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Notarizing and Recording Documents in California During the COVID-19 Crisis

Due to “shelter-in-place” or “stay at home” orders that are in place in many jurisdictions throughout the country, government offices are generally closed to the public and public gatherings are limited. The current state of affairs makes it challenging for parties that need notary (and recording) services to consummate real estate transactions, a process which, under normal circumstances, requires the signer to physically appear before a notary when executing a document.

This is not as problematic in the 23 states that permit remote online notarizations (RONs), where the signer personally appears before the notary using audio-visual technology in lieu of physically appearing before a notary and the document is notarized electronically. But many jurisdictions, including California, do not permit the practice. While California lawmakers recently considered and rejected a law that would allow RONs, the practice is receiving considerable attention as evidenced by the Governor of New York’s recent Executive Order permitting RONs until April 18, 2020 and pending legislation in the US Senate (the “Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020” (SECURE Notarization Act)) that would expand the availability of RONs nationwide. So while California’s rules may change in the future, for now, the status quo remains.

The good news is that there is a path forward for transactions that are scheduled to close in the next couple of weeks.

Notarization Options

While gathering in-person to execute a document before a notary appears to be prohibited under the Governor’s stay at home order, notary services are available at many shipping and packaging stores (e.g., The UPS Store). These businesses are deemed to be critical infrastructure whose workers are therefore exempt from the State’s mandate to remain at home.

Recordation Options

The county recorder’s offices in California are generally closed for in-person recording of documents, and in some rural counties are closed altogether. In most of the larger counties, it is still possible to record documents through e-filing, which can be performed by authorized agents, such as title companies. However, there may be limits to the number or length of documents which may be recorded by e-filing and confirmation of recording may take longer than usual. Procedures and timing vary by county and continue to be in flux. It is therefore important to confirm the available recording process for each transaction and location with the title company handling the transaction. 

To identify what options may be available in a particular jurisdiction regarding notarization and recording, please reach out to one of the authors or any other member of Arent Fox’s Real Estate team for assistance.

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