Six opinions have issued from Maryland’s appellate courts so far this year, see here, and four of them involve crises over real property. One involves lead paint poisoning; another involves a nasty dispute with a trespassing landlord. Two more involve foreclosures. All of which goes to show that nothing gets under our skin like a dispute over the homes we live in and the condition of property owned by others.

None of these cases originated in 2008. Three each are from 2006 and 2007, which gives you an idea how long it takes to get through the trial court and obtain appellate resolution. The age of the cases makes it even more interesting that two-thirds of them involve real property in distress.


Perhaps you’ve seen a house in your own neighborhood with a “Bank Owned” for sale sign on it, and you’ve been wondering how long the bank has owned it. (By the way, is that little notation supposed to entice us or frighten us? I have never been sure.)
Or perhaps you have been wondering what your neighbor paid for that big house up on the corner. And are the houses still selling in your area? Are the values holding?
Maybe your house backs up to a commercial property that has been driving you crazy because every time it rains, your yard either gets flooded with the debris from their overflowing trash bins, or, your soil is becoming eroded, because of the inadequately managed runoff from their parking lot. Gosh darn it, who actually owns that place?
I’ll let you in on a little personal injury lawyers’ secret. Actually it is not a secret. We lawyers have been doing this for years, but in the old days we had to get a clerk to call this agency on the telephone or even go there in person to access the information. Either way you had to wait in a long line. No more.


What’s the secret? Online public records, that’s what. It’s a useful website anyone can access, and in an instant, anyone can locate owners of real property, or look up historical real estate sales.


Here’s how it works.
Go to the website for the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, here. At the top of the middle column, click on the link for Real Property Data Search, which opens a terrific search page. In moments you can learn who owns the property you are interested in. Also available is the assessed value and history of relevant property sales. Choose whichever option appears to you. You can locate property owners anywhere in Maryland, ascertain what they paid for their property, and compare values to all of the other houses on the street.


And if you go out for your mail and get bitten by the German shepherd owned by that guy with the un-mufflered pickup truck on the next street over, well, it’s useful for tracking that guy’s landlord down, too.


As they say, it’s your tax dollars at work.