Philadelphia has unveiled a new program designed to help the records department deal with the growing problem of real estate fraud in the city.
Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a bill that amends Title 2 of the Philadelphia Code. The amendment adds a new chapter providing that prior to the recording of any deed, a check of record ownership must be conducted by the Department of Records. Appropriate documentation must be submitted to the Department with certain deeds for the delivery of deeds to the Department of Records must meet certain requirements. Finally, the record owner must be notified prior to the recording of any deed.
Councilman William Greenlee introduced the measure, which passed on June 19. Mayor Michael Nutter signed the bill on Aug. 14, and the ordinance will go into effect on Nov. 3.
The Records Department will mail a letter with details of the transaction to the current property owner each time a deed or mortgage is recorded, allowing the owner the ability to verify if the transaction is fraudulent. The letter also will contain information on legal services as well as information on what to do should the transaction be fraudulent.
“Real estate fraud is a growing problem in Philadelphia,” said Joan Decker, records commissioner. “This should help deter fraud, but in a very limited, minimal way. The signatures on most fraudulent documents are forged.”
The records department is mandated to record all deeds and mortgage documents that are filled out completely even if the information on the document is later proven false. The Document Notice Program is designed to protect homeowners by giving them the ability to determine if the transaction is fraudulent immediately instead of at a later date.
“We expect this measure to increase our workload,” Decker said. “We will more than likely have to add employees to the department at some point.”
The Philadelphia Bar Association is participating in the program. The association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) will provide referrals to attorneys in private practice for homeowners who do not qualify for free legal assistance.
As of April 2008, Philadelphia had received 454 reports of suspected land fraud since 2000.
The recorder’s office has also enhanced its security measures by taking pictures of all walk-ins and requiring walk-ins to sign a log book. The district attorney has used these photographs when prosecuting some of the land fraud cases.