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Chicago's property title history

The development of Chicago’s first title company fostered the city’s growth because owners and builders became more secure. The first title and trust company sanctioned under the General Trust Company Act (1887) was the Title Guarantee and Trust Company located on Washington Street between Dearborn and Clark Streets.

Daley Center at night
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By 1888, Chicago’s property owners received additional and more comprehensive security when that company released the first title guarantee policy in Illinois. The purpose of the policy was to protect property owners against loss if their title was invalidated. This is known today as real estate title insurance. This insurance protects property titles against threats to home ownership. It also meant that mortgages were more easily granted if the title was insured.

In 1891, Title Guarantee and Trust Company was renamed Chicago Title and Trust Company. The new company received its original’s trust powers and received full authorization under the 1887 Act. This new company moved to 69 West Washington Street.

Another land title system went into effect in Illinois following the Torrens Title Act (1897). This system was first introduced to the world by Robert Torrens of South Australia in 1858. In this system, the state guarantees the title, which is held in the state’s registrar’s office. It required judicial proceedings that determined land ownership. This judicial data was recorded on an original registration certificate. Examination of the registrar’s records revealed the status of the title.

Supported by real estate companies, Torrens Titles were believed to promote expansion and development more effectively than title insurance. However by 1930, only 20% of Cook County was listed in the Torrens system. It was phased out by 1992 largely because the Torrens system was too slow. Attorneys preferred title insurance methods because they were faster since they didn’t require lengthy judicial proceedings.

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