Articles Posted in real estate loan

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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.

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When California lenders and buyers seek title insurance, they want to be sure that the title to the property that they are receiving, or the security for their loan, is what they expect it to be. In the case of the lender, they want to be sure that they are in first place, so that if they need to foreclose, the property will be unburdened by any senior lien or liability, and they can get their money out of it. A preliminary title report, the precursor to the policy, is an offer to sell an insurance policy, but not like any other kind of offer to make a contract. If I offer to sell you my “used Buick, which has 20,000 miles on it, for $12,000,” and you accept, when you discover that it really has 97,000 miles on it, you have a claim against me for breach of contract and fraud. But Sacramento & Yolo commercial real estate attorneys are often faced with explaining to clients that the preliminary report cannot be relied on in the same way. That was the answer some mortgage investors got from the court, when the preliminary report stated that the title company would get a full release of a notice of abatement action before issuing a policy.

Sacramento title insurance policy attorney.jpgIn Stockton Mortgage Inc. v Tope, the plaintiff Lender loan $315,000 to Tope to buy and rehab a Stockton property. The lender obtained title insurance from Alliance Title Company, underwritten by First American. The preliminary report had the standard language stating”

“[T]his Company … is prepared to issue, or cause to be issued, as of the date hereof, a Policy or Policies of Title Insurance … insuring against loss which may be sustained by reason of any defect, lien or encumbrance not shown or referred to as an Exception herein or not excluded from coverage pursuant to the printed Schedules, Conditions and Stipulations of said Policy forms.”

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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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When the same debt is secured by liens on both real property and personal property, the lender has options as to how they are allowed to enforce their security interest. They can enforce against the real property under real property law, against personal property under the Commercial Code, or both. There are specifics under both areas of law which must be observed, or the lender may lose their security, and a party in this situation may want to consult with a business and real estate attorney. Otherwise, they may run into the problem faced by a lender recently when they failed to adequately describe the personal property in the deed of trust. The Court of Appeals found that the deed of trust did not successfully describe personal property as additional security, and thus any further recourse for the lender would be contrary to the purpose of the antideficiency laws.

mixed collateral attorney sm.jpgIn Thoryk v. San Diego Gas and Electric Company, the owner of an avocado ranch in San Diego County wanted to subdivide it into two-acre homesites. The owner borrowed $1 and ½ million from Highland for this purpose. There was a wildfire which did extensive damage to the property, and the project stopped. Highland foreclosed and obtained title to the property. The owner believed that San Diego Gas and Electric was at fault and sued for damages. Highland joined the suit, claiming that its deed of trust was secured by more than just the property, and extended to any of the owner’s recovery of damages caused to the property; i.e. it was also secured by personal property. Highland argued that it was entitled to a judicially imposed lien under the terms of its deed of trust and related note.

The owner argued that he was protected by the antideficiency laws, which prohibits collecting money from the owner after a trustee’s sale. However, where there are liens established upon both personal and real property in the subject transaction, a foreclosing lienholder using the power of sale may continue to pursue remedies against the former property owner/borrower. The creditor is not seeking a personal judgment for the unpaid balance of a loan, but instead seeks to enforce additional security secondarily liable for the principal loan.

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I have written before about courts calling to account lenders who reneg on loan modifications after the borrower made numerous trial plan payments. Courts have ruled against lenders based on promissory estoppel, offer and acceptance creating a contract, for lack of a signed, written modification; and lack of a modification signed by the lender. Usually, when the property is about to be, or already has been, sold at a trustee’s sale, the borrower consults a Sacramento real estate attorney about such a situation. In a recent decision the lender was disappointed when the court found that the plaintiff properly alleged numerous claims against it.

Sacramento real estate loan attorney 2.jpgIn James Rufini v. CitiMortgage, Inc., the Sonoma homeowner sought a loan modification. In June 2009 CitiMortgage approved the loan modification, and told him he would receive a permanent modification in October after timely making three trial payments. He continued making the trial payments through December, in January the lender told him that his permanent loan modification agreement would be ready in three days. Three months later, since he had not received the written agreement, he rented out the house (and lived with his son) to offset expenses while waiting for the modification. The modification was then denied because the home was not “owner-occupied.” The lender then refused to accept his mortgage payments at the modified level. A notice of trustee’s sale was recorded, and the borrower got a 30-day postponement, while the lender was requesting additional information, like income information. Meanwhile, CitiMortgage transferred the loan to PennyMac. CitiMortgage kept discussing the modification, and the property was foreclosed. The borrower claimed that the lender’s contact said he had known all along the loan had been transferred to PennyMac.

BREACH OF CONTRACT

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I have written in the past about Sham Guaranties – this is a guaranty of a loan where the guarantor has such a close identity with the borrower that they are in effect providing a guaranty of their own loan. Such a sham guaranty is not enforceable. A typical scenario would be with a limited partnership. The general partner is fully liable for the debts of the limited partnership. If all the principals of the general partner sign the guaranty, the question arises of whether anything has been added by the guaranty. This is a sham especially when the lender takes a role in encouraging the formation of the entity, and only investigates the financial wherewithal of the individual guarantors. Business and real estate attorneys for lenders usually pay special attention to make sure they really will have an effective guaranty. In a recent decision. the guarantors were unhappy to learn that they were liable on the guaranty – there was too much separation between themselves and the borrowers, which they did on purpose so that they would not occur direct liability on the loan.

Sacramento real estate loan sham guaranty attorney.jpg In California Bank & Trust v. Lawlor, the bank loaned millions to Heritage Partners, secured by numerous real estate projects. Smith and Lawlor owned and controlled Covenant Management, which owned and controlled Heritage Capital, which was the general partner of the Heritage partnerships. They really tried to isolate themselves from the borrower to avoid personal liability. The lender required Smith and Lawlor to sign continuing guaranties. The borrower went into default, the lender foreclosed, and had a deficiency of $15 million dollars. California Bank and Trust brought this action to collect on the loan guaranties. Smith and Lawlor argued that the guaranties were sham guaranties and therefore they were actually the primary obligors on the loans, not true guarantors. As primary obligors, Smith and Lawlor claimed that they were entitled to the protection of California’s antideficiency statutes. This should prohibit the lender from obtaining a judgment against them for the difference between the value of the security and the outstanding loan balances.

The antideficiency statutes strictly limit the right to recover deficiency judgments for the amount the debt exceeds the value of the security. The antideficiency laws promote several public policy objectives:

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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