The Mortgage Electronic Registration System ("MERS") is increasingly under attack from multiple angles. MERS describes itself as "an innovative process that simplifies the way mortgage ownership and servicing rights are originated, sold and tracked." Created by the real estate finance industry, including many of the largest lenders and Fannie Mae, MERS allegedly "eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans." This bypassing mechanism is what has garnered the attention of recording offices throughout the country.
Geauga County in Ohio just filed suit against MERS alleging that it bypassed the recording of mortgage assignments in local registry offices (as MERS was intentionally designed to do), thereby depriving numerous Ohio counties on revenue from filing fees.
The lawsuit comes only weeks after the Dallas County District Attorney sued MERS and its parent company, Merscorp. Inc., alleging the system acts as a shadow recording system that allows lenders to avoid local mortgage registration fees – this according to HousingWire.com.
HousingWire reports that the suit was filed by David Joyce, prosecuting attorney for Geauga County.
"The MERS business model and practices comply with the recording statutes and regulations of Ohio," a MERS statement of response reads. "This position has been upheld in numerous cases in Ohio courts and countless cases across the country on the state and Federal level. We are confident that MERS’ business practices will be upheld in court as complying with Ohio law."
The complaint also names various financial institutions as defendants – including Bank of American, Chase Home Mortgage, Citi, HSBC Bank, and others, all of whom used MERS to bypass the need to record transfers of the beneficial interest under deeds of trust on properties.
In the suit, Geauga County claims "the defendants systematically broke chains of land title throughout Ohio counties’ public land records by creating gaps due to missing mortgage assignments they failed to record, or by recording patently false or misleading mortgage assignments." The county claims MERS’ failure to pay filing fees is a violation of Ohio state laws.
These suits may signal the opening of the floodgates by counties seeking to recoup lost revenue; though one must question the level of damages suffered, as each county also did not have to do the work necessary to receive the money they charge. Makes me wonder how much it costs to record versus how much they charge for each recording.