by appointment only.

Also, the Florida Land Title Association, Florida REALTORS and Florida Home Builders Association sent an open letter Friday to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) requesting that real estate transactions and title recordings be declared essential services to remain active as well as recordings and other work of the county clerks and comptrollers recorders. Recommended steps to ensure safety were the same as those suggested in California. "In these difficult times, we know the economic ramifications of this pandemic will be substantial, but believe this step will help to support the individuals and entities involved in real estate and lending transactions and the economy as a whole," the letter stated.   

Additionally, the Wisconsin Land Title Association (WLTA) on Wednesday emailed Wisconsin Registers of Deeds. Noting that online searching capabilities are limited in approximately 58 Wisconsin counties, the WLTA pled for physical access to land records in those local Register of Deeds offices so title agents can appropriately provide title insurance, “without which mortgage lenders cannot make the loan.” The WLTA asked that the Register of Deeds offices be open to title companies “on a reasonable basis,” such as by appointment while imposing time and sanitary limitations.

Should other state associations like to follow in these footsteps, ALTA recommends including the following language:

“Our state’s county auditors and recorders are necessary to keep the real estate industry in good health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, title examiners need access to these offices and court records to process property titles so real estate transactions can close and title interests transferred. Because many county offices have closed or limited services, title examiners are no longer able to access reliable information required for the lawful transfer or conveyance of property. Please help the citizens of this state have their real estate transactions officially recorded or their properties refinanced by letting these offices remain open, even on a limited basis, during the COVID-19 crisis. These changes will encourage economic stability during this very precarious time.”

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].