Top title insurance claims (1 - 5)

Title insurance claims arise more often that you might think. Below is a list of the most common title insurance claims for the District of Columbia, compiled by Elisabeth Zajic, vice president and senior counsel for First American Title Insurance Companyin D.C.

For further reading, the Underwriter Bulletins contain a wealth of information geared more toward the industry but still valuable for anyone who's planning to buy a home.

1. Fraud.

I. Uninsured recent no-consideration "gift deeds" to a family member may be forged or obtained through undue influence, enabling the grantee to sell or arrange for a cash-out refinance of the property and abscond with the cash value of the equity. Fraudulent intra-family conveyances represent a large percentage of claims in the District of Columbia.

II. Mortgage foreclosure "specialists" scout out properties for which a foreclosure notice has been filed but with a lot of equity, often titled in elderly persons. They offer to "save" the home and end up taking a deed to the property.

III. Flip transactions, both legal and illegal, remain extremely popular in D.C. Remember that even if your flip transaction is not otherwise fraudulent, there must be full disclosure to all parties of all pertinent details of the transaction.

IV. When a property is acquired without purchase money financing and the new owner subsequently refinances, taking out the cash value of the equity in the property, pay special attention. This is unusual and the refi frequently follows a deed which was forged or fraudulently obtained.

V. Don't forget the basics. Compare the signatures on your documents against signatures of record and on ID. Give careful scrutiny to powers of attorney and be sure to verify the signature of the principal. Don't blindly assume that all notarized documents are valid.

VI. Trust your instincts. If the deal doesn't "feel" right, it probably isn't.

2. Recording. The failure to record promptly is a major cause of claims.

3. Real Property Taxes. In ascertaining tax status for a D.C. closing, you should proceed as follows:

I. In addition to ordering a tax certificate, you should now check the D.C. Tax Rates and Revenues website for every closing, and document your file with printed copies of the account information. The site information for receivables is updated regularly, with effective dates displayed. Your last check of the site should be done just before closing.

II. The date shown on non-real property tax receivables is particularly important because the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) has reached an agreement with the D.C. departments and agencies generating these receivables whereby, unless the liens are either recorded or posted on the website prior to transfer of the property, they will be unenforceable against a bona fide purchaser and will become a personal liability of the seller instead of a real property lien.

III. Order tax certificates. Although the website is a great resource, it does not, at present, create a legal estoppel as to unreported taxes and assessments, as does the tax certificate. The turn-around time for tax certificates is very good at present.

IV. Investigate charges or assessments incurred by previous owners before paying them. OTR is presently seeking to collect a number of previously unbilled tax and assessment liabilities, including, but not limited to, vacant and abandoned property liens, homestead audit liens and Clean City liens. If the taxes were previously unbilled and the property has transferred to a bona fide purchaser, OTR will not enforce the liabilities against the present owner. Instead, the tax will become a personal liability of the former owner responsible for the delinquency, and OTR will provide you with a corrected bill waiving charges.

4. WASA. Claims on D.C. Water and Sewer Authority liabilities have risen dramatically in recent years. One reason for this unfortunate trend is the WASA procedure, which dictates that a new account be established for any given property each time that a final bill is requested. The new account will be opened regardless of whether the old account(s) are paid or not.

I. When handing a sale, order a final bill from WASA. Do not rely on verbal information given to you by WASA. Expect a written response in five business days or more.

II. Never rely on WASA receivables posted on the tax website. The website will show lien amounts only, not account balances. Even the lien amounts cannot be used as payoff figures, as they do not include current penalty and interest charges.

III. Do not rely on a D.C. Tax Certificate for WASA receivables. WASA does not recognize any legal estoppel for water and sewer service charges. Because of problems in this regard, WASA charges will henceforth be specifically excepted to in Tax Certificates.

IV. In the event that a WASA lien has been filed at the Office of the Recorder of Deeds, order a separate payoff statement for the WASA lien. Do not assume that the lien payoff amount will be included in the WASA response to your request for a final bill.

V. WASA must also be contacted for lien payoff balances.

More Info: Water and Sewer Authority Charges

5. Tenants first right of purchase under TOPA. The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act gives a tenant or tenants' association a first right of purchase in connection with any sale of residential real property.

Generally, title insurance protects against loss arising from real property interests, constructive notice of which is imparted through recording. TOPA rights are not a matter of record, and traditionally, title insurance would not provide protection against loss or damage arising from the their exercise.

However, under TOPA, a tenant or tenant organization claiming non-compliance with the Act will seek to set aside the transaction. If they are successful, the result will be a total failure of the title. Purchasers and lenders look to the title insurance industry for protection from this risk, and we have endeavored to meet this need, on a "special risk" basis only.

More Info: Under TOPA – A New Law and Underwriting Guidelines

More Info: D.C. Tenant's First Right of Purchase under TOPA

About the author

Elisabeth Zajic is a vice president and senior counsel at First American Title Insurance Corporation.

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Comments (2)

  • Cynthia


    27 March 2016 at 09:46 | #

    This article is a bit old but still relevant. I'm buying a foreclosure property with thousands of dollars of unpaid DC Clean City liens some dating back to 1998 and having survived at least 2 prior sales. How do I avoid having to pay a prior owner's fines?


    • webmaster


      05 April 2016 at 13:07 | #

      Hi Cynthia, thanks for your question. Yours is not a common or clear cut situation, which is why we suggest that you reach out to a real estate attorney to discuss your specific transaction.


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