My First Trip to the Land Records -- a Story for My Lawyer Friends

>> Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I needed to go to the Land Records and record a document.

Now, let me get this perfectly clear -- this document is a License Agreement allowing us to run stormwater from our land, across land owned by a division of the County, into a drainage ditch. It says "License Agreement" on the front, and it is absolutely not an easement. Okay.

Toddler and I went to the courthouse this morning. My first observation of the day was that the GPS doesn't help much in a large complex. It wants to drop me off at the front door, and I really need the parking garage a few blocks away. My second observation was that, per the website, I'm looking for a specific building address. I don't know if this is actually in the courthouse building, or if it is in another building in the judicial complex. Perhaps, say, the "Judicial Administration Building?" My third observation was that the building numbers are really hard to see from the sidewalk. I successfully navigated out of the parking garage, onto the sidewalk, and had a bonus. The big sidewalk maps had a paper sign saying that the new juvenile center has been moved to the same building I'm looking for -- 4110. Cool. I can find my way by following the silly paper arrows. This works up until the last sidewalk junction, where the arrows stop, and I have two choices -- the Judicial Administration Building or the actual Courthouse. I can't see any street numbers. So, there I stand until a helpful bystander asks if I'm lost. I ask her which building is 4110, is it the courthouse? And she says, "I think it is that one" (pointing to the courthouse).

Sure. That makes sense, but this means metal detectors, security guards, the works. I might as well be going into an airport. I was glad to have brought the little umbrella stroller -- much better to have Toddler contained rather than two steps away from a mad dash down the hall. So, I confirmed I was in the right place, I had to give up my cellphone to the front desk because it has a camera (no cameras in the courthouse), and I had the diaper bag searched because I forgot there was another camera in there. Oops! (Well, Toddler and I do look like paparazzi, don't you think?)

So, we finally make it up to the Land Records. I'm acting my part about being clueless very well, apparently, because the lady at information seemed skeptical that I even had a real document to be recorded. She asked me who prepared it. (I think she must have thought I drew it on a piece of paper or something.) She became totally helpful and sweet when she saw the document was real and looked pretty official.

This was one of the last moments that I felt my role easily. After that, things became much harder. I was led over to talk to a rather nice young woman, and then these two ladies stood there and debated what kind of document I had. They decided it was either an "Agreement" or an "Easement" because it was like an easement. They needed to know this for the intake sheet so they know how much money to charge me. Okay, I've seen the boxes on the intake sheet, and "License" is one of the options. I know there is no tax for a license or an agreement, and in most cases not for an easement either, so it doesn't matter to me much.

On the other hand, I all of the sudden understand all those title reports I read for all those years, where the Land Records office calls documents things they aren't. Then the surveyors copy down what the Land Records calls the document, and everything gets all bolluxed up. If there is no easement, and the document is called "easement" just try to get the surveyor to remove the word "easement" from his notes. Just try.

But ... what to do? Keep quiet and risk them naming it wrong (knowing I don't actually get harmed by this), or say something and risk blowing my "naive and uninformed mother" cover? Well, when I heard they were leaning toward, "Easement" I said, "You know, the County division that gave me the document was pretty adamant that this wasn't an easement. They aren't allowed to give easements, but they said this License is like an easement ... it just ends after a bunch of years." My words had little effect on them. I try again. "I read the intake form instructions, and I thought I saw a box for 'License'?" Again, no reaction. I decided to give up. This really isn't my problem, so long as it goes into the records against the right property, I don't care in the slightest what they call it. The title company that insures my house to whomever I sell it will have to deal with that.

I was vaguely listening while they asked yet a third woman what to do. This is when I about lost it. I was very glad I was standing a little way away. The third woman said, "We'll reject it, of course. No 'Prepared by'."

AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! Now why didn't I see that? She was saying that my document was not in recordable form because the face of the document did not identify who prepared it and where the recorded copy was to be returned. Now, does the average member of the public know this? Of course not. Is it easy to find? Not as easy as one might hope. So why was I distressed by this? Because I spent the better part of 10 years advising attorneys to include that exact language on their documents when I issued legal opinions! Of ALL the people in that building, I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER!

But, they don't give the document back to me. They go over and work on the intake sheet anyway. So, I walk Toddler up and down the long room, in big, big ovals, trying to look everything but like I knew what I had overheard. The question going through my mind was, do I return the document to the County office to correct it, or do I take responsibility for the document myself? I could claim to be the drafter. I am barred in the Commonwealth and have the right to put my name as drafter on a document like that. Heck, I even had my bar number tucked away in my wallet in the diaper bag somewhere. Even better, I am a named party, and there is a little known rule that says a named party can be the "preparer" even if not an attorney. The awkward part is everyone in the building knows I didn't prepare it because I said I didn't.

I stopped to wonder what the nice ladies would do if I suddenly came up with a bar card, wrote my own name down, and turned it in again. I couldn't figure out how they would handle it, but I was sure there would be some surliness. For the time being, I decided to keep on walking and wait to see what they said to me about what I overheard. They finally bring me everything, tell me it will cost $35, and tell me I need to write on the document who prepared it. I said it was the lawyer the division hired, and I didn't know who that was. I told them I couldn't call because the security guards took my cellphone. They showed me to a payphone and said I could use it or come back. I called our counterparty at the County division, and of course, he wasn't in. I came back and said I had to go, when the first woman came back up and said, "You can just write the name of the County agency as the author. That's okay. You also have to write who we are supposed to send the document back to."

I confirmed that writing it in the margin was okay, and they agreed. Then I proceeded to write the formulaic language I had written more times than I have any idea. I wonder what they might have thought if they had looked at what I wrote and saw that it was the standard language inserted by lawyers and title companies.

I'll never know, though, because I didn't get to record the document that day after all. See, one of the reasons they had enough time to help me as much as they did was because the computers were down, and nothing was going to record anyway. We were all stalling for time to see if they would come back up before Toddler had a meltdown. After an hour of being in the building, mostly walking in circles, I decided not to push my luck and just come back. As you may recall from yesterday, I was operating on 3 hours sleep, and Toddler was beginning to lose patience with being patient in the stroller. I figured if I pushed my luck much further, either he'd have a meltdown, or I'd breakdown and tell someone something that let them know I knew more about the legal process of recording things than they did. (I just know nothing about the mechanics.)

Now the interesting news is that I have to go back tomorrow and try again. Ooohh.


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