My name is Christine Springer. I'm a paralegal and the owner/founder of Desert Edge Legal. I am responsible for the content in this post. Please note that I am not an attorney and I cannot give you legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to discuss your individual situation.
This is a continuation of my previous post, called "How to Find Out if Your Landlord Has a Federally Backed Mortgage." (Click the link to read it.)
If you haven't read it already, I suggest you take a look at it before you read this post. This post assumes that you have already checked both the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac databases, and you couldn't find your loan in either.
It's important to understand that there is a difference between owning the property and owning a loan. When I talk about the landlord, I'm referring to the property owner that owns the rental property that you are living in. Normally you pay this person or company rent every month.
When I talk about the ownership of the loan, I'm referring to the entity or organization that has purchased your landlord's debt that he/she/it incurred to purchase the property. These are typically bundled into a pool of other loans and sold as a security to investors. They are known as asset backed securities. They are attractive to investors because they pay dividends from the interest charged to homeowners on the loans.
If you've searched both databases and cannot find your landlord's name or entity (if you know it), it's time to research the property records in your county to find out of there is a loan on the property. Once you know this information, there are few more steps you can take to determine whether it's federally backed.
In some places, this information will be on file at the clerk's office at the county courthouse and in others these records will be found at the county recorder's office. The easiest way to start is to check online to see if your clerk or recorder has made their property records searchable online.
There's no way that I can possibly explain how to search every local clerk or recorder's office so you will have to figure that out. Some clerks charge a fee for online records access, others are totally free and some don't have any documents online at all.
If you're not sure about the name of the owner or the company name that owns the property, look up the business name on your state's corporation commission using the business entity search feature. Unless the business entity is organized in a Delaware or Nevada, the information there should tell you who the individuals are that run the company.
If you recorder's office is searchable online, run a search with the names you found when you looked up the business entity. If the recorder's office is not searchable online, you'll either need to pay to use the search feature or visit your local recorder in person.
This part of the research could be problematic because of the pandemic. You will need to call or check online for hours. The clerk or recorder's office can help you find what you are looking for.
Whether you are searching online or in person, you are looking for a Mortgage or Deed of Trust on the property where you live. You are looking for the chain of documentation.
Whenever I audit loans for homeowners, I always create a reverse chronology of what happened, with the most recent recording at the end of my timeline. The entries on your screen when searching won't always be in the correct order, so the timeline helps.
Once you have your timeline, you can begin to see the transfers of the property. Those usually start with a Deed that transfers the property, and if there is a loan, the Deed of Trust or Mortgage is recorded at the same time.
You could see multiple refinances, which look like a Release or a Satisfaction of Mortgage followed by a new Deed of Trust or Mortgage.
It might take you some time to understand what is going on if you have no experience with this kind of research, but that's OK. Be sure to cross check the recorder's numbers to make sure the documents match up.
There are a couple of scenarios that are possible from your research:
- You find the name of the landlord and then find out there's no loan on the property. If this happens, look to your state's eviction moratorium for protection. Be sure you comply with the moratorium in terms of documentation and keep your apartment clean and safe.
- You find the landlord/owner's correct name and locate them in the Freddie/Fannie databases. The federal moratorium covers your apartment.
- You find the landlord/owner's name but still can't find them in the Fannie/Freddie database. This is complicated because it means the loan is probably privately held by another entity besides Freddie/Fannie. Look to your state's moratorium on evictions if the federal moratorium doesn't cover your rental unit. Be sure you comply with the moratorium in terms of documentation and keep your apartment clean and safe.
There are some more complicated research options that I used during the foreclosure crisis, but I'm not sure they are relevant. One of them would be to do some securitization research via the EDGAR database with the SEC. This is covered in one of my DIY mortgage review products, but if you are a renter you probably don't want to go to all this trouble right now if you live in a state with a moratorium.