One of the fundamental freedoms we have as citizens of the United States is property ownership. To have a piece of land in one’s name is the large part of the American dream. And in this free nation, when we buy and sell land, we do so openly. That’s why the transfer of deeds is a public record.
Washington County’s recorder of deeds maintains this data, and every week, the Observer-Reporter publishes deed transfers: a list of who bought property, from whom and at what price. This provides the public with valuable information about the market value of property and who owns it. It also allows government to know who is responsible for the property and the taxes levied on it.
Washington County Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella was in court this week, defending against a suit filed by the trustees of a McMurray online realty company who contend that Bardella was overstepping her authority by insisting that the name of an actual person – not a trust – be on the deed. Her attorneys argued that, “A trust does not own property and cannot hold title to it. A trustee holds title for the trust.”
Though Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca issued an injunction against the row officer, Bardella claimed victory because Lots-ofRealty.com had agreed to her requirements, which the judge’s ruling permitted. The realty company claimed that other counties had permitted it to purchase property with only the name of a trust and that Washington County ought to do the same.
We cannot disagree more. It is already an arduous task to track down some slum lords and tax delinquents whose names do appear on property records. Imagine how difficult the task would be if no real people were the owners of property but rather obscure and untraceable organizations or trusts.
Property ownership is too important a freedom to endanger by encouraging secrecy, either in ownership of property or in the public’s right of access to that information.