THE RECORD AND GUIDE.
MAY ?, 1885—No 894.
LAND TRANSFER REFORM,
THE MAJORITY AND MINORITY REPORTS OF THE LAND
TRANSFER COMMISSION GIVEN VERBATIM.
Majority Report of Commissioners of Land Transfers.
DATED APRIL 15th, 1885.
(TABLK ANn ORnSRED PRINTED.)
TO THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK.
The Commissioners of Land Transfer appointed under the Act of May
'2\st, 1884, respectf idly report as follows:
The act authorizing the appointment of the Commission was passed
May 21st, 1884, and the Commissioners appointed July 2d following.
As the members of the Commission were not all in the city until early
Fall, formal meetings could not be held until then.
By the terms of its appointment the authoi-ity of the Commission was
limited to the recommendation of reforms in real estate transfer for cities of
not le-'s than three hundred thousand inhabitauts (t. e. New York City and
Brooklyn), with power, if it should see fit, to confine its reconuuendations to
New York City.
At the outset of its deliberations it was determined that attention should
be given to the preparation of a bill or bills intended to change the methods
of transferring and keeping the records and indices relating to real estate
in the city of New York only, afterwards to the suggestion of such other
reforms in the body of the law relating to the title to and lieus upon real
estate, as might more properly be applicable to the entire State and which
the Commission might regard as desirable, but which neither the powers
given it nor the time to which its labors would be restricted would make it
fitting or enable it to mature.
FuUy realizing the danger of hastily unsettling the principles of real
estate law, the Commission has in the main devoted itself to the machinery
of transferring titles and keeping the records of transfers and liens, intro¬
ducing only Buch changes iu the law as were incidental to the new system
and necessary to its successful operation.
The evils of the present system of transfer in the city of New York, have
been too long the theme of comment in the profession and among owners of
real estate to need extended mention in this report.
The facts that the number of volumes in the Register's office containing
the records of conveyances and mortgages is now nearly four thousand, of
which nearly seven-eighths have been added during the last fifty years; that
the only method of ascertaining the title of any particular lot is by search¬
ing for and examining every instrument executed by the successive oivners
of such lot from written indices containmg thousands of names, with many
errors in spelling aud otherwise, that such an examination requires a long
time, increasing with every year, and would even now be almost impracti¬
cable without the aid of private classified indices and abstracts made oy the
official searchers for theu' own use ; that, in case of th» removal or destruc¬
tion of these private papei*s, the examination of titles could be attained
only after immense labor—are sufficient to show that the present system i?
too burdensome and dangerous to be longer continued.
The uncertainty attending examinations under such a system, the length
of time required, the expense cast upon the owner of real estate and tbe
responsibility imposed upon the lawyers seemed to the Commission to render
its radical reform the most pressing question to be met.
The members of the Commission were unanimously of the opinion that
such reform, to the proper extent, could only be effected by indexing instru¬
ments tiffecting real estate, not merely against the name, but against the
property conveyed or charged, and making liens on real estate specific,
affecting only the property described therein, and so indexing them.
Two forms of inde.x were pi'oposed; one an index by lots and the other by
blocks. A fter an extended discussion of the advantages of these forms
respectively, four of the flve members of the Commis.sion decided in favor of
the lot system, and have prepared a bill for indexing transfers and liens
upon that system.
The division of opinion of this point requires that the reasons which
induced the preference of the majority of the Commission should be stated
somewhat at large.
They believed that any new system should be not merely a temporary
remedy for existing evils, which, in its turn, should become a burden, but
one which, in its nature, would require no re-arrangement in the future,
whatever might be the growth of the city or the increase in real estate
transactions—one of which should not merely mitigate defects, but remove
They believe that any new system should be of such a character as,
when in the course of time it shall have borne its fruits, will relieve real
■estate from the burden and uncertainty of searches, and render its transfer
more expeditious, and should be so simple in its form and methods as to
reduce the chances ot error to a minimum.
These requisites of simplicity, celerity, certainty, economy and perman-
nency they were satisfied would be realized more fully under the lot system
than any other.
The lot being the ordinary unit of ownership on which taxes have for years
been laid and collected with ease and certainty, fonns the simplest basis for an
index, and if the transfer of and liens on each lot are kept by themselves,
the addition of any amount of territory will add pages to the index, but
will require no change in the system, nor increase the labor of flnding
the papers affecting any lot.
Such a system w3l grow simpler indeed as time passes for as the city
becomes pei'manently improved, as the boundaries of lots become perma¬
nently fixed by being built upon, even the slight inconvenience which may
attend the changes in lines of vacant lots will cease to exist.
On the other hand, an index by blocks while at the outset it would be
less confusing and burthensome than the present system by reducing the
extent of territory over which a search must be made must become more
and more complex with time since the continually accumulating transfers
of and liens on an average of at least sixty-four lots are entered in one place.
This, from the very introduction of the system, would necessitate a search
shorter than the search now reqviired, but still a search subject to the errors
and uncertainties and expenses ot the present system, though to a leas
The lot system absolutely puta an end to searching all entries affecting
a lot or any pai't of it; being requiied to be made on the page or pages or
that lot, a certified copy of the page gives all the information we now derive
from a search in a very much shorter time and substantially without
expense, andthe correctness of the information is a mere qnestion o€ tho
correctness of the ropy.
And such certified copy, unlike our present searches, will be an original
in any hands.
The simplicity of the lot system and its freedom from chances of error
will appear when we examice briefly tie method of indexing mider it.
To know where any instrument shall be indexed and cause it to be
so indexed requires only that tbe person who desires its record shall
inspect tbe maps of the block on which tbe property is situated note the
lot or lots thereou which eu.brace the property, and direct that the instru¬
ment shall be indexed against such lot or lots.
To the Register is giveu the simple and purely ministerial duty of enter¬
ing a memorandum on the page or pages of tne lot or lots designated. Should
this entry be erroneous in every particular except the liber and page of
record, the instrument could s; ill be readily foimd; should it be erroneous
in all respects, there would still be sufficient notice of some transaction
affecting the property to put auy one de; 1 ng therewith on enquiiy.
The most frequent error occuring under the present system is in the
names of the parties ;;this would be of r.o material consequence under the
lot system, while the block system fs li; b'.e to Ihe same error, only to be
avoided by an examinati. n of all the entriis under a block.
It must be constantly bt rne in mind that the system advocated by the
majority of the Commission contemplates an index—nothing more—an
easy and accurate method of finding the papers relating to any particular
piece of real estate. It asserts nothing as to ownei-ship, but simply shows
what transfers have been made of, or what liens have been created against
a lot, as shown on a map or any part of it. If the lot so shown only repre-
I seuts part of the lot under examinalion, we have only to examine the pages
^ of all lots which contain its other parts until such time, as by change of the
■ map, one lot shall correctly appear thereon as a wlole.
I Whatever additional detail may be involved in putting the lot system into
operation, it is nevertheless perfectly simple, and would be more than coun¬
terbalanced by the increased advantages to be derived from it when once tn
I A brief outline of the chief features of the bill proposed seems proper.
I It is proposed that all the blocks in the city shall be numbered continu¬
ously from one up, commencing with some block in the lower part of the
city—that a set of books shall be prepared in triplicate to be arranged as
follows : Commencing with block one, a map of that block as divided into
lots taken from the tax maps, the lots numbered from one up, to be pre¬
fixed to the portions of the Land Register Index devoted to the block and at
the head of succeeding page the number of one of the lots in t'le block in
regular order with sufflcient blank pages at the end for carrying over full
pages, or entering any new lot which may be carved out of the old ones.
After these blank imges a map of block number two and its lot with blank
pages, and so on.
Two sets of these books are to be deposited in the Register's office—one
for the indexing of instruments recorded in the books of conveyances, and
the other for indexing instruments recorded in the books of mortgages, and
tbe third set is depositetl in the County Clerk's office for the indexing of
notices of lis pendens and judgments and liens and other instruments
affecting real estate filed iu that office.
The preparation of these indices and the superintendance of them after
the system goes into opei-ation is entrusted to an officer to be known as the
Superintendent of the Land Register Index, who is to be a counsellor at
law, and a deputy superintendent who is to be a city surveyor.
A period of a little more than a year is given for the preparation and
deposit of these indices, and, that the public may be faraiUarized with the
main featm-e of the system, the act is not to go into operation until sixty
days after the indices have been so prepared and deposited in the respective
Every person desiring to record an instrument is required tn order to
entitle it to be recorded to have it state in the body thereof, or to designate
in a separate instrument as may sometimes be necessary, the number ot the
block and lot or lots claimed to be affected by such instrument.
The index of a transfer is to be made by a brief entry in one line stating
liber and page, where recorded, on the page ot each lot designated as
Changes in any lot are to be made in the flrst instance on the tax maps,
and once a year the Tax Commisioners ai-e to certify to the Superintendent
of the Land Register Index all such changes which have beeu made down
to a certain fixed date in each year, and the Superintendent is to enter thera
upon the Land Register Index. WLen the changes in any block are suffi¬
ciently numerous to require it, the Superiutendent is authorized to cause a
new map of such block to be made.
When tbe boundaries of any lot are changed the page ot the lot is to be
closed and a new page opened for the new lot, with references on the respec¬
tive pages, showing from what page or pages the new lot is derived, and to
what new page or pages the old lot is transferiecl.
Provision is made tor the entry on the Land Register Index ot new blocks
which may be from time to time formed by cutting up old ones or otherwise.
As to that portion of the district lying north ot Harlem River, known as
the annexed district, which is not yet laid out in blocks, the index is to be
made with reference to the plots laid down on the tax maps, and under the
provisions of the bill when the new blocks are formed they will fall into
their proper places on the index.
It is further provided that the more important and numerous of the
notices, liens or other insti-uments requii-ed to be filed iu the County Clerk's
office which are intended to affect real estate, shall contain a description by
block and lot number of the real estate claimed to be so affectedj or that a
certificate of the party asserting or claiming under such notice, lien or other
instrument containing such designation annexed to the notice, lien or other
instrument, or a certified copy ot it, shall be so filed before any real estate
shall be affected thereby. Upon the filing ot such notice, lien or certificate
it is to be entered upon the Land Register Index of liens. Mechanic's liens
being now indexed against the property affected not touched by the bills
The Commission has also prepared and herewith submits a bill requiring
judgments to be made specihc instead of general liens on real estate in the
city of New York, and a bill transferring to the Register's office the neces¬
sary records or memoranda of the mortgages in the county of New York
by the Commissioners for loamng the United States deposit funds under the
act of 1837, so as to avoid for the future the necessity of a separate search
in the Loan Commissioner's office for such mortgages, and a bill requiring
the making and keeping, in the office ot the Clerk of Arrears of the city of
New York, of an index of all outstanding taxes and assessments and water
rents, and ot all sales for non-payment of taxes, assessments or water rents
remaining unredeemed and uncancelled, properly classified by the separate
lots, so that a mere inspection of such index will ascertain without any
difficulty or material amount of time or labor, whether upon any pai-ticular
lot there m-e any and what arrears of taxes, assessments or water rents, or
outstanding tax or assessment titles, and entitling any one desiring it to