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Registered: Mar 2002
Location: south florida

Important Legal Records in City Hall Basement - WTF

When I was working in the legal field in NOLA, I would often have to go file deeds and other documents at the Registrar of Conveyances in the basement of City Hall. I always wondered why the hell, in a city below sea level, real estate records would be stored in a BASEMENT ....

This is going to be an absolute mess to fix.....

Mortgage records may be drowned

Orleans documents are in basement

By Greg Thomas
Real Estate writer

Thousands of lawyers in the metropolitan area have lost their files, their clients and their offices, but one of the biggest legal ramifications of Hurricane Katrina's flooding waters is the probable loss of real estate records dating back to the early 1800s.

The records, which include titles, mortgages, conveyances and liens, were stored in the now-flooded basement of City Hall on Poydras Street.

In 2002, employees of Register of Conveyances Gasper Schiro began the tedious process of entering the records into computers, a $700,000 process that could have been contracted out and accomplished quickly but was instead done slowly by his staff to save money.

It's unclear how much of the information has been digitized or whether the computerized information is stored safely. If either the original records or the digitalization is lost, it will be a major mess, said Southern University Law Center Professor Winston Riddick, who teaches real estate law.

While it will be a tedious process to fix, and it can be fixed, it will be a major headache that could take years. The records involved date back to 1827, with the earliest recorded by hand in Spanish and French.

According to the American Center of Real Estate Lawyers, or ACREL, the loss of the records could be devastating to the local real estate industry.

The process of restoring the information could be incredibly tedious and create havoc for homeowners who will be filing insurance claims, said Professor Riddick. While he expects insurance companies to honor claims by owners who have copies of their insurance policies, the potential for delays and other hassles is very real.

New Orleans real estate attorney Marx Sterbcow of Marx Sterbcow Law Group said Friday that the loss of the records, stored in the musty, moldy basement of City Hall, may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to storm-related problems for Louisiana attorneys, citing a memo e-mailed to Louisiana lawyers by Southern University Law Professor Michelle Ghetti.

"Many ACREL members have been in touch with us to express concerns for colleagues in the region. Members have been generous with offers of office space housing and other support," Ghetti said.

Real estate records aren't the only ones affected. Ghetti estimates that as many as 6,000, or two-thirds of the state's attorneys, have lost offices, files and other documents critical to civil and criminal legal cases. Several court buildings were flooded by Hurricane Katrina, including the basement in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Louisiana Supreme Court building.

For City Hall records, Sterbcow said, "it's the mortgages that's going to be ugly. To put it mildly, how are you going to be able to prove if you own a piece of property if your records are gone? How are you going to be able to prove you have a mortgage, or one is paid off?"

Records for the 24th Judicial District in Jefferson Parish are probably in much better shape than the records in Orleans Parish, Sterbcow said.

"Jefferson Parish sounds like they're going to be ok for mortgages and conveyances,'' he said.


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