Clatsop County is joining 11 other counties in a $50 million lawsuit against a private mortgage registry over recording fees.

The lawsuit alleges that Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, owes the counties millions of dollars in unpaid fees.

“We think we’re probably missing out on somewhere between $35,000 or $70,000 a year in filing fees,” Clatsop County Manager Cameron Moore said.

Under state law, whenever mortgage debt is bought or sold, the transfer must be recorded in county records. MERS, a private registry created in 1995 by the banking industry, has been serving as the owner of record. The mortgage-industry company has, for years, essentially transferred the beneficial interest of a property to itself, circumventing the typical filing fee owed to the county clerk’s office, Clatsop County Counsel Heather Reynolds told county commissioners last week.

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