Articles Posted in real estate loan

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Default judgments occasionally occur, and sometimes they may be set-aside or vacated by the court. There are several statutory grounds for a judgment debtor to get a default vacated. But what happens in the default judgment concerns title to real property? If there is a default judgment in the chain of title, potential buyers need to take notice and may need to consult a real estate attorney. There is a possibility that the judgment could be vacated, and the result would affect the buyer’s title. A question arises – is the potential buyer a bona fide purchaser for value, who may rely on the recorded judgment? And what are the limits to vacating the default? Those are questions learned the hard way by a disappointed buyer in a recent decision.

Sacramento-BFP-lawyerIn OC Interior Services, Inc. (OCI) vs. Nationstar Mortgage Inc., OC purchased real property knowing about a recorded default judgment in the chain of title. The default judgment nullified the appellant’s deed of trust. It started when the original owner obtained a $2 million loan on a property in Silverado, California. He filed a lawsuit to cancel the deed of trust and snuck in a default judgment. OCI paid $750,000 for the property, knowing that it was worth $1.5 million. OCI was aware of the issue; it obtained title insurance for $937,500- over $150 thousand more than the purchase price! Before OCI purchased the property it asked its title insurer “‘what happens if this [default judgment] gets appealed?’ And they said, ‘That’s why you have title insurance.’ ”

The original lender got the default judgment vacated and proceeded to foreclose. OCI filed this lawsuit. OCI claimed that it qualified as a bona fide purchaser for value, relying on the recorded default judgment showing that the deed of trust had been wiped out. The court of appeals did not agree.

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Assigning claims and causes of actions regarding real estate to someone does not necessarily give them the right to file a lawsuit for quiet title. A quiet title action seeks a declaration of the parties’ rights to the real estate. A description of the parties’ legal interests in real property is all that can be expected of a judgment in an action to quiet title. Without an interest in the property itself, a party has no standing to ask the court to quiet title in the property or to obtain damages for the cloud on title. An action to cancel a trustee’s deed or other instrument transferring title is no different. Parties in this situation should speak with a Sacramento real estate attorney to make sure that the assignment has them covered because the assignment needs something else – assignment of all the assignor’s interest in the property itself. This was a surprise to several people in a 2012 California decision.

Sacramento-real-estate-attorneyIn Chao Fu, Inc. v. Wen Ching Chen, Chao Fu Inc. (CFI) had a 25% interest in property at 852-860 Villa Street in Mountain View, CA (conveniently located between a brewpub and a beer garden.). CFI’s secretary, Kuo, borrowed money from Chen (Lender) and Chen received a promissory note. Chen got nervous and wanted security. They gave him a deed of trust against the Mountain View property. The CFI principals were out of the country for a long time, and the lender foreclosed, obtaining title to the property.

The lender, in a further attempt to collect on the note, sued Kuo. Kao obtained an assignment from CFI of its claims regarding the dispute with the lender. Important is the language of the assignment:

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When a lender holds multiple deeds of trust on the same California Real Estate, they may be forced to make a decision. If the borrower defaults on one of the notes, the lender has all the remedies as to that loan – he can conduct a judicial foreclosure, or hold a nonjudicial trustee’s sale and foreclosed under the power of sale. What concerns the lender and their real estate attorney is, once they foreclose, what happens to the other loan? What can they do to enforce it? If they had foreclosed the first, the second was wiped out. Are they a foreclosed junior lienholder, who can then sue for the debt? In one decision the senior and junior creditors were the same, and the court found that once they foreclosed on the first, they were out of luck on the second.

Sacramento antideficiency attorneyIn Simon v. Superior Court, the bank loaned $1.5 million in exchange for two notes, each secured by separate deeds of trust on the same property in Santa Clara County. The bank foreclosed by trustee’s sale on the senior deed of trust, then sued the borrower on the 2nd note and deed of trust.

the court concluded that, where a creditor makes two successive loans secured by separate deeds of trust on the same real property and forecloses under its senior deed of trust’s power of sale, thereby eliminating the security for its junior deed of trust, section 580d of the Code of Civil Procedure bars recovery of any “deficiency” balance due on the obligation the junior deed of trust secured.

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California real estate financing typically includes a note and deed of trust. In event of default the trustee named in the deed of trust is a third party who would conduct the non-judicial foreclosure process, and hold a trustee sale. This is not a true ‘trustee’ with fiduciary duties but an agent for the parties with statutory duties. When disputes arise regarding foreclosure, Sacramento real estate attorneys often see that the trustee is often named in the lawsuit by the borrower with the other defendants. Given that the trustee relies on instructions of the beneficiary and does not act on its own, the complaint does not allege any specific wrongful act committed by the trustee. As a result, Civil Code section 2924l provides that the trustee may file a “Declaration of Nonmonetary Interest” in the case. The declaration must state that the trustee’s “reasonable belief that it is named as a defendant … solely in its capacity as trustee and not due to its acts or omissions.” Unless another party objects, the trustee then avoids participation in the lawsuit and liability for damages and attorney fees.

woodland  deed of trust attorneyIn Bae v. T.D. Service Company, Bae defaulted on a $5 million dollar property in Glen Ivy. The property was sold at a trustee sale, and the plaintiff sued everyone, including the Trustee. The trustee filed a Declaration of Nonmonetary Interest, and not an answer to the complaint. The Plaintiff’s attorney entered the trustee’s default and obtained a default judgment, all without providing notice to the trustee’s attorney. That’s right, the clerk entered the default, the judge granted the judgment, all without notifying the trustee’s attorney. Unbelievable, but it happened, and the trustee moved to set aside the default and won. More bizarre- the plaintiff appealed.

The court first looked at requirements for setting aside a default. Civil Procedure section 473.5 permits the court to set aside a default or default judgment if the defendant, through no inexcusable fault of his own, [received] no actual notice” of the action, provided that relief is requested not more two years after the entry of the default judgment. But here, the Trustee filed its motion more than two years later.

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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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Most California real estate appraisals are done to obtain a loan secured by the property, often involving the initial purchase. The lender requires the appraisal, often requiring the borrower to pay for it. However, parties other than the lender obtain copies of the appraisal. The question then arises, who may rely on the appraisal? If a Buyer wants an appraisal to make a purchase decision, they could include an appraisal contingency in the purchase contract; if they do not like what the appraisal reveals, they can bow out of the contract. This type of appraisal would certainly be prepared for the buyer to be able to rely on. However, less sophisticated buyers may believe that, because they paid for their lender’s appraisal, it is theirs, and they may rely on it. Parties interested in an appraisal may want to consult with an experienced real estate attorney to determine the best way to protect themselves. In a decision concerning a commercial real estate purchase, a buyer apparently did not have much guidance in entering the purchase contract, and was disappointed when he discovered that he could not rely on the lender’s appraisal.

California real estate appraisal attorneyIn Willemsen v. Mitrosilis (230 Cal. App. 4th 622), Willemsen entered a contract to buy 4.8 acres of vacant land in San Bernardino County in order to use the property as a recycling facility. His lender hired an appraiser to appraise the property to see if its value would support the purchase price and hence, the loan amount. The sale closed, and the Buyer discovered that the city intended to run roads across the property, and earthquake faultiness run through the parcel. He sued everyone, including the appraiser.

The appraisal stated that the intended use of the appraisal was to assist the lender in analyzing a new loan for the subject property. “The report may not be used for any purpose by any person other [than] the party to whom it is addressed…”

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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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Guarantors of California commercial real estate loans are regularly required to sign waivers of defenses. Guarantors would otherwise have the usual defenses that borrowers have, such as anti-deficiency protection (see at bottom re: the Gradsky Waiver). Civil Code section 2856 specifies what specific defenses may be waived; the waiver often includes language which provides for waiver of all defenses listed in Civil Code section 2856. However, Sacramento real estate attorneys occasionally see situations where the lender engaged in such bad behavior that the waivers come into question. This situation arose in a decision last year from Southern California.

sacramento loan guaranty waiver attorney.jpgIn California Bank & Trust v. DelPonti, Five Corners LLC obtained a loan to develop a 70-unit townhome project. DelPonti was one of the guarantors. After 18 months of work, the bank stopped paying approved payment applications, bringing the project to a halt. The bank entered an agreement with Five Corners in which the bank promised to pay the subcontractors if they discounted their bills, mitigating the guarantors’ damages. Nonetheless, the bank foreclosed on the project. The bank sued Five Corners and the Guarantors for the deficiency. The trial court ruled for the guarantors, finding that the bank was guilty of willful misconduct, and a) the bank breached the loan agreement by refusing to honor the four approved payment applications, and b) the bank led the Guarantors to believe that they would be released from the guaranty if they performed according to the later agreement. The Court of Appeals also ruled for the Guarantors, finding that the waivers they signed did not include equitable defenses for their bad conduct.

The bank argued that the Guarantors waived all their defenses under the guaranty agreement. The Court said, no, not all of them. Section 2856 provides lists of the specific defenses (set out below) to enforcement of the guaranty. However, a guarantor cannot be held liable where a contract is unlawful or contravenes public policy. Here, the Bank was arguing that, before default, the Guarantors waived the bank’s own misconduct. But that was not expressly waived in the Guaranty, nor provided for in the Civil Code. The Court did not interpret Civil Code section 2856 to permit a lender to enforce predefault waivers beyond those specified, where to do so would result in the lender’s unjust enrichment, and allow the lender to profit from its own fraudulent conduct. Thus, these Guarantors waiver was limited to those statutory defenses expressly provided for in the in the agreement. “A waiver of statutory defenses is not deemed to waive all defenses, especially equitable defenses, such as unclean hands, where to enforce the guaranty would allow a lender to profit by its own fraudulent conduct. The doctrine of unclean hands bars a plaintiff from relief when the plaintiff has engaged in misconduct relating directly to the transaction concerning which suit is brought.”

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There are numerous anti-deficiency laws concerning California real estate. An Important one, especially with commercial real estate, is CCP section 726(a). It is broadly described as the “one form of action” rule. This broad rule has two components – a) the “one action rule”, a prohibition of multiple lawsuits to collect a debt secured by real estate; and b) the “security first rule,” which requires the creditor to proceed first against all the real property security (exhausting the security) first through judicial foreclosure before enforcing the underlying debt. 726 provides for a lender to file a judicial foreclosure lawsuit which will allow them to recover a deficiency judgment against the borrower. This statute is subject to many Judge-made requirements and sub-rules, and a careful lender or borrower will want to consult a Sacramento real estate attorney. In a decision from Southern California, the lender got a big surprise when they discovered that because of its mistake, it could not obtain a deficiency judgment.

NOTE: A petition for review was granted by the Supreme Court; this case may not be cited.

Sacramento security first attorney.jpgIn First California Bank v. McDonald, the bank made a $1.5 million dollar loan to a husband and wife. The loan was secured by a deed of trust on property in Wasco. As additional security, the wife signed a deed of trust on her separate property located in Shafter. Eventually, Sally wanted to sell the Shafter property. The Bank agreed to the sale with the understanding that the bank would get the proceeds, and the couple would not be released of liability. The husband did not sign the release agreement.

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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.