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Home Archive Volume 62 Volume 62, Issue 6 Rebalancing Public and Private in the Law of Mortgage Transfer
Rebalancing Public and Private in the Law of Mortgage Transfer

 By John Patrick Hunt, Richard Stanton, & Nancy Wallace | 62 Am. U. L. Rev. 1529 (2013)

The law governing the United States’ $13 trillion mortgage market is broken. Courts and legislatures around the country continue to struggle with the fallout from the effort to build a twenty-first century global market in mortgages on a fragmented, archaic legal foundation. These authorities’ struggles stem in large part from the lack of clarity about the legal requirements
for mortgage transfer, the key process for contemporary mortgage finance. 

This Article argues that American mortgage transfer law is unclear in two distinct respects and offers suggestions for fixing the law. It is currently unclear whether a recorded mortgage assignment is needed to make sure that a mortgage transferee has a protected interest in the mortgage. It also is unclear whether a recorded assignment is needed to make sure that the transferee can lawfully foreclose on the mortgage. Revisions to the Uniform Commercial Code adopted around the turn of the century may be interpreted as doing away with preexisting laws arguably requiring parties to record their ownership interests to protect those interests and to foreclose on the mortgage. But the interaction
of these revisions and preexisting state recording laws is most unclear, with consequences for borrowers, investors, and securitization arrangers. 

This Article suggests an approach to law reform that would provide needed clarity and bring about an appropriate balance between private and public priorities. The Article 9 revisions reflect a preoccupation, prevalent in the 1990s, with reducing the cost of mortgage transfers to the transacting parties. Obviating public recording, as the Article 9 revisions purport to do, does reduce cost, but it also tends to eliminate public records of mortgage ownership. As we demonstrate, these public records have value, not only for parties that may transact in mortgages, but also for the public more generally. A more balanced approach would unequivocally require transacting parties to record their interests in order to protect them but would adopt this change in tandem with an expansion of low-cost digital recording. This approach provides the public benefits of high-quality mortgage records while reducing the cost and inconvenience of recording to transacting parties.

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