Turner Bill To Crack Down On Predatory Practice Approved By Senate Commerce Committee

Measure Would Rein In Practice of Private Deed Companies Preying on Unsuspecting Homeowners

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) to crack down on private companies that prey on unsuspecting homeowners by charging them exorbitant prices for a certified copy of their property deed, a service county clerks provide to the public for a minimal fee, was approved Monday by the Senate Commerce Committee.

The issue was brought to the attention of lawmakers by the Mercer County Clerk, who issued warnings to residents after learning of solicitors targeting local homeowners. The solicitors were allegedly informing residents that their property deed was recorded by the county clerk and leading them to believe a certified copy was necessary. The companies reportedly charged 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.

“In recessionary times, there are always unscrupulous operators looking to make a quick buck by preying on our most vulnerable populations. In this case, private companies were scamming homeowners into paying exorbitant fees for a deed that they can easily obtain from their county clerk at a minimal cost,” said Senator Turner. “This bill will rein in this predatory practice by imposing strict regulations on deed solicitors and allowing the state to closely monitor their business practices.”

The bill (S-2459) seeks to protect consumers by requiring that deed solicitors register with the Division of Consumer Affairs. The legislation would also require that deed solicitors who use a written form of communication to solicit new clients include in a clear, conspicuous, and prominent manner the address and telephone number of the county clerk’s office through which recipients could obtain a copy of the deed directly, as well as the clerk’s fee for providing the copy. The deed solicitor would also be required to file a copy of any written communication used to solicit new clients with the division and the appropriate county clerk’s office 15 days prior to distributing the communication.

“It is shameful that private companies would intentionally swindle unsuspecting homeowners out of their hard-earned money, many of whom are already struggling in this economy to make ends meet,” 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 actions.”

The director of the Division of Consumer Affairs would be authorized by the bill to refuse to issue or renew, or to suspend or revoke, the registration of any person who violates the bill’s provisions. Failure to comply would also be a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, punishable by a penalty of up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for any subsequent offense.

The committee approved the bill Monday by a vote of 4-0. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.