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How an Obscure Outfit Called MERS Is Subverting Our Entire System of Property Rights

Banks have scrambled America's system of private property ownership to the point that no one knows who owns what.

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But there was one major downside to the scam: because MERS departed from established real estate recording requirements, there was no guarantee that its claim to ownership, if challenged, would be honored by the courts.

Transparent real property registration was one of the earliest—and most important—functions of the American government, a practice that has changed amazingly little since the colonial times. According to "Foreclosure, Subprime Mortgage Lending, and the Mortgage Registration System," American colonists began to enact laws requiring land sales, transfers and mortgages to be entered into the public record with a government agency going back almost 400 years. The Massachusetts Plymouth Bay Colony adopted its first such "recording law" in 1636, which stated that "all sales exchanges giftes mortgages leases or other Conveyances of howses and landes the sale to be acknowledged before the Governor or anyone of the Assistants and committed to publick Record."

By the time the Boston Tea Party rolled around, every English colony had passed laws that required lenders and landowners to enter their names and property and mortgage information into the public record. The reasons for the popularity of the laws are simple and utilitarian: transparent public records of property ownership prevented disputes over who owned what and allowed people to use land as collateral on loans. "The necessity and usefulness of these early public title records is attested to by their nearly universal and uninterrupted force in subsequent American law. Indeed, Pennsylvania's first recording act, first adopted in 1717, remains in force to this day," wrote Peterson. Banks that failed to register mortgage transactions risked losing their ability to enforce the contract. And that is exactly what is on the verge of happening with mortgages registered with MERS.

Dozens of lawsuits all across the country have been filed against MERS and its partners to put this very issue to the test. And while most of them are still ongoing, it's clear that MERS is fighting for its life.

The Wall Street Journal:

Now, critics and homeowners facing foreclosure are increasingly challenging, among other things, MERS' role and legal standing in home foreclosures where it acts as legal representative of the mortgage holder. MERS has fought and won legal challenges in the past. But the nationwide epidemic of foreclosures in the wake of the housing collapse will present it with a wave of challenges unlike any it has seen previously.

Trouble for MERS could add risk to banks by slowing down the securitization process, and creating uncertainty during a time when banks are struggling to reassure shareholders and customers. One hedge fund investor said Friday that questions around MERS are adding to his concerns about banks in the mortgage business and are keeping him from investing in the sector.

While MERS officials say they are confident about their business model, it has become clear that their scheme might very well be on the verge of toppling. On November 17, Congress quietly rammed through a sneaky, vaguely worded bill that would have legalized MERS’ dealings retroactively. And while the bill didn't pass, we can expect Wall Street's lackeys in Congress to continue their efforts. After all, if courts continue to rule against MERS's business model—and it looks like they will— many homes may become foreclosure proof. As Reuters put it: “If court rulings against MERS' authority to foreclose proliferate, many foreclosure cases may be halted indefinitely, and some homeowners in default may end up with clear title to their homes.” Owners will still owe money to banks, but their homes would no longer be counted as collateral on the loan. In short, banks would not be able to kick people out of their homes. And clearly, that is something that America's plutocracy just cannot abide.

 
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