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Abstract vs. Torrens-What's the Difference?

There are two ways to index and identify ownership of real estate in Minnesota. The first, and more common, is the Abstract system. When an owner of Abstract land conveys property, mortgages or does anything that affects title, a document is filed with the County Recorder. When Abstract property is sold, a title company updates the Abstract and the Abstract is read, starting with the patent, which in Sherburne County was issued in the mid-19th century. Through statutes, Court cases, rules and general practice, the person doing the Title Opinion determines the ownership of the property, and identifies all liens and encumbrances.

The Torrens system avoids the Abstract and related uncertainties. Abstract property may be registered to become Torrens property underMinnesota Statutes Chapters 508 or 508A, and Rules 201-222 of the General Rules of Practice for the District Courts. In Minnesota, the District Courts are charged with Title Registration.

There are two primary benefits of Torrens over Abstract Title. First, in Torrens, the owner has a Certificate of Title which lists his/her name and the current encumbrances. An owner is assured that no one else has any claim to the property. All that a potential buyer needs to do is look at the Certificate of Title to determine the owner, and the listed Memorials for the liens or encumbrances. A Torrens Title is much like the title to an automobile.

The second benefit of a Torrens title in Minnesota is that once property is registered, no one may gain adverse possession rights against the title. Adverse possession, you may recall, is where a non-owner occupies or uses another’s property for a length of time (15 years in Minnesota) and thereby acquires ownership rights. The mining and timber companies in Minnesota had a good lobby during the early days of the Minnesota Legislature. This explains why much of the land in Northern Minnesota, particularly in the timber and mining regions, is Torrens property. It prevented squatters from gaining adverse possession rights.

A recent decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that the government may not acquire a road across private, torrens land by either use or common law dedication (see Hebert v. City of Fifty Lakes).

Sherburne County Torrens

Torrens Certificates of Title are prepared and maintained by the County Registrar of Titles. In Sherburne County, like most Minnesota Counties, the County Recorder (Abstract) and Registrar of Titles (Torrens) is the same person. Michelle Ashe (michelle.ashe@co.sherburne.mn.us) is the elected Sherburne County Recorder and Registrar of Titles.