Public land records are records that are kept by a region to track land ownership and use. The records are permanent and available to the public to search online or in person at the office responsible for recording deeds, such as the Recorder’s Office. The recorder indexes and archives the documents that the public submits. The public can often search the records using the book and page number of the deed or other land-related document by the plat number or by the name of the land owner. The public is often able to request copies of records, but the recorder can charge fees according to the amounts set by the region’s regulations and statutes.
One of the main uses of public land records is for buying real estate. Buyers can often search records to determine whether the property has a clear title. The buyer can search by name or by legal description and is often able to get a lot of information about the land’s ownership. For example, a buyer or his agent can search the records to see if the title was legally transferred from the original to the current owner. The seller can also check the same records to ensure that she is transferring a good title to the buyer. Title companies access those same records to conduct title searches for buyers as required by many mortgage companies as part of the financing process.
Buyers can also search public land records to research whether there are any restrictive covenants associated with the property they have an interest in. A restrictive covenant prohibits a buyer from doing something that he would otherwise be freed to do or forces a buyer to do something he may not choose to do. For example, a restrictive covenant may limit the buyer to placing a permanent building structure on the land, and not a temporary one, such as a mobile home. The way that buyers can find out whether the land has a restrictive covenant is to search the records, because it’s often recorded on the deed. Buyers can often avoid properties with those covenants if they conduct a search prior to making a purchase.
Many regions offer digitized public land records, which are scanned images of documents filed with the appropriate recording office. The public is able to search records online, and the records are often categorized in such a way that it’s easy to locate documents. There is often a cost to view digitized records, such as a monthly subscription fee.