Notary services aren’t really something people think about until they need it. But those needing the service — mainly to complete a real estate transaction — faced a complication in the COVID-19 era.
Notaries are the official witness to a document signing. They must pass a training course and an examination administered by the secretary of state.
But, California law only allows notaries to witness signatures in person. This is difficult in this time of social distancing and all but essential businesses closed.
As you might expect, the situation had home buyers, title companies, lenders, and builders scrambling for a solution.
Online Notary Now Available
Brent Evans at Old Republic Title in Fresno did the research and, in collaboration with Granville Homes President and CEO Darius Assemi, presented a potential fix to Fresno County Assessor-Recorder Paul Dictos.
The workaround is in a section of the California Civil Code allowing recognition of documents notarized out-of-state.
“This is good news for our families and for the construction industry that fuels our local communities,” Dictos said. “(Now) we can accommodate the people that are staying home (like) the elderly that cannot get out, but are in the process of closing a real estate deal or refinancing their mortgages.”
While online notarization isn’t allowed for every type of home loan, it will be available for the majority of loans, said Assemi, who is the publisher of GV Wire.
“As we are sheltering in place, we need homeowners to be able to sign documents from the safety of their home,” Assemi said. “I’m disappointed in our state, the center of technology, for not allowing remote online notary” without the workaround.
Industry groups and locals also reached out to state Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), who supports moving to online notaries.
“My number one priority is to fight for our Valley and under the current statewide shelter in place order, our region is disproportionately limited in how we can use notaries. While the current statute provides some flexibility, I will continue to work with the secretary of state and local leaders to pursue other options like online notary services,” Hurtado said.
Many Groups Support Online Notary Service
The National Notary Association, an industry group, has worked with state governments for years to transition to online notary services.
“Using remote online notarization implements the best and most ideal form of social distancing possible,” NNA Vice President of Government Affairs Bill Anderson said. “It also ensures that the public can execute the most important types of documents that require notarization during this time — powers of attorney, mortgages, property deeds, healthcare directives, and trusts and other estate documents.”
In 2016, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced their support of online notarization systems, citing “the opportunity to provide a more flexible and convenient borrower experience, while improving the assurance, authentication, security, and documentation of notarial acts.”
Fourteen states already allow remote online notary services; another 13 allowed it through emergency orders because of COVID-19. In 2019, Assembly Bill 199, which would authorize remote online notarizations, passed the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions with unanimous support. But the bill died this past January.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla showed support for online notaries in correspondence with the NNA and published on the California Land Title Association webpage.
“California Law does not currently provide the authority for California Notaries Public to perform a remote online notarization. The personal appearance of the document signer is required before the notary public. However, California citizens who wish to have their documents notarized remotely can obtain notarial services in another state that currently provides remote online notarization,” Padilla said.
Fresno County and Others Now Participating in Online Notary
Dictos said that not every California county is accepting online notaries for document signature verification.
Fresno participates in a consortium of about 25 counties — mostly small to mid-size — to administer online duties, known as the California Electronic Recording Transaction Network Authority (CeRTNA).
When emergency declarations started at the state and local level, Dictos closed his public counters in favor of more online services. Notarization is one more to add to the list.
“We are ready to roll and meet the needs of the people and the industry,” Dictos said.