Baltimore officials announce manual workaround for property sales during ransomware recovery

A plan backed by the real estate industry to get Baltimore’s property market moving again in the midst of a crippling ransomware attack will start Monday, the mayor’s office said.

The ransomware, which shut down many city computer systems last week, has made it impossible for buyers to obtain certificates showing there are no liens against the properties they want to purchase. Without those certificates, title insurance companies have been unwilling to sign off on transactions.

The plan, announced by the mayor’s office Friday, will involve people coming to a downtown office to get substitute certificates showing no liens on the properties being sold. Sellers will be asked to sign an affidavit promising they’ll pay any outstanding debts once the computer system comes back online.

Al Ingraham, the director of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said the key part of the industry — the title companies — were “totally on board” with the plan. Ingraham said he’d been involved in discussions with senior city officials, property attorneys and other industry representatives.

“All the important players were represented and endorsed this plan for a manual workaround,” Ingraham said.

The city’s Abel Wolman Municipal building will be open for extended hours — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., this Monday through Friday — to accommodate the plan.

“The bottom line is that if you’re trying to buy a home in Baltimore or purchase a commercial property, you can show up on Monday and get your lien certificate,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement.

“It’s going to take a few extra steps, but we should be up and running right away,” said Young, a Democrat.

The ransomware attack began May 7 and by the end of last week, systems used in real estate transactions were offline. On Monday, title insurance companies said they couldn’t do business in Baltimore.

The seizing up of the property market has been one of the most dramatic effects of the ransomware, which has also taken down city email and payment systems.

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