The word “mortgage” derives from French and can be translated to mean “death pledge”: mort (death) and gage (pledge). Despite this ominous name, mortgages do have expiration dates either contained in their terms or imposed on them by statutory law.
The average residential mortgage has a term of 15 or 30 years. Typically, within the first page or two of the mortgage, you can find language such as:
Borrower has promised to pay this debt in regular periodic payments and to pay the debt in full not later than July 1, 2051.
The date of July 1, 2051 is the maturity date. Most mortgages are paid off and discharged at the registry of deeds before the maturity date. However, some mortgages go without being discharged for one reason or another. In these cases, the bank’s power to foreclose the mortgage (i.e., the “power of sale”) extinguishes five years after the maturity date pursuant to M.G.L. 260, Section 33. The statute states, in pertinent part, that
A power of sale in any mortgage of real estate shall not be exercised and an entry shall not be made nor possession taken nor proceeding begun for foreclosure of any such mortgage after the expiration of…in the case of a mortgage in which the term or maturity date of the mortgage is stated, 5 years from the expiration of the term or from the maturity date…
It should be noted that a mortgagee can extend the maturity date by recording an affidavit at the registry of deeds within that five year period between the maturity date and the date of expiration.
When a mortgage fails to state a maturity date, it will expire (or become “obsolete”) 35 years after the date it was recorded at the registry. Again, M.G.L. 260, Section 33 states:
A power of sale in any mortgage of real estate shall not be exercised and an entry shall not be made nor possession taken nor proceeding begun for foreclosure of any such mortgage after the expiration of, in the case of a mortgage in which no term of the mortgage is stated, 35 years from the recording of the mortgage.
Once the mortgage is considered obsolete by the terms of the statute it shall be considered discharged and no further action is needed unless it is registered land. In that case an additional fee must be paid to Land Court in order for the discharge to become effective.