Washington Land Owners Should Use the Torrens Act to Protect their Real Property
If you own a home in Washington State, and you want to protect your investment, then you need to take action. NOW, before the Washington State Association of County Auditors (WSACA) gets its wish, and they are successful in getting the legislature to repeal RCW 65.12 Registration of Land Titles, or more commonly known as the Torrens Act. There were 2 bills proposed this past year, HB 2204 and HB 2315, and you can be sure that it will be revived again this next year, as it is identified as one of WSACA’s legislative priorities.
First a little history. The Torrens system was designed and put into first use in 1858 in South Australia. Generally its inception has been attributed to Sir Robert Torrens who developed this systems to enhance certainty of title to land and to simplify dealings involving land. The system has been adopted by many countries and is still in use today. The Torrens system works on three principles:
- Mirror principle – the register reflects (mirrors) accurately and completely the current facts about title to each registered lot. This means that each dealing affecting a lot (such as a transfer of title, a mortgage or discharge of same, a lease, an easement or a covenant) must be entered on the register and so be viewable by cheap online search.
- Curtain principle – one does not need to go behind the Certificate of Title as it contains all the information about the title. This means that ownership need not be proved by long complicated documents that are kept by the owner, as in the Private Conveyancing system. All of the necessary information regarding ownership is on the Certificate of Title.
- Indemnity principle – provides for compensation of loss caused by private fraud or by errors made by the Registrar of Titles.
What the Torrens system does for you, after you have registered your land, is that it eliminates the need for researching the chain of title through a title company because you already have a certificate, signed by the Registrar of Titles. All transactions then have to be part of the Torrens system and noted on the certificate of title.
In this state, most counties have auditors, or a recorder, whose job it is to accept land documents for recording. These documents are accepted at face value and recorded. There is no review other than to ensure that any deed has the required excise tax stamp affixed, and that the documents comply with the formatting requirements. There is no responsibility, by the county auditors, to ensure that these documents being accepted are proper. It is possible to have documents recorded that encumber your land that aren’t proper, and without your knowledge. These are documents that can cloud your title, making it difficult if not impossible to correct without expense to you. There is a presumption, right or wrong, that recorded documents that encumber a piece of land are proper. I can tell you from experience that this isn’t always the case and we have experience in trying to help clients who have been victimized by predatory lenders to clean up and correct the record. It is costly, and typically requires many months, if not years to correct. Meanwhile, you have has a clouded title that can be very difficult to sell or further encumber. The Torrens system eliminates having documents recorded against your title without your knowledge because you have the certificate of title, signed by the Registrar of Titles and that certificate has to be presented in order to change the ownership, or further encumber the property – including assignments.
How do you start? Simple, you can review the law (RCW 65.12 ) and draft the Application/Petition and file it with your local county clerk. You can also seek out the assistance of an Attorney to assist you. Alternatively, you can go to our website ( www.StafneLaw.com) and then click on Products & Services on the menu. Select the Petition for Registration of Title (Torrens Act) to add it to your cart. (Please note we are still working out the bugs with this form and will reduce the price in the near future.) You will also need to file an abstract of title to submit with this application. RCW 65.04.140 appears to require the County Auditor to prepare an abstract of title free of charge. That statute states in pertinent part:
The said auditor or recorder must and shall, upon demand, and without charge, freely permit any and all persons, during reasonable office hours, to inspect, examine, and search any or all of the records and files of his or her said office,and to gather any information therefrom, and to make any desired notes or memoranda about or concerning the same, and to prepare an abstract or abstracts of title to any and all property therein contained.
We will soon be posting a form letter to Auditors requesting the preparation of an abstract of title which you can download from our site.
If the auditor will not prepare an abstract of title, you may bring a legal action against the Auditor, for which he or she may be personally liable. At that point you should also prepare the abstract yourself or have a title company do it.
The fee you have to pay to the county for filing the Torrens application is only $20.00.
Still have questions? Then you can send SLAC (Stafne Law Advocacy and Consulting) an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 360-403-8700 and we can assist you.
SLAC is dedicated to protecting the interest of the people and is a faith based auxiliary of Church of the Gardens. Church of the Gardens mission statement can be accessed by clicking here.