Understanding the Difference Between Recorded Land and Registered Land in Massachusetts

The Torrens Act (Registered Land) is named after Sir Robert Torrens, an Australian customs administrator who established a system of recording ownership of ships in the 1850s. This system eventually spread to English speaking countries. Under the Registered Lands system, the owner’s certificate of title defeats any competing claims on the property that were not declared at the initial proceedings.

The Land Court in Massachusetts was established to implement the Registered Land System.

I. Recorded Land

Dealings with Recorded Land are based on the buyer beware concept. Registry personnel will accept or reject a document for recording on the basis of whether it meets minimum recording requirements—not whether the document properly relates to a particular property. For example, a deed from John Doe to Jane Doe for Squibnocket Beach would be accepted for recording if John Doe’s signature was notarized and if the deed meets minimum recording requirements. If John Doe does not own Squibnocket Beach, it is not the registry’s responsibility to inform Jane Doe of this fact. This is where the buyer beware concept becomes obvious. It is Jane Doe’s responsibility to check the property history to determine who the legal owner is and from whom she would get a deed if she were to buy the property. The recording of a deed in the Recorded Land section of the Registry does not guarantee that the real estate is free from all liens, encumbrances, and other legal issues that could cloud the ownership. A title search conducted by a qualified attorney or title examiner will determine the status of a Recorded Land title or property.

In Massachusetts, Recorded Land is the most common form of land recording. When dealing with Recorded Land, there will be a reference to a book and page number in the document description or a reference to a Case File number.

II. Registered Land

Land that has gone through a Land Court Registration and Decree process is called Registered Land. This is a more complex form of land ownership. The “Land Court” or “Registry District” is separate from the regular (recorded land) section of the Registry of Deeds. Registered Land is an adjunct of the Land Court and has a main office located in Boston. As a department of the Trial Court, the Land Court has exclusive jurisdiction over Registered Land.
Generally, Registered Land is land which, at some point in time, had been the subject of an ownership or boundary dispute. Once the Land Court renders a decision as to the ownership or boundary lines of real property, those issues cannot be disputed again as they relate to that property. Subsequent documents affecting the property in question have to be registered with the appropriate registry district.

Registration of title will occur when the Land Court, after having the title exhaustively searched by a court-appointed examiner, and after due process is afforded to all interested parties, the court reviews and then adjudicates and decrees the state of the title. As the current state of title is sequentially updated by the registration of future transactions, it embodies a certificate of title that not only evidences title, but in fact guarantees title and is subject only to the exceptions provided by statute and matters of federal law. A title, which according to the evidence of documents in the traditional recording system, may be insufficient to support a conclusion of ownership, may, through the adjudicatory process of registration, be made good and marketable.

Registry personnel will not accept documents for registration unless they meet the strict requirements set forth by the Land Court. As with recorded land, it is generally necessary to have a qualified attorney or title examiner conduct a title search to determine the status of a Registered title/property.

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