Massachusetts has two title systems for land – one for Recorded Land and another for Registered Land. Recorded Land is the most common, comprising the vast majority of real property in Massachusetts. Documents affecting Recorded Land, such as deeds, mortgages and liens, are filed in and maintained by the local Registry of Deeds for the county in which the land is located. The documents are recorded chronologically in books and are identified by book and page number. The information in the books, including property address, grantor, grantee and documents type, is indexed and searchable. This allows parties interested in a particular piece of property to conduct a title search to determine the legal status of ownership rights in the property. Title searches are important because the mere recording of a deed, for example, does not guarantee that the subject property is free of encumbrances. This is so because the Registry accepts documents for recording if they meet formatting requirements. The Registry does not conduct a substantive review of documents.
Registered Land is less common and the system is more formal and complex. Under this system, the Land Court certifies title to land after a court-appointed title examiner conducts an exhaustive title search and interested parties are given due process.
Subsequent owners of the land are given numbered Certificates of Title that describe the property and list all encumbrances or rights affecting the property. Once the Land Court certifies title to land, title is guaranteed and can no longer be challenged (with limited exception). The Land Court’s Guidelines on Registered Lands can be found here.