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The murky world of ancient mortgages

The phrase “ancient mortgages” evokes images of old record books with hidden secrets stored in a forgotten sub-basement of a bank or government building. In actuality, ancient mortgages most often lurk in digital databases and only rarely surface, most notably when someone wants to sell their property that was thought of as paid off years ago.

These home loans do not have to be over a hundred years old to qualify as ancient. Here are some questions and answers about what mortgages are ancient and why they can be a problem.

I never heard of this term before, what is an ancient mortgage?

Not a loan with an extended payback term, an ancient mortgage is one that for some reason has never been listed as satisfied with the county land records. The mortgage is likely paid off, but for some reason, never became official. Here are some of the more common causes:

• The title company never sent the paperwork to the county registrar

• The original (and even subsequent) holders of the mortgage may have gone out of business or merged with other companies, complicating the search for payoff records

• The loan originated or was satisfied during the mortgage boom when meticulous recordkeeping and filing often went by the wayside in favor of completing new loans

What does the state law say about this?

Even though Pennsylvania assumes that any mortgage has been paid off when it is at least 20 years past its due date, it does not mean that it no longer overshadows the title in question. There is no regulation in the state that automatically discards old debts held on the property.

What can be done to clear an ancient mortgage off my home’s title?

You will need to do some research about the mortgage in question, but ultimately, consultation with a legal firm experienced in real estate law. It may come to a lawsuit to resolve the matter. Called a quiet title action, it is a way to officially clear your home’s title of someone else’s judgment or lien.

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