Title and Settlement Considered ‘Essential’ Under Shelter-in-place Orders

March 23, 2020

Several states across the country have already issued stay-at-home orders amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic affecting nearly one in three people. The executive orders only permit “essential businesses” to remain open and follow guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ALTA worked to ensure that title and settlement services were deemed essential and able to remain open and operational under guidance from the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the guidance, businesses in the title and settlement industry are considered “essential.” These functions fall under the financial services sector. These workers are defined as those who are “needed to process and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services (e.g., payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; and capital markets activities.”

United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin also issued a memo on March 22 that reinforces the fact that settlement and insurance services are considered "essential."

Also, county recorders could be considered critical. Two categories that are deemed essential government operations are:

    1. workers that maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting other critical government operations
    2. workers at operations centers necessary to maintain other essential functions

According to data collected from the industry, at least 243 jurisdictions are closed out of 3,210 being tracked. ALTA and several state land title associations are encouraging state governments to keep county recorders, registers of deeds and auditors to remain open in order to facilitate the conveyance of property or the refinance of mortgages. The Ohio Land Title Association and Ohio Association of Realtors co-signed an open letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine 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.”

Meanwhile, the California Land Title Association, California Escrow Association, California Bankers Association, California Association of Realtors and California Mortgage Bankers Association co-signed an open letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Concerned that interruptions to certain government services could have severe economic ramifications, the 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.”

Additionally, the Wisconsin Land Title Association (WLTA) sent a letter to the Wisconsin Registers of Deeds noting that online searching capabilities are limited in approximately 58 Wisconsin counties. Because of this, the WLTA asked for physical access to land records in those local Register of Deeds offices so title agents can appropriately provide title insurance. 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.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.