TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner to crack down on private companies that mislead unsuspecting homeowners by charging them inflated prices for a certified copy of their property deed, a service county clerks provide to the public for a nominal fee, was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee today.
The bill was first introduced in 2010 after residents in Mercer County began receiving solicitations charging as much as $69 for copies of property deeds that could have been obtained at a cost of approximately $10 from the county clerk’s office. Senator Turner has been working with the Mercer County Clerk to provide greater protections for residents and require deed solicitors to be upfront that a third party service is not needed to obtain a copy of a deed.
“It is unfortunate that unscrupulous businesses are preying on unknowing homeowners and charging them inflated fees to obtain the same documents they could get themselves at a nominal cost,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This bill will rein in this predatory practice and prevent companies from taking advantage of residents.”
The bill (S-1962) seeks to protect consumers by requiring that non-governmental entities providing deed procurement services make certain disclosures when soliciting clients. The bill would make it unlawful practice under the consumer fraud act to solicit clients without providing written form of communication displays in a clear, conspicuous, and prominent manner. It would also be a violation of the consumer fraud act to create a false impression in a solicitation for deed procurement services that the recipient is in any way legally required to use the non-governmental service in order to obtain a copy of a deed.
An unlawful practice under the consumer fraud act is punishable by a monetary penalty of not more than $10,000 for a first offense and not more than $20,000 for any subsequent offense. In addition, a violation can result in cease and desist orders issued by the Attorney General, the assessment of punitive damages, and the awarding of treble damages and costs to the injured party.
“It is shameful that private companies would intentionally swindle unsuspecting homeowners out of their hard-earned money, many of whom struggled and saved to buy their homes and are now struggling to pay their property taxes,” said Senator Turner. “This legislation will crack down on this deceitful practice and ensure that individuals who engage in this kind of activity face hefty penalties for their action.”
The committee approved the bill Monday by a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.