May 6, 2018

Torrens Act

If you own a home in Washington State, and you want to protect your investment, our recommendation is that  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.  Two bills were proposed this past year, HB 2204 and HB 2315, to do just that, 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.

A little history – What is the Torrens Act?

It is based upon the Torrens system which was designed and put into first use in 1858 in South Australia. Development of this system has been attributed to Sir Robert Torrens and its purpose was 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 piece of land. This means that each action affecting a piece of land (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 be view-able by anyone.
  • Curtain principle – you do not need title searches as the issued Certificate of Title contains all the information about the title. This means that ownership or encumbrances need not be proved by long complicated searches for recorded or filed documents that are kept by the owner, or recorded in the county auditor’s records, or filed with the county clerks.  All of the necessary information regarding ownership is on the Certificate of Title.
  • Indemnity principle – this 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, 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, that identifies who holds title to the land and ALL encumbrances (e.g. mortgages, deeds of trust, easements etc.) that affect the land. 

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.  We 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 land that is with a clouded title that can’t be sold or further encumbered. The Torrens system eliminates having documents recorded against your land 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 ), 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. We have a template of the petition you can purchase as well.  Click on  Products & Services on the menu.  Select the Petition for Registration of Title (Torrens Act) to add it to your cart.  Once you’ve paid for the document you can download the form, complete it and then take it to your county clerk’s office to file.  The fee to file the application is set by RCW 36.18.016(14) and it is $20.00.

Still have questions? Send us an email at info@stafnelaw.com or give us a call at 360-403-8700 and we can assist you.