Part One in a Two Part Series
Background on the Address Confidentiality Program
The Maryland Secretary of State administers an Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) that removes a participant’s address and telephone number maintained by the Secretary of State or a State or local agency from the public record. The Program provides victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking, and sexual assault with: (1) a substitute address and (2) a mail-forwarding service, all to prevent a perpetrator from finding a victim who has moved to a new location or is in the process of moving.
After an applicant is accepted into the Program, the Secretary of State assigns the participant an ACP Number, and the Secretary of State becomes the participant’s agent for: service of process, receipt of mail, and forwarding mail to the confidential mailing address designated by the participant. The participant must inform other State and local government agencies that they are part of the ACP to ensure that the substitute address (the ACP program address in Annapolis, Maryland), is disclosed, rather than their actual mailing address.
The services that the ACP provides are free, and once registered, participants stay in the Program for four years, unless the participant withdrawals from the Program or the Secretary of State cancels the participant’s enrollment (if the participant fails to comply with the procedures of the Program, for example). Participants may re-register at the end of each four-year term. For more information on the ACP, including application procedure, rules of the Program, renewing an application, withdrawal from the Program, and more, see the Family Law Article § 4-519 et. seq., COMAR 01.02.11.01 et. seq., or contact the Secretary of State.
Expanding the ACP to Shield Land Records
While the ACP applied to most public records, the Program did not have a procedure in place to keep a participant’s address found in county Land Records confidential—until now. In 2017, a Task Force was assembled under Governor Hogan to study this exact issue and how to balance making Land Records accessible to facilitate title searches for litigation or title examination purposes, where records are indexed by name, and at the same time protecting ACP participants who desire to buy a home, but do not want to put their lives at risk by becoming part of the public record. The study resulted in the following procedures, recommended to the Governor, to shield a real property record:
- ACP participant notifies all parties to a real property transaction that they are part of the ACP program and instructs them to keep their name and all other identifying information confidential, and to not disclose any identifying information without specific written consent from the participant. Therefore, all mailed correspondence pertaining to the home purchase settlement will be sent to the participant’s substitute address.
- A Real Property ACP Notice, provided by the Secretary of State, is submitted with the deed and intake sheet to the Clerk of the applicable Circuit Court.
- When the deed is scanned and indexed, a page stating “Shielded Document” with instructions to contact the Office of the Secretary of State to request permission to view the document, will be scanned over the first page of the deed. “Page Intentionally Left Blank” will be scanned over each subsequent page as a place holder for when the document is no longer shielded, and the original instrument can be scanned into its proper place in the index.
- The Clerk will send a certified copy of the deed with the cover sheet to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT), and notify them to shield the real property record. As a result, any tax map, parcel product or other public record generated from SDAT records will reflect the shielded information.
See Deed Recording for Victims of Domestic Violence, Final Report, Task Force to Study Recording Deeds for Victims of Domestic Violence, MSAR #10944, December 1, 2017. The actual Circuit Court Clerk’s Office procedures put into effect this year, instructed by the State, are substantially similar to the above. In addition, as part of the detailed indexing procedures, for a Deed, Deed of Trust/Mortgage, Assignment, or Release involving an ACP participant, the Clerk’s Office will use the property street address to index the document in place of the participant’s name.
Disclosure of Confidential Records Generally Under the ACP
Since an ACP participant’s actual address and telephone number are removed from the public record, they may only be disclosed by the Secretary of State: (1) on request by a law enforcement agency and as directed by a court order, (2) on request by a State or local agency to verify a ACP participant’s enrollment in the Program and obtain the participant’s substitute address, (3) if authorized by the Secretary of State in accordance with Real Property Article, § 3-118 for purposes of performing a bona fide title examination, or (4) with consent by the participant in writing to disclose for a specific purpose.
Amendments to existing regulations and new regulations governing the ACP as it pertains to Land Records are not yet available, but are forthcoming by the Secretary of State. Once they are available, I will update this blog with more details and the obligations that the law imposes on all parties that are part of a real estate transaction.
For real estate agents, it is important to ask the question of whether your Buyer client or Seller client is a registered participant of the ACP program. As soon as you learn of this information from your Buyer or Seller, you should notify the Lender and attorneys handling the transaction. Agents should be aware that a transaction involving an ACP participant will involve additional steps, not to mention extra time to ensure compliance with the new law and keep confidential the personal information of the ACP participant.
Stay tuned for Part Two – State Regulations to Sheild Real Property Records and disclosure for Title Examinations
Readers with questions about this or any real estate legal matter can reach Brianne at 301-698-9300.
*Brianne Paugh is an Attorney with Village Settlements, Inc. and The Law Offices of Parker, Simon, Hahn & DeLisi, LLC, in Frederick, Maryland, and is an Adjunct Professor of Real Estate Law at Frederick Community College. Brianne was selected as the 2017 Affiliate of the Year by the Frederick County Association of Realtors.