March 23, 2020
RE: Fluid nature of the COVID-19 Pandemic, government closure orders, and essential businesses in the financial services and government facilities sectors
At Universal Title, our team is continuously monitoring the COVID-19 Pandemic and its impact on the communities where we live and work. From the onset of the Pandemic in the United States, we have taken action to do our part in promoting health and safety of our team, our clients, our industry partners, and the general public. From work from home arrangements for our team members, electronic signature and remote online notarization implementation when possible, to strict settlement protocols when an electronic signature at settlement is not legally sufficient and/or approved by necessary parties: we are committed to doing our very best in promoting social distancing in our industry and in turn promoting public health to keep an essential part of our economy operational.
Over the last few days, various state and local government officials took executive action to restrict movement and activity within their respective jurisdictions: from shelter-in-place orders to orders to close non-essential businesses. We hope that these measures will help slow the spread of the virus. At the same time, we recognize an obvious and acceptable reality for our business: Executive orders to restrict movement and/or activity present a challenge for our operations as an escrow and title company. What do these orders mean for the operation of the title and escrow industry? What do they mean for the real estate industry as a whole? The answers to these questions will be jurisdiction specific but will also be influenced by United
States Department of Homeland Security guidelines related to critical infrastructure across the entire United States, which provide for guidance on what constitutes an “essential” business.
Earlier today, Governor Hogan in Maryland issued an order mandating the closure of “non-essential” businesses (Order of the Governor of the State of Maryland, Number 20-03-23- 01) effective at 5:00 PM today, Monday, March 23, 2020. In his order, Governor Hogan urged businesses to enable employees to work from home to the “greatest extent possible” as he
ordered businesses that do not fall into categories deemed “essential” under U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines, as interpreted by Maryland, to close. Similarly, this afternoon, Governor Northam in Virginia issued an order closing schools for the duration of the school year
while also announcing closures and/or restrictions related to “non-essential” businesses, particularly related to the number of individuals that may be physically present at one space at any given time. Critical to the approach in both jurisdictions is the discussion of what makes a business essential vs. non-essential under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines as implemented and interpreted by each jurisdiction.
Our position is that title and escrow services are a bridge between the “Financial Services” and “Government Facilities” Sectors as described in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Guidelines and the Maryland Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel’s Interpretive Guidance. As a title and escrow company we handle the exchange of funds, rights, and liabilities
between transaction principals and issue insurance products (Financial Services business functions), while taking the appropriate action related to the public recording functions of the exchange of title and effectuation of a mortgage lien in the applicable courthouse (Government Facilities business functions). We are an essential business. If we cannot operate, the real estate economy stops.
In light of and in compliance with Governor Hogan and Governor Northam’s respective executive orders, Universal Title remains open for business in Maryland, Virginia, other jurisdictions where we currently operate. As an essential business, we will continue to operate in
the safest manner possible. Reiterating our approach from the start of the Pandemic: our team members are working from home to the greatest extent possible and in the instances where a physical meeting cannot be avoided, we are committed to operating with strict adherence to our
established protocols on social distancing, controlled settlement environments, limited office access, and sanitation.
We are minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day, monitoring the fluid situation as it continues to develop and we are committed to being an industry leader in providing quality information in keeping our businesses operational while doing everything that we can to stay safe.