Property Registry in Puerto Rico - The Role of the Notary
I continuously receive inquiries about the role of the notary in Puerto Rico in connection to real estate transactions and the filing of the documents with Puerto Rico Property Registry.
Though the Property Registry is one entity in Puerto Rico operating under the Puerto Rico Attorney General’s Office, there are various offices located within the judicial districts throughout Puerto Rico. I have worked with many of these offices, but San Juan, Carolina, Guaynabo and Fajardo are the most I have dealt with in my many years as a notary.
At the Property Registry for any given district, a property is assigned a lot number, much like assigning a file number to a matter or item. It is important to understand that records for properties within the Registry cannot be located by the name of the owner, the date a transaction was executed or the like. The Registry used to maintain records by names of property owners, but such records are no longer active. Old records of property owners are available, but they are mostly useless. I have successfully located names and properties, but only for very old transactions and records.
The Registry has been undergoing a computer optimization process, but it is not complete. When it is completed, name searches should be effectively performed.
Once the correct lot number is known for a given property, the Registry works perfectly. Within this record (i.e. the lot or property number), you will find the ownership track for the property, sometimes way back when Puerto Rico was a Spanish Colony. The key to this rich history of ownership is the lot number.
This is the area where the notary and the Puerto Rico system of recording transactions become quite valuable; mostly because the notary works hand-in-hand with the Property Registry.
Contrary to notaries in the United States, notaries in Puerto Rico are a key element of the Property Registry System. Only a notary knows how to prepare documents in the correct format and with the correct content for the Registry to accept them. Moreover, the notary will bear the burden to handle issues which may be raised by a Registrar, and also the responsibility to take the necessary steps to secure the proper registration of the transactions executed before him or her.
When a closing is performed, the deed created by the notary has to comply with strict format and content requirements. The notary, as a licensed professional, is also bound by law to handle, store and safeguard the documents in accordance with specific requirements to secure the preservation of these documents and their long lasting storage for purposes of Puerto Rico’s historical records. In sum, a notary possesses the equivalent of a government franchise.
Once the deal is closed, the notary becomes the Government’s custodial of the deed executed by the parties, and he or she bears some specific duties with regards to this document. As an example, at the end of each calendar year, the notary has to book bind all deeds executed before him/her for the given year. The book bounded deeds will subsequently be transferred to an archive for historical reference. This action assures that all deeds executed before notaries in Puerto Rico are safely stored.
Here is where you need to follow me very closely. I do not want you to become confused or lose track of where I am going with this.
Since the original deed is book bounded and filed for historical purposes, what the notary presents to the Registry is a “certified copy” of the deed, never the original deed. Somewhere in the future, when the Registrar records the transaction for the given lot number, the certified copy of the deed is returned to the notary duly recorded who, in turn, delivers the registered copy of the deed to the client. This document, the certified copy with all the markings resulting from the registration, is the clients’ “title document.”
There are two essential pieces of information a property owner in Puerto Rico needs to know about real estate transactions in Puerto Rico.
At this point, I want to give you two key pieces of information you truly want to understand and hold close to your heart if you are really interested in protecting any interests as a property owner in Puerto Rico. As a matter of fact and in opinion, these two pieces of information is all a property owner needs to know to be able to track down any transaction he or she has been involved with regardless of the Registry, computer records or absence thereof, or whatever other consideration with regards to how real estate transactions in Puerto Rico work.
Important Data #1: Each deed executed by a given notary is assigned a given and exclusive number for that year. It is quite simple. The first deed for a given year is “deed number 1” with the second deed identified as “deed number 2” and so it goes until December 31st for that year comes around. The next calendar year, starting on January 1st the slate is cleaned and the first executed deed is assigned the number 1 and so it goes round and round again. Hence, it follows, that for any given year, any given notary has only one “deed number 1” and only one “deed number 2”, etc.
To be more specific, if you close a deal with me acting as a notary on January 1 of the year 2011, your deed will be “Deed Number 1 of the year 2011, executed before notary Santiago F. Lampón González”. Now assume someone else closes a deal before me on January 5, 2011 and I participated in no deeds between these two dates. Hence, it follows, that this person’s deed would be “Deed Number 2 of the year 2011 executed before notary Santiago F. Lampón González.”
This takes us to our next important data.
Important Data #2: The only information you need to track down any real estate transaction executed before a notary in Puerto Rico (in order of importance) is: (1) the name of the notary; (2) the year the transaction was executed; and (3) the number assigned to the deed for the given year.
Let me explain why this is so.
First of all and as stated before, every notary in Puerto Rico has to comply with specific legal requirements under the franchise or license awarded by the Government of Puerto Rico. The requirement includes the eventual transfer of all the deeds to the General Archives of Puerto Rico.
Each collection of deeds for any given year, has an index of deeds which includes the date it was executed, the subject of the deed (a purchase and sales, a donation or whatever), and the name of the parties who executed the deed. Accordingly, if you remember or know the name of the notary who executed your deed, it does not matter if you have any other information, his or her deeds would be traceable and, once located, and a search through the indexes will certainly reflect your deed. From this point on, number (2) and (3) just make it a lot easier to find your deed.
There is so much more information I could share with you on being a notary and handling transactions, a job I certainly love to do. Yet, I am going to stop here and try not to overwhelm you, for now, with too much information.
If you have questions, write to me and I will gladly give you an answer.