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What’s in a Name? De-Thorning the Ambiguity of “Post-Office Address” in Florida Statutes § 695.26

As Shakespeare’s Juliet wisely declared, “What’s in a name?”

Indeed, when it comes to love, a Montague by any other name would still possess the intoxicating allure of a summer rose. But in the realm of Florida real estate law, words in statutes matter. And usage of one word in lieu of another can have a dramatic affect on the interpretation of the statute and, therefore, what must be done to comply with the law. In this case, the word (or name) at issue is “post-office address” and what significance that phrase takes on with the arrival of the new deed witness address requirement.

Starting January 1, 2024, Florida Statutes § 695.26(1)(a) will require that both witnesses on Florida deeds must etch their “post-office addresses” alongside their signatures. This new statutory mandate adds a crucial layer of transparency and security to real estate transactions. Fear not, the specifics shall be addressed forthwith, but it’s always best to start with the language of the statute, itself. Where for art thou, effective January 1, 2024, Florida Statutes § 695.26(1)(a) will now read:

(1) No instrument by which the title to real property or any interest therein is conveyed, assigned, encumbered, or otherwise disposed of shall be recorded by the clerk of the circuit court unless:

(a) The name of each person who executed such instrument is legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped upon such instrument immediately beneath the signature of such person and the post-office address of each such person is legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped upon such instrument.

Fla. Stat. § 695.26(1)(a) (underlined text is the addition)

A seemingly straightforward mandate, yet a thorny dilemma blossoms: does “post-office address” encompass the humble PO Box, that bastion of postal convenience?

The statute, like a cryptic sonnet, offers no definitive answer. A common technique employed when interpreting statutes is to look up the common dictionary definition of the word or phrase being analyzed. In this case, we are lucky! Merriam-Webster has a definition for “Post-Office Address” and defines that term as “an address for mail.” Based on that straightforward definition, it seems that PO Box addresses should be acceptable for witness addresses on deeds after January 1, 2024. While dictionaries embrace PO Boxes as legitimate post-office addresses, the legal world thrives on nuance.

Pro PO Box

Whence springs this tide to support the usage of PO Box addresses? Easy…the statute could have easily been written to require a “physical address” be used, and it was not. Also, current recording practices often accept PO Boxes for other documents, further supporting the usage of PO Box addresses. Therefore, it seems that PO Box addresses should satisfy the witness “Post-Office Address” requirement on deeds.

Anti PO Box

With that said, the legislative intent whispers of transparency and fraud prevention. Certainly, the intent of the new law is for future interested parties to be able to locate these witnesses. It seems troubling to picture An entire 3-act play could be written about trying to track down witnesses years later when all that is available is a PO Box address. This leads me to believe that the legislature may have intended for physical addresses to be required, but perhaps they failed to utilize the proper name when drafting the law.

Until official guidance arises, or until we have a track record of clerks’ offices accepting or rejecting deeds containing PO Box addresses, caution becomes our guiding star. While I don’t believe that the new law specifically prohibits the usage of PO Box addresses, encouraging witnesses to utilize their physical addresses may be the best course and should help to ensure a smoother transaction, avoiding potential delays or the harsh curtain call of rejection by recording clerks.

This new law should not be viewed as a tragedy but a potential prologue to a more secure and transparent real estate future. By navigating the gray areas with prudence and embracing the spirit of clarity, we can ensure every transaction unfolds with the grace and fragrance of a perfect rose, no matter the chosen address.

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