Dear Attorney General Miller,
We appreciate your leadership in the mortgage foreclosure working group, as part of a coordinated national effort by states, to review the practice of "robo-signing" within the mortgage servicing industry. We understand this investigation is nearing conclusion, but we want to implore you to act on a very important issue to homeowners across the country.
As County Land Record Recorders in Massachusetts and North Carolina, we have been gravely concerned about the role of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) in not only foreclosure proceedings, but as it undermines the legislative intent of our offices as stewards of land records. MERS tracks more than 60 million mortgages across the United States and we believe it has assumed a role that has put constructive notice and the property rights system at risk. We believe MERS undermines the historic purpose of land record recording offices and the "chain of title" that assures ownership rights in land records.
As a result, we are asking as part of your probe, that this task force and the National Association of Attorney Generals require that all past and present MERS assignments of deeds of trust/mortgages be filed in local recording offices throughout the United States immediately. Assignments are required by statute to be filed in Massachusetts, however they are not currently required to be recorded in North Carolina. We feel, that it is important that the Registers of Deeds should have representatives at the table before any settlement is discussed or agreed to as it relates to MERS failure to record assignments and pay the proper fees.
This action would serve three specific purposes. First, the filing of all assignments would help recover the chain of title that determines property ownership rights that has been lost and clouded over during the past 13 years because of the scheme that MERS has set in place. Second, transparency and confidence in ownership rights would be restored and this would prevent the infringement upon those rights by others. Third, this action would support a return to sound fundamentals in our economy between the financial services industry and public recording offices.
MERS has defended their practices by saying that they were helping the registries of deeds by reducing the amount of paperwork that needed to be recorded. This claim is outrageous. This is help we did not ask for, nor was it help that we needed. It is very clear that the only ones that they were helping were themselves. Over the past 10-12 years, recording offices across the United States have upgraded their internal and external technology to meet the demands of lenders, title underwriters, title searchers and citizens. In fact, in 1998 the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds in Massachusetts became the first registry of deeds to provide both document images and indices available to the public, 24 hours a day, free of charge on the world-wide-web. In doing so, the Registry received a Computerworld Smithsonian Award which recognized the innovative use of technology to benefit society. In 2009, the Guilford County Register of Deeds was given a Local Government Federal Credit Union Productivity Award by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners for their technological innovations. Nationally, over 93% of the public land records are up to date and current, according to Ernest Publishing.
As of today, there are over 600 recording jurisdictions, covering 43% of the US population that have incorporated an eRecording model into their document recording operations. We believe these jurisdictions cover nearly 80% of the volume of assignments that should be recorded. The remaining areas could be covered quickly, with legislation requiring such action by state legislatures.
Quite frankly, we believe this can and should be done. It's the right thing to do.
In the coming weeks, we will be working with our national organizations, the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks (NACRC) and the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers (IACREOT) to take the same position. We are also sending a copy of this letter to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL) and the National Association of Counties (NACO).
Thank you for your immediate attention.
Guilford County Register of Deeds, NC
Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds, MA
In case you missed it:
*April 2, 2011 60 Minutes segment on Mortgage Mess: