John V. Orth


For over a century, North Carolina property owners have been offered an alternative to the traditional deed and recording system. Title to land may instead be entered in the Torrens system of registered titles. Under the Torrens system, the court determines the state of the title and issues a certificate, which is held in the registry with a copy given to the registered owner. The certificate provides conclusive evidence of ownership and of any liens or encumbrances on the property. Unlike titles evidenced by deeds, Torrens titles are not subject to loss by adverse possession, and transfer of a Torrens title is a simple process of changing the certificate in the registry and issuing a new certificate. A darling of Progressive law reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nineteen states eventually adopted the Torrens system, although many later had second thoughts and abandoned the system. In 1913, North Carolina became the tenth state to adopt a Torrens Act. North Carolina's experience with Torrens was in many ways typical: a Progressive campaign for adoption, complete with promises of economy and efficiency; adoption followed by a burst of registrations; dwindling registrations as the system's practical shortcomings became apparent; ultimate disuse except in rare (and somewhat questionable) circumstances. But unlike many other states that experimented with the Torrens system, North Carolina has not repealed its Torrens Law; at least not yet. Beginning in 2002, litigation in Eastern North Carolina has drawn renewed attention to the Torrens system and prompted questions about its continued usefulness in the state.


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