Registered vs recorded land in MassachusettsMassachusetts has both recorded land and registered land. Recorded land is by far the most common title system, comprising around ninety percent of the properties in the Commonwealth. This is the system whereby documents are sequentially recorded in books that are printed by the registrars of deeds in each county. When one book fills up, a new book is created, bound, and placed in proper order according to dates and times of recording.  This is why most people see a book and page stamp on their deed.  The registry also creates indexes of the information in those books, so people can search by names of the grantor, grantee, property address and document type. 

When someone is looking to purchase a property, an attorney or title examiner creates a title abstract consisting of prior deeds, plans, and encumbrances affecting the title. These documents include but are not limited to mortgages, foreclosure documents, easements to neighboring parcels, zoning board approvals, conservation orders, civil lawsuits, tax takings and sewer betterments by cities and towns. In Massachusetts, examiners are required to go back 50 years when they create the abstracts, and the closing attorney reviews the documents in order to confirm the state of title and identify any documents that need to be obtained and recorded to clear encumbrances and convey marketable and insurable title for the buyer and mortgage lender. In addition to reviewing registry records, examiners also must review documents in the probate court of the county where the property is, as well as federal bankruptcy records.

Registered land is a different title system, also referred to as the “Torrens” system. Under this system, the Massachusetts Land Court issues a decree upon a plan of land, and all subsequent owners of the land are issued numbered certificates of title describing the property and listing all encumbrances and rights affecting the property. Documents filed in the registered land section are assigned document numbers instead of book and page numbers.

The registered land section of the registry is a department of the Land Court, and documents submitted for registration are subject to stricter review that those for recorded land. Often, documents that would be accepted on the recorded land side are rejected by the registered land department, and additional documents need to be registered in the chain of title on the registered land side.  

Common Situations

  1. Deeds from estate representatives or other fiduciaries must be approved in advance by the Office of the Chief Title Examiner in Boston, and attested copies of the probate docket and documents must be obtained and submitted for this purpose.
  2. When closing on a condo unit on a registered land parcel, the registered land representative will confirm that the condo trustees signing any certificates, such as the 6(d) certificate, are duly appointed and within their terms of office per the provisions of the condominium trust.
  3. When a company purchases real estate, or refinances its mortgage, a certificate of good standing from the Secretary of State’s Office must be registered before the registered land division will accept a mortgage for registration signed by a company representative.
  4. If an owner of registered land desires to convert the property to a condominium, the master deed and plans all need to be reviewed and approved by a Land Court judge before they will be accepted for registration with the county.  Similarly, any amendments to the master deed or plans must be reviewed and approved. These requirements can sometimes delay sales of new condo conversions, since the court approval process can take months. While site plans are no longer required by Chapter 183A (the condominium statute), they are still required for registered land condo properties.

It is possible for an owner of registered land to obtain court permission to remove the land from the registration system entirely. This is often done by developers of large condo projects, in order to limit expensive delays and the costs of mandatory Land Court reviews of documents.

Steven J. Brooks
Greater Boston Area real estate attorney with experience in closing deals throughout Massachusetts.