Articles Posted in Mortgage

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Real Estate investors in California often work through a licensed Broker, who puts together investor’s cash with potential borrowers. Investors prefer these arrangements (hard-money loans) because they can obtain a higher interest rate for their money, fully secured by a deed of trust recorded against real property. These loans are made through a licensed Broker because broker arranged loans are not subject to usury laws. (More details at the end of this article.) Real Estate Attorneys may be tasked with the job of determining if the usury law applies, and if so, whether this particular loan is usurious. If the loan is usurious, the concern for the investor is to be treated as a holder in due course, free from the defense of usury. It was a bad day for some investors in the Bay Area when the court decided that they were not holders in due course, because the unlicensed Broker kept possession of the notes in order to service them.

In Creative Ventures, LLC v. Jim Ward & Associates, Jim Ward was a licensed real estate broker, and his license was placed with a corporation. He retired and the license expired. He came out of retirement, created a new corporation, JWA, and applied to the DRE to renew his license for the old corporation. Apparently he did not realize that he needed a new license for the new corporation.

A real estate developer borrowed $3 million from JWA. It was through four Promissory Notes, two at 8% interest and two at 10% interest. All the notes included a 6% Broker commission. (For usury purposes, the interest rate is added to the commission, so here they were 14% and 16%, over the 10% usury limit.) This would be ok if JWA was licensed, but it was not. A lawsuit followed.

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In California, generally when a real estate buyer defaults on the loan and loses the property to foreclosure, the lender may not pursue a deficiency judgment against the borrower where the foreclosure sale proceeds are not enough to cover the amount of the debt. Lenders may go after loan guarantors for a deficiency judgment, but only if they are true guarantors. Where the borrower and the guarantor are the same, however, the guaranty is considered an unenforceable sham. I like reading about sham guaranty cases, because the courts actually call them a sham, a word not used often enough in judicial opinions. Sacramento real estate attorneys see the argument applied when either the guarantors are trying to squirm out of liability, or where the bank set up the transaction to avoid the antideficiency laws. In a recent decision out of Napa County, it does not appear that the borrowers intended to set-up the lender for a sham, but were able to make the sham argument that they were the sole owners of the borrower LLC, which was merely a shell and they were its alter ego. The court said no, there was adequate separation between the guarantors and the borrower.

attorney sacramento sham loan guaranty.jpgIN CADC/RAD Venture 2011-1 LLC v Richard Bradley et al. Bradley and Yates were owners of No Boundaries LLC, which owed property in Seattle. They were selling that building and wanted to exchange it for 7 acres in Napa. Bradley entered a contract to buy the Napa land, and No Boundaries submitted a loan application. The loan was approved, with Bradley and Yates being required to sign loan guaranties. At the last minute the buyers decided to change the borrower to the newly created Nohea LLC. The bank was willing to allow the change in borrowers because the defendant guarantors had enough money to justify the loan. The $2.1 million loan closed, and Bradley and Yates signed commercial guaranty agreements in which they waived their rights under the California antideficiency laws. Nohea LLC did not provide the bank with any financial information. Of course, the loan went into default, the bank foreclosed, and brought this lawsuit against Bradley and Yates, the guarantors. Bradley and Yates claimed that the guaranties were unenforceable shams.

A threshold issue in sham guaranty cases is whether the guarantor of a loan is also obligated as a borrower. An example is where a partnership was the borrower, and the partners are guarantors. Under partnership law, general partners are already liable for the debts of the partnership, so the guaranty added nothing. Likewise where a corporation is organized solely to take out a loan, and is not capitalized. Thus the corporation was a mere instrumentality used by the defendants, who were in fact the buyers.

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In California, most lenders on real estate take back a deed of trust in which they are named the “beneficiary.” If the borrower defaults, the beneficiary may then instruct the trustee to proceed to foreclose. Occasionally there is more than one beneficiary, resulting in multiple cobeneficiaries. They may all have contributed a percentage of the funding, or may have been assigned a fractional interest in the note and deed of trust after-the-fact. If the borrower defaults on their loan, California real estate attorneys will advise their lender clients to instruct the trustee to initiate foreclosure proceedings by execution a declaration of default. But, what happens if the cobeneficiaries do not agree to proceed to foreclose? The law is clear that each cobeneficiary has a right to proceed with the foreclosure; however, trustees are not forced to agree, and are reluctant to do so. Beneficiaries must rely on a statutory agreement ahead of time if they want this protection.

Sacramento cobeneficiary dispute.jpgIn apparently the only California decision to address the issue head on, Perkins v. Chad Development Corp., there were two cobeneficiaries. The borrower had defaulted on loan payments, and had let the property taxes go in to arrears. One cobeneficiary wanted to proceed to a nonjudicial foreclosure, the other did not. The property was foreclosed, and the buyer brought a quiet title action to clear title in his name. A third party intervened, claiming an equitable interest in the property. His argument was that the foreclosure sale was not valid because the Notice of Default and Election to Sell had not been executed by both cobeneficiaries. The court did not agree.

The court first noted that joint beneficiaries have a community of interest in the secured obligation akin to a joint venture or partnership, and any of them should have sufficient agency powers to record the notice of default to protect their mutual interests. As a cobeneficiary, beneficiary Perkins was a tenant in common in the beneficial interest under the note and trust deed. A cotenant has a right to protect the estate from injury or loss without the aid or assistance of other cotenants. As the borrower had defaulted on trust deed and had permitted the taxes to go delinquent, Perkins as a cotenant was entitled to protect the common beneficial interest by foreclosing the security.

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Under California foreclosure law, a trustee’s sale eliminates all interests in the property that are recorded after the deed of trust was recorded. For that reason, holders of interests want to get notice that the property is being foreclosed. Generally, the foreclosing trustee is only required to provide notice of the recording of the notice of default to the parties identified in statutes or specified in the deed of trust. Other persons with lesser interests that are junior to the deed of trust are not automatically entitled to notice. Civil Code section 2924b(a) provides a process for anyone to record a request for notice, which then obligates the trustee to send them a copy of the Notice Of Default. Civil Code 2924b (b), set out in full below, describes who otherwise must be provided notice. The trick is whether you are included in the specified categories. In a recent decision, an easement holder was disappointed to learn that he was not, and the easement was lost. They should have recorded a request for a copy of the notice of default.

Saccramento notice of default attorney.jpgIn George Perez as Trustee v. 222 Sutter St. Partners, there was a foreclosure and the subsequent quiet title action was about whether the foreclosure of 425 Bush Street in San Francisco extinguished easement rights. The easement holder had not received notice from the trustee of the foreclosure.

The easement holders argued that an easement holder is included in section 2924b, subdivision (c)(2)(A), as “[a] successor in interest, as of the recording date of the notice of default, of the estate or interest or any portion thereof of the trustor or mortgagor of the deed of trust or mortgage being foreclosed. It continued that it was a successor to the mortgagor of the deed of trust, who was the owner. But this is impossibility. An easement is an interest, but the mortgagor/owner cannot own an easement across one’s own property. Thus, the easement holder cannot be a successor to that interest.

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A deed in lieu of foreclosure is occasionally used as an alternative to a foreclosure sale. The borrower merely deeds the property back to the lender “in lieu of foreclosure.” The lender does not have to go through the time and expense of a foreclosure, and the borrower/owner gets the process over with more quickly. However, there is some risk for the lender in this situation. Title conveyed by a trustee’s deed after a foreclosure sale relates back in time to the date on which the deed of trust was executed. The trustee’s deed therefore passes the title held by the trustor (the borrower; remember the ‘trustor’ is ‘poor’) as of that earlier time, rather than the title that the trustor held on the date of the foreclosure sale. Liens that attached after the deed of trust was recorded are ‘sold out’ or eliminated. However, a deed in lieu of foreclosure (as opposed to a foreclosure deed) passes title to the transferee subject to all existing liens. Whether concerned about deeds in lieu or lien priority in general, it is best to consult with a Sacramento real estate lawyer. Hopefully, you can avoid the problem recently faced by a lender when the trial judge didn’t follow the law regarding merger. They had to get the court of appeals to set things right.

Sacramento merger attorney.jpgIn Decon Group, Inc. v. Prudential Mortgage Capital Company LLC, the owner of a commercial property had a mortgage with Prudential. They hired Decon to renovate the property, but did not pay the bills, so Decon recorded a mechanic’s lien for $437,000, and filed suit to foreclose the lien. The owner was in default on the loan, so the lender took back a deed in lieu of foreclosure from the owner. The lender then conducted a trustee’s sale, and took title to the property. In the action to foreclose the mechanic’s lien, the judge ruled that, on taking back the deed of lieu, the two interests, as beneficiary under the deed of trust and as grantee under the deed in lieu merged, destroying the senior lien. Thus, the junior mechanic’s lien was not eliminated by the foreclosure. The court ordered that the property be sold at auction. The lender appealed.

The court of appeal reversed the lower court, finding that no merger had occurred. It first noted that, under ordinary circumstances, where the holder of a mortgage acquires the estate of the mortgagor (debtor), the mortgage interest is merged in the fee and the mortgage is extinguished…. But this rule is never applied where there is an intervening lien on the property, and where there is no evidence of an express intention to extinguish the first mortgage and hold subject only to the second.

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When a foreclosure sale occurs, the lender often bids at the sale the entire amount due on the loan. If no one bids higher, they obtain the property. But are they entitled to then collect insurance for pre-foreclosure damage? Sometimes insurers obtain their own insurance policy, which covers them for all damage to the property. However, commercial lenders often are insured through their borrower’s policy, which only covers the value of the debt. There is an important difference if the lender forecloses, and parities in this situation may need to consult with a real estate attorney. In a recent case, the lender discovered that making a full credit bid at the foreclosure sale was a mistake, and lost its chance to collect on the policy.

sacramento credit bid attorney.jpg In Najah v. Scottsdale Insurance Company, the plaintiff sold a commercial property taking back a note for $2.5 million secured by a 2nd deed of trust. The first loan was for $2 million. There was a structure on the property, and the terms of the Notes required that the buyer not remove or destroy the building, and to repair any damage that occurred. The Note required the buyer to provide an all risk insurance policy insuring the seller, which the buyer obtained.

The Buyer went into default and the first lender pursued foreclosure. The seller, holder of the second, bought the interest of the first lender for the balance due on the first loan, $1.75 million. The Seller was also assigned the first deed of trust. The seller then foreclosed on its 2nd deed of trust. At the foreclosure sale, the Seller made a full credit bid – that is, it bid the full amount due on the 2nd Note.

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The security first rule is one of the numerous anti-deficiency protects provided to borrowers under California law. “Security first” means that a creditor must first exhaust all real property security through judicial process in the “one form of action” authorized by Code of Civil Procedure section 726–that is, a judicial foreclosure. The rule is violated if the lender attempts to obtain a personal judgment against the debtor before first exhausting all the real property in a judicial foreclosure lawsuit. This can be a serious penalty in the case of commercial properties, and lenders and borrowers should consult with a real estate attorney to be sure of their options. If the creditor violates the security first rule, it loses its chance to get a deficiency judgment, which holds the borrower personally liable for the balance of the debt above the value of the property.

If the borrower raises the security first rule as an affirmative defense, there are four ways the case may proceed:

1. The lender may amend the judicial foreclosure to include the omitted security;

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“Equitable subordination” is used to correct equitable wrongs in the priority of liens on real property. If fairness requires, a first lien or deed of trust can be subordinated, or reduced in priority below, a second lien, swapping their positions. (Civ. Code, §§ 2876, 2903, 2904. A lengthy description by the Supreme Court is copied below). When, through fraud or mistake, a party finds that his lien does not have the priority he bargained for, they should consult with a Sacramento real estate attorney to discuss equitable subordination. Such a lawsuit may result in the judge reclassifying the respective liens to make them fair. In a recent decision the court granted equitable subordination on behalf of two deeds of trust where there was both broker fraud (in forging signatures) and escrow negligence in failing to carry out instructions and reconvey a deed of trust.

Sacramento equitable subordination of loan.jpgIn Elbert Branscomb v. JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A., Navjot owned property on Canal Street in San Rafael. He had three loans; 1st, from Washington Mutual Bank; 2nd with MMB; and 3rd, a $500,000 loan from plaintiff Branscomb. All were secured by deeds of trust. However, Banscomb’s 3rd DOT only indicated that I the loan was for $100,000, due to the broker’s negligence. Navjot refinanced with WaMu, and Modified the MMU loan. Conditions of both were that the lenders were to keep their respective first & second positions. When the escrow officer asked Branscomb’s broker for a payoff of the third, he replied that it was zero, and signed a request for reconveyance. (Yikes, it was $500,000! This broker was bad news. He was also found to have forged his client’s signature on a number of documents. He had done this before, but Branscomb continued to work with him. They deserved each other.) Compounding the broker’s error, the escrow officer was negligent in not reconveying the Third deed of trust. When the first & second refinances recorded, Branscomb moved to 1st, and the other two dropped to 2nd & 3rd. This lawsuit for equitable subordination resulted.

Knowledge of the Plaintiff’s Lien Did Not Prevent Subordination

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A Deed of Trust in California can be used to secure contract obligations other payment of money. Usually, the primary obligation secured is the repayment of the loan. There are ancillary duties usually set out in the deed of trust, such as keeping the property in good repair, maintaining insurance, etc. However, in some cases the other obligations may be a primary secured obligation. Enforcement, by judicial foreclosure or nonjudicial trustee’s sale, essentially provides a dollars remedy through a foreclosure sale. Thus, the obligation being secured must be capable of liquidation (i.e. determining a specific monetary value) before enforcement. The contract may include a liquidated damages provision, which specifies how to calculate that monetary value. Whether a liquidated damages clause is enforceable is not always clear, and interested parties may want to consult with a Sacramento real estate and business attorney for clarification. Otherwise, without liquidated damages, determining the amount of damages would likely require a judicial foreclosure, in which monetary damages will be determined.

yolo and sacramento real estate attorney.jpgA dilemma arises when the property owner pays off the loan, but has not yet completed full performance of other obligations secured by the deed of trust. Usually, on paying off the loan, the borrower wants the lender to record a reconveyance of the deed of trust, effectively removing the ‘lien’ from the record. However, courts have found that reconveyance was not required. Such was the case in Dieckmeyer v. Redevelopment Agency of the City of Huntington Beach, where the plaintiff bought a condo through an affordable housing program. The program included restrictions on household incomes, and on future buyers. The deed of trust securing the purchase loan stated that it secured repayment of the note, future advances or obligations of the borrower, and…

“[p]erformance of each and every obligation, covenant, promise or agreement of Trustor contained herein in the Loan Agreement between Beneficiary and Trustor … and in that certain Affordable Housing Agreement [the CC & R’s] currently recorded on the property….”

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The Marketable Record Title Act (MRTA, Civil Code section 882.02+) was enacted so that ‘ancient mortgages’ would not last forever. Prior to the act, lost or forgotten mortgages and deeds of trust would continue to be a cloud on title. The MRTA became law in 1982 to put an outside limit on the number of years that the power of sale in a deed of trust may be executed. The MRTA provides that if the “evidence of indebtedness” recorded with the county recorder contains a reference to the maturity date of the secured debt, the right to foreclose by private trustee’s sale will expire 10 years after maturity. If no date of maturity is provided, the limit is 60 years after recordation of the deed of trust. The trustee’s deed must be recorded before the time is up. The limit to conduct a judicial foreclosure, however, is much different. Civil Code section 2911 provides that a lien is extinguished by the lapse of time within which, under the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, an action can be brought upon the principal obligation. Generally, this means four years after maturity or breach of a written note.

marketable title attorney.jpgThe beneficiary can extend the time by recording a “notice of intent to preserve interests” prior to the expiration of the prescribed time period. If this notice is timely recorded, the period is extended until 10 years after the notice is recorded. Civil Code section 880.310(a), 880.020(a)(3). If one has a concern about the limitations of their deed of trust, they should consult a Sacramento and Yolo county real estate attorney.

Prior to a 2006 amendment, the statute required the maturity date be “ascertainable from the record…”. This resulted in an issue which had been raised several times, and courts have had varying opinions about, namely, what happens if a Notice of Default is recorded? One decision found that this triggered the 10 year statute. Another court has said it did not. A third decision, from the Third District Court of Appeal (which includes the greater Sacramento area), found that it did not trigger the 10 year statute. The statute was amended in 2006 to resolve this issue, essentially providing that a Notice of Default does NOT trigger the limit. The discussion which follows concerns the 3rd District decision, and why interpreting the older language to allow the NOD to trigger the limit would be preposterous.