Karen A. Yarbrough, Cook County Recorder of Deeds and Registrar of Titles, is a full-time administrator, overseeing a $12 million budget and 160 employees – the 2nd largest Recorder’s office in the United States. In that role, she has established herself as a national leader in the growing movement to change the office of county recorder from a place where property fraud happens, to a place where property fraud is confronted.
Yarbrough is a strong advocate for our nation’s open land records system, which allows regular people to easily acquire and finance property. In many countries that lack such a system, home and property ownership is impossible, and Yarbrough recognizes the important role her office plays in making America great.
While all the other countywide land offices in Cook are a part of the system to assess and collect property taxes, she is the only countywide advocate on behalf of property owners and home ownership.
In her first two years as Recorder, Yarbrough made fundamental changes to CCRD and the Office of County Recorder – adding advocacy to an office traditionally seen as a ministerial repository of documents. In addition to good stewardship of budgeted funds by doing more with less funding each year, she has made the Cook County Recorder’s Office a national model in the fight against property fraud. She advanced three laws through the legislature in 2013: Public Act 98-99 empowers county recorders to help property owners fight property fraud, and serves as model legislation for recorders across the country; Public Act 98-98 raises the penalty for knowingly filing false claims of interest or attempting to cloud a property title from a misdemeanor to a felony; and Public Act 98-29 requires Cook County notaries who validate transfers of property to maintain detailed records of each and forward them to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office.
In 2015, Recorder Yarbrough again went to the General Assembly to expand the protections and services offered by CCRD, advancing legislation to 1) allow individuals to utilize CCRD’s strong cybersecurity protections to digitally and privately store their last will and testament, 2) give new homeowners the chance to put an automated Property Fraud Alert on their home at the time of closing, and 3) allow her office to refuse certain fraudulent recordings meant to interfere with foreclosures that prevent communities from rebuilding.