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.
In 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.
This makes legal sense, but as a practical matter, it may be impossible to find a trustee will to accept instructions from one cobeneficiary without participation and agreement of al cobeneficiaries. The only solution that may assure the ability to complete a foreclosure without all the cobeneficiaries’ agreement, is that the cobeneficiaries enter a written agreement which provides for such an event. Even better, there is a statutory procedure that provides for recording an agreement to allow foreclosure by cobeneficiaries holding greater than 50% interest. Civil Code section 2141.9 provides that
“All holders of notes secured by the same real property or a series of undivided interests in notes secured by real property equivalent to a series transaction may agree in writing to be governed by the desires of the holders of more than 50 percent of the record beneficial interest of those notes or interests…” “A description of the agreement shall be included in a recorded document such as the deed of trust or the assignment of interests.”
It may not be possible to get cobeneficiaries to agree to enter this agreement, but that would be a red flag to future problems