(Honolulu) – If you’ve sold or bought property or if you work in the real estate or title business, you’re familiar with the huge volume of legal documents required for property transactions.
The Bureau of Conveyances has just awarded a $1.3 million-dollar contract to West Central Indexing to implement a highly specialized Land Records Management System to increase accuracy and improve efficiencies in recording these documents.
The Bureau of Conveyances is a division of the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, responsible for maintaining these property transaction records for the public. It administers two systems of recording titles to real property in Hawai‘i: one is the Regular System (also referred to as Abstract) and the other is Land Court (also known as Torrens). The new system will improve on the work being done in both.
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State Registrar of Conveyance Les Kobata explains, “The Land Records Management System is considered ‘human-enabling technology’ in that it helps Bureau staff “connect the dots” or chain of title of property ownership. This will be particularly effective in providing accuracy and expediency in finalizing Land Court Transfer Certificates of Title (TCT) for land court property. These TCT’s memorialize all actions affecting a Land Court parcel during a given ownership period. The certificates tell the full story of a property and ensures legal ownership transfers over the years, and serve to identify easements, liens and other actions that may affect a property.”
The new Land Records Management System will utilize optical character reading for scanning documents. Staff can teach it (artificial intelligence) to capture key pieces of information up front. Kobata said, “With the optical character reading capability, this system willprovide faster and more accurate inputs as well as more work-flow flexibility to help prevent errors.” This is critical with land court TCT’s as they need to be completely accurate to avoid issues with future property transactions.
The Bureau takes in and records hundreds of thousands of documents each year and in the Land Court system, there’s a backlog of TCT’s that require updating or certification. This was due to past staffing issues in the Bureau, compounded by the housing/mortgage crisis beginning in 2008. This created a huge volume of foreclosures that amplified the complexity of the TCT backlog with administratively flawed recordings done by companies that went out of business.
The backlog in correcting these errors and certifying TCT’s goes back to filings as far back as 2013. The new system is expected to significantly reduce the backlog with its advance functionality and optical character reading capabilities and is one step in the continued modernization of Bureau operations to maintain required record keeping.
While the Land Records Management System is one step toward modernizing the Bureau and reducing the TCT backlog, since 2015 the Bureau has successfully digitized 35 million microfilm images and 5,500 reference books dating back to the mid-1800s. Hawai‘i’s Bureau of Conveyances is one of two nationwide that cover statewide recording duties where most of its mainland peers handle it on a county basis.
DLNR Chair Suzanne Case commented, “The TCT backlog is caused by the tedious, time-consuming process of researching documents that need to be accurately reflected on the certificates, as well as the need to correct errors. The State Legislature has recognized those challenges and logistical issues have led to the back log in Land Court TCT certifications and have passed several measures to address it.”
One example is a requirement that new time-share interests be recorded in the Regular System only, even if it was originally a land court property and that all existing land courttime share interests be “deregistered” and become part of the regular system. Case added, “While these measures are helpful in the long term, there are still some short-term issues, such as additional work needed to deregister properties and the difficulty in addressing properties with fractionalized interests that are partly recorded in Land Court and partly in the Regular System.
Kobata said the title and escrow industry continues to be partners and work closely with the Bureau to help get administrative corrections done for documents so TCTs can be updated accurately and certified. “That has made the backlog pretty rare in the public view. However. we continue to focus on this TCT backlog issue and the Land Records Management System is an important step toward resolving it.” It is targeted for implementation in October 2020.”