Who is responsible for recording a deed? This reader wants to know how a home can be titled in the previous homeowners’ names 20 years after the sale.

Q: I’m writing to you regarding your column relating to when you get a tax bill for a home you no longer own. 

There is actually a home in my neighborhood that is still titled in the name of the previous owners. As a member of the board of our homeowner’s association, I noticed this when reviewing some of our records. Weird thing is, there is a deed of trust on file (in the courthouse land records) showing that the current owners have a mortgage on the house, but there is no deed on record. 

Deed of Trust on File but No Deed on Record

The owners have been faithfully paying their property taxes. The previous owner is actually a corporation (it was previously a rental property owned by a company) that no longer exists.

The current owners were advised about four years ago that their deed was never recorded, but they’ve taken no action to resolve the matter. Since there is a deed of trust, I think that the title company forgot to record the deed. The current owners purchased the house over 20 years ago and the title company is no longer in business. The association’s attorney, who has been practicing real estate law for several decades, told us that he has never seen a situation like this. 

Presumably this will all be resolved when the current owners someday sell the house. What do you think?

Who Is Responsible for Recording a Deed?

A: The situation you describe is quite rare, but we could see how it might happen. There are times when people close on their homes and the closing agent fails to record or file the deed. While this is possible, we’ve seen other situations in which the deed of title is recorded or filed but does not appear to be recorded or filed. 

When a seller conveys ownership in the home to a buyer, the seller delivers a document to the buyer, usually a warranty deed. Sometimes the deed might be a special warranty deed, quitclaim deed, trustee’s deed or one of many other deeds that real estate professionals use to transfer ownership of a property from a seller to a buyer. 

In all instances, this conveyance document must state the name of the current owner and the intended buyer, must include the legal description for the property along with the tax parcel number and other information required under local law.  

Frequently, the document is a couple of pages long. More often than not, the recorder’s office or office that handles real estate records accepts documents with a limited review of the document. If, for example, the seller forgets to attach the legal description to the document or misspells the seller’s names, the recorder’s office may file the document, but the document may not get indexed properly. 

How to Find a Recorded Deed

If the document is not indexed, recorded or filed properly, it may not show up in the right place. With today’s computer systems, you might check under the name of the buyer, seller, or tax parcel number for the document. If that information is incorrect, the document might not pop up. The mortgage may have been recorded properly but the deed was not. 

In any event, the current owners of the home may have to take some action to fix the issue when they sell – or, if so inclined, they could do it now.

It was kind of you to alert the owners of the issue you found. Unfortunately, not everybody is willing to accept advice. You can only do what you’ve done to help them out and wish them well. Thanks for writing and reading our columns.

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What is a Deed of Trust?

Will Adding Child to Title Increase Property Taxes?