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Notaries of the World, Unite!

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | September 2, 2008

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

I just completed the quadrennial renewal of my Notary Commission. I’ve been doing so since the Reagan Administration and it has always been a tedious and expensive proposition. Notaries are paid a pittance so that few do it for the notary fees alone. It is the sine qua non of real estate closings, motor vehicle transfers and a few other businesses that require a steady flow of notarized documents.

About 20 years ago, complaints were heard that notaries were charging more than the lawful $3.00 per punch. The Department of State decreed that every notary must post a fee schedule in the waiting room or conference room of his or her office in full view of the customer. At that time, I and many others stopped charging notary fees.

Despite the poor pay, the barriers to joining the select fraternity/sorority of notaries are growing higher all of the time. Unless you are an old-timer like me, you’ll have to take (and pay for) a prescribed number of professional education courses every four years with a test at the end. Then you must obtain the endorsement of your State Senator (don’t worry, he endorses everyone) on a form, send it to Harrisburg with $40.00 and wait a couple of months. Eventually, you receive a form to take to a bonding company where you pay $75.00.

In Allegheny County, you record your bond at the Department of Real Estate (formerly Recorder of Deeds) and pay another fee. Until this August 25, you were required to run around to the former Prothonotary (now Department of Court Records, Civil Division) and the former Clerk of Courts (now Department of Court Records, Criminal Division) to sign cards and pay fees. It was like trick-or-treat, except that the trick was on you and they got the treat.

From this August 25 onward, the new or renewing notary need only visit the Department of Real Estate. I guess this is part of the benefit for consolidation we were promised when these elected Row Offices were eliminated. I renewed on August 24. I will have to wait four years to find out if the fees are any cheaper under the new system.

What is the point of renewing a notary commission? Do we actually forget how to notarize and need retraining? Is there a danger that someone will start using our equipment? The answer is: None of the above. Being a notary is so easy that the essentials of most notorial duties (except perhaps motor vehicles and a few specialties) can be learned in 15 minutes. The real purpose of the quadrennial renewal process is to collect fees. Yes, they are user fees, but did you ever consider that the fee is for the purpose of processing the renewal and if there were no renewals, there would be no need for fees?

Notaries with no special expertise are in demand for in-home real estate closings. They work cheaper than lawyers and other real estate professionals (both of whom were also notaries) who used to do the majority of closings. The notary is instructed to get all required signatures, notarize when required, make copies and get the package returned. Under no circumstances is the notary to explain the documents. After all, you are a mere notary. Just tell them to sign.

Yes, it is the sad truth that notaries get no respect. They are charged big time for the privilege of being a notary and that is not going to change. They are ordered around by the Commonwealth, their bosses and sometimes even the customers. There is a Pennsylvania Association of Notaries, but this organization is actually a service company, conducting the continuing education classes and collecting fees from notaries for providing them with newsletters, special information and forms. There is no chance that notaries will ever stop playing the doormat unless we take it upon ourselves to cast off our chains.

So, fellow notaries, do you think it makes more sense to have our commissions renew, say, every ten years? If so, let your State Senators and Representatives know about it. Did I mention that there are 84,000 of us? See the article in Wikipedia.


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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