Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the January issue of DS News, out now.
The District of Columbia recently passed legislation that may affect the ability of servicers and lenders to adequately assess title on certain properties in Washington, D.C. The new statute—dubbed the Address Confidentiality Act of 2018, which became effective on October 1, 2018—is designed to protect the victims of domestic violence.
According to the terms of the Act, if an individual applies for the program and is certified as a victim of stalking, domestic violence, human trafficking, or a range of other sexual offenses, the individual will be issued an identification card with a substitute address. The substitute address will be a mailbox to which mail can be sent, and from which the office that administers the program will forward mail to the program participant’s actual address. More importantly from a title perspective, a participant in the program can submit a request to any D.C. government office or agency to remove all publicly accessible references to their actual address. This means that a participant may have their name removed from all publicly available land records, tax records, or court records. This presents obvious problems for the title industry, as well as to loan originators and servicers.
Also problematic at this point is the fact that D.C. has not provided crucial details of such activity. Namely, there is no word yet whether the redacted information will simply be absent or if there will be an indication that the information is being withheld pursuant to this program. Thus, a title search may come back with documents simply missing—e.g., a deed or deed of trust simply not appearing in a title search, or a lack of a tax record appearing when performing an escrow analysis. Alternatively, the record might come back with some indication that the information was being omitted, with or without explanation.
The District of Columbia has not yet provided any answers as to how such matters will be treated. Further complicating the issue is the fact that, as currently written, the statute does not allow the participant to selectively direct the release of their information. Their only choice appears to remove themselves entirely from the program—hardly the route that someone fearing for their safety would choose. Overall, the potential implications of this statute for title are enormous, and until D.C. provides more information as to how such matters will be handled, the state of title in D.C. will remain uncertain.