It isn’t illegal for a company to offer to get your important property deed records for a jacked-up cost. But it’s a whole lot cheaper for you to just go to the county register and get one for just $10.
A recent mass mailing encouraging local residents to use a certain company to acquire property deeds has prompted county officials to warn against paying too much. One research company based in Washington D.C. and Northbrook, Ill. has sent out letters offering to supply property owners with “deed acquisition services” at a cost of $79.50. But the county can provide a certified deed for as little as $10.
“Homeowners need not obtain a deep from a private company when the county offers this service for a minimal cost.” – Pamela Gardner
“You could wind up paying a lot to get deeds though these companies,” said outgoing County Register Pamela Gardner. “But for a nominal fee, you can get it from us directly.”
“These letters arouse fears in homeowners, especially among seniors who may have misplaced their deeds,” Gardner said. “Homeowners need not obtain a deed from a private company when the county offers this service for a minimal cost.”
That letter says that federal authorities “recommend that property owners should have a certified copy of their deed,” then gives a toll-free number to call the company.
Legislation would set strict restrictions
Deed acquisition companies have been doing this for more than a decade and the state has attempted to outlaw the practice several times.
“Currently, state legislators have been asked to reintroduce the Deed Solicitation Bill,” Gardner said. “This bill would subject deed companies to criminal penalties if they fail to meet certain disclosure and regulation requirements.”
New Jersey introduced such a bill several times. Most recently, Assemblyman Gary Schaer of Bergen and Passaic County State Senator Shirley Turner of Mercer County introduced it last March. It was originally introduced in 2010 by then Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman to help crack down on a growing practice by private companies who prey on unsuspecting homeowners by charging exorbitant prices to provide a certified deed copy. Coleman at the time said the deed companies have been able to use a loophole in existing laws to collect these exorbitant fees.
The bill reintroduced in March would require deed solicitors who use a written form of communication to solicit new clients to include in a clear, conspicuous, and prominent manner the address and telephone number of the appropriate county clerk’s office through which the recipients can obtain a copy of the deed directly and the fee that the county clerk’s office would charge for providing the consumer with a copy of the deed. The deed solicitor would also be required under the bill to file a copy of any written communication used to solicit new clients with both the Division of Consumer Affairs and the appropriate county clerk’s office 15 days prior to distributing the communication.
The director of the Division of Consumer Affairs would be authorized by the bill to refuse to issue or renew, or to suspend or revoke, the registration of any person who violates the bill’s provisions. Violations would fall under the Consumer Fraud Act and be punishable by a monetary penalty of up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for any subsequent offense. In addition, a violation can result in cease and desist orders issued by the attorney general, the assessment of punitive damages, and the awarding of treble damages and costs to the injured.
Gardner said that copies of deeds and all recordings of land documents are available at the Hudson County Register’s office, 257 Corneilson Ave. in Jersey City, for a nominal fee, and certified copies are available for $10. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. You can call for more information at (20) 395-4760.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.