Orange County Clerk’s Office Closes, Preventing Property Searches and Threatening to Delay Real Estate Closings

Due to building conditions resulting from recent heavy rains, the County Executive of Orange County, New York, closed indefinitely the Orange County Government Center as of 3:00 p.m. last Thursday. In a press release, Orange County Executive Edward A. Diana announced having “ordered that the building be closed until further notice as we evaluate and remediate the situation.” The Orange County Government Center houses the County Clerk’s Office, among other government offices.

On an interim basis, the County Clerk’s Office will be operating out of the Department of Social Services, located at 11 Quarry Road in Goshen, and will offer the following limited services: recording and filing of documents, taking in maps, passport and pistol permits.

The closure and its indefinite duration present significant issues for real estate transactions since Orange County’s real estate records are housed at the Orange County Government Center and therefore are not presently accessible. As a result, until those records are relocated or the Orange Government Center is reopened, it will not be possible to perform searches in Orange County, including continuation searches for closings involving deals already in contract. The records to perform these searches are not available on-line.

New searches will have to be placed on hold until such time as the records become available, which will likely delay closings and may require modification of the contingency periods in purchase and sale agreements. For deals where a title search has already been performed, some title companies may consider allowing closings to proceed with a seller’s affidavit in lieu of a continuation search if the closure is expected to be long-term. These situations likely will be evaluated on an individual case-by-case basis.

Although the County Executive’s press release does not give any indication about the duration of the closure, we have learned that employees were seen packing up their desks at the close of business yesterday as though they would not be returning soon. We have also learned that the County is investigating an alternative site for relocation of official records, including property records, but apparently no site has been identified as of yet, and even when one is identified, moving that large a volume of documents will be a significant undertaking.

Given the uncertainties involved, real estate attorneys should review the contracts for their pending deals to see what contingencies are included and how the inability to conduct searches may impact their clients’ rights under those contracts. For deals currently being negotiated, consideration should be given to how the contingency clauses should be drafted and what the remedy will be if a title search cannot be performed for an extended period of time.

As bad as things are in Orange County, it could be worse. We understand that in upstate Schoharie County, the entire county government complex had several feet of water on the main floor and that all the county’s paper records were destroyed. The issue in Orange County appears limited to access to paper records, not damage to them or their destruction.

Howard D. Geneslaw is a Director in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.

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