Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ventura County Jacks Up Recording Fees For Certain Docs To $10 To Continue Funding For Law Enforcement Efforts Targeting Local Real Estate Ripoffs

In Ventura County, California, the Ventura County Star reports:

  • Recording a deed of trust, lease, lien, reconveyance or other real estate transaction now will cost $10 in Ventura County.

    The Ventura County Board of Supervisors this week raised the fee from $3 on certain "real estate instruments" filed with the Ventura County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

    County officials said the fee increase will help raise funds to deter, investigate and prosecute real estate fraud. The potential revenue from the $10 fee is estimated at about $1 million a year.

    "Our homes are the single biggest investment in life, and (real estate fraud) is a crime that many people have suffered and will continue to suffer," County Clerk-Recorder Mark Lunn said. "I think it's a great step to move forward in terms of law enforcement."

    California leads the nation in residences pending foreclosure, with almost 40,000. About 2.2 million people, or one-third of all California homeowners, are "upside down" on their mortgages, or owe more than the value of their homes. Fifty percent of nonprofit housing counselors have reported that fraud is "very common."

    In a report to the supervisors, District Attorney Greg Totten said foreclosure rescue and related schemes are the most prevalent type of real estate fraud and that older people and those who only speak Spanish are frequently targeted.

    In 2005, supervisors authorized a $2 fee for recording of real estate instruments for the fraud deterrent program. The fee later was increased to $3.

    The District Attorney's Office also received an approximately $1.6 million federal grant providing money for two prosecutors, two investigators, a legal processing assistant and an investigative assistant for two years. In addition, the California Attorney General's Office awarded $423,573 to the District Attorney's Office.

    While the grant and award will temporarily fund some of the real estate fraud program's annual budget of $974,093, "It is abundantly clear that recent annual fee revenue falls well short of this mark" to address more than 100 criminal investigations pending at any time, Totten said.

    Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, co-authored SB 1342, which gives county supervisors in California the authority to raise real estate transaction fees to $10 to provide a consistent funding stream for law enforcement to fight real estate fraud.

    Some of the money also goes to the county Clerk-Recorder's Office to support fraud prevention programs. Totten said the District Attorney's Office would like to hire another investigator for the program.

    "Literally, tens of millions of dollars have been stolen in this county from homeowners, sellers. We're trying to do our best to end that," Totten said.

    State law mandates that the $10 fee return to the Board of Supervisors for an annual review. The fee does not apply to documents associated with "point of sale" or transfers, such as grant deeds.

    Local real estate groups, including the Ventura County Coastal Association of Realtors, support the increase.

    Supervisor Peter Foy said the district attorney's approach to tackling the real estate fraud problem in the county is a "model program for the entire state."

No comments: