REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 12, 2018

Court Limits NY Attorney General’s Reach

By David Reiss

New York State Attorney General                  Barbara D. Underwood

Bloomberg quoted me in Credit Suisse Wins Narrowing of $11 Billion Suit, Martin Act. It opens,

New York’s powerful anti-fraud weapon known as the Martin Act was crimped by the state’s highest court, which scaled back what was an $11 billion lawsuit against Credit Suisse Group AG over mortgage-securities practices in the run-up to the financial crisis.

The New York Court of Appeals found that many of the claims were too old, trimming the statute-of-limitations of the law to three years from six years. The Martin Act has been used by the state’s attorney general to police the securities markets since the 1920s, so the ruling may limit the prosecution of fraud in stock and bond sales and some other financial transactions.

“Anything that reduces a statute of limitations will have a big impact on enforcement,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, noting that it can take many years to develop complex financial cases. “This case reflects a significant curtailment of the New York attorney general’s ability to go after alleged financial wrongdoing.”

Prior to the legal battle against Credit Suisse, the Martin Act, one of the country’s oldest and toughest anti-fraud tools, faced relatively few tests in court. The law can be used by the state attorney general to file both civil suits and criminal charges, and requires a lower standard of proof for civil cases than other anti-fraud statutes. It can also be used to launch investigations, which can help extract settlements.

Legal Tool

Through the specter of the Martin Act, New York state has been able to collect billions of dollars in fines from investment banks, insurance companies and mutual funds over a wide variety of alleged fraud. It has also been used to charge individuals, including executives at Tyco International Ltd., accused of looting the company, and former officials at the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Barbara Underwood, said she pursues cases quickly and will continue to do so.

“This decision will have no impact on our efforts to vigorously pursue financial fraud wherever it exists in New York,” Spitalnick said. “That includes continuing our case against Credit Suisse.”

In recent years, the Martin Act has been used against Barclays Plc and other banks to pursue claims they misled customers about the role of high-frequency traders in dark pools, to win a settlement from the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. over foreign-currency trading, and to start an investigation into Exxon Mobil Corp. about whether it misled investors about the impact of climate change.

The case against Zurich-based Credit Suisse came as the office started probes into allegations of wrongdoing related to the financial crisis. The lawsuit, filed by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in November 2012, claimed the bank ignored warning signs about the quality of loans it was packaging and selling in 2006 and 2007.

June 12, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

May 7, 2018

Housing in the Trump Era

By David Reiss

 

The Real Estate Transactions Section of the American Association of Law Schools has issued the following Call for Papers:

Access + Opportunity + Choice: Housing Capital, Equity, and Market Regulation in the Trump Era

Program Description:

The year 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the 2008 housing crisis—an event described as the most significant financial and economic upheaval since the Great Depression. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which upended many decades of overt housing discrimination. Both events remind us of the significant role that housing has played in the American story—both for good and for bad.

Of the many aspects of financial reform that followed 2008, much of the housing finance-related work was centered around mortgage loan origination and creating incentives and rules dealing with underwriting and the risk of moral hazard. Some of these reforms include the creation of the qualified mortgage safe-harbor and the skin-in-the-game risk retention rules. But when it came to the secondary mortgage market, little significant reform was undertaken. The only government action of any serious importance related to the federal government—through the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)—taking over control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This major government intervention into the workings of the country’s two mortgage giants yielded takings lawsuits, an outcry from shareholders, and the decimation of the capital reserves of both companies. Despite Fannie and Freddie having both paid back all the bailout funds given to them, the conservatorship remains in place to this day.

In the area of fair housing, the past several years saw the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities case whereby the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (and narrowed the scope of) the disparate impact theory under the Fair Housing Act. We also saw efforts aimed at reducing geographic concentrations of affordable housing through the Obama administration’s promulgation of the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule.

Yet, meaningful housing reform remains elusive. None of the major candidates in the most recent presidential election meaningfully addressed the issue in their policy platforms, and a lack of movement in resolving the Fannie/Freddie conservatorship is viewed as a major failure of the Obama administration. Additionally, housing segregation and access to affordable mortgage credit continues to plague the American economy.

In recent months, the topics of housing finance reform and providing Americans with credit (including mortgage credit) choices have been a point of focus on Capitol Hill and in the Trump White House. Will these conservations result in meaningful legislation or changes in regulatory approaches in these areas? Will programs like the low-income-housing tax credit, the CFPB’s mandatory underwriting requirements, public housing subsidies, and the government’s role in guaranteeing and securitizing mortgage loans significantly change? Where are points of possible agreement between the country’s two major parties in this area and what kinds of compromises can be made?

Call for Papers:

The Real Estate Transactions Section looks to explore these and related issues in its 2019 AALS panel program titled: “Access and Opportunity: Housing Capital, Equity, and Market Regulation in the Trump Era.” The Section invites the submission of abstracts or full papers dealing broadly with issues related to real estate finance, the secondary mortgage market, fair housing, access to mortgage credit, mortgage lending discrimination, and the future of mortgage finance. There is no formal paper requirement associated with participation on the panel, but preference will be given to those submissions that demonstrate novel scholarly insights that have been substantially developed. Untenured scholars in particular are encouraged to submit their work. Please email your submissions to Chris Odinet at codinet@sulc.edu by Friday, August 3, 2018. The selection results will be announced in early September 2018. In additional to confirmed speakers, the Section anticipates selecting two to three papers from the call.

Confirmed Speakers:

Rigel C. Oliveri, Isabelle Wade and Paul C. Lyda Professor of Law, University of Missouri School of Law

Todd J. Zywicki, Foundation Professor of Law, George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

David Reiss, Professor of Law and Research Director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, Brooklyn Law School

Eligibility:

Per AALS rules, only full-time faculty members of AALS member law schools are eligible to submit a paper/abstract to Section calls for papers. Faculty at fee-paid law schools, foreign faculty, adjunct and visiting faculty (without a full-time position at an AALS member law school), graduate students, fellows, and non-law school faculty are not eligible to submit.

All panelists, including speakers selected from this Call for Papers, are responsible for paying their own annual meeting registration fee and travel expenses.

May 7, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

May 1, 2018

Light Blogging This Summer

By David Reiss

I am trying to do a final push on my forthcoming book, Paying For The American Dream: How To Reform The Market For Mortgages (Oxford University Press), this summer, so I will not be keeping to my regular blogging schedule.

May 1, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

April 25, 2018

Noise Pollution and Property Values

By David Reiss

photo by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez

Realtor.com quoted me in What Is Noise Pollution and How Does It Affect Property Values? It opens,

When it comes to a home’s value (and your sanity), noise pollution can be a major downer. But what is noise pollution exactly? Most people have different definitions of what noise pollution actually is—anything from sirens to a barking dog, or the noise of traffic on the street outside.

While outside noise isn’t totally escapable (even the prairie has ambient noise), home buyers will want to be on the lookout for excessive noise pollution, because it could affect a property’s value. After all, you don’t want to live in (or have to eventually unload) a place that requires a lifetime supply of earplugs.

First, let’s define what noise pollution actually means.Re

What is noise pollution?

In defining noise pollution, there are several variables in the mix.

“Noise pollution is basically any noise that you don’t like, but I guess we would define it as noise that most people generally don’t like,” says Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss, research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. “When governments regulate noise, however, it is usually based on how loud a noise is.”

For example, Reiss explains that according to A Guide to New York City’s Noise Code, in that city, “Noise that exceeds the ambient sound level by more than 10 decibels (dB) as measured from 15 feet from the source as measured from inside any property or on a public street is prohibited.”

Of course, the ambient sound level in NYC is considerably louder than in a rural area.

How to measure noise pollution near a home

Although decibels are used to measure the intensity of a sound, there are more accurate ways to identify noise pollution around a particular house. When it comes to getting ballpark figures for typical noise levels, Tom Davies, Co-Founder and Manager of the property buying company Accelerate Homes, suggests that most buyers figure out the day-night average sound level (Ldn) or the day-evening-night average sound level (Lden), which are measurements that can help assess the impact that road, rail, air, and general industry has on the local population. Either of these measurements give a potential buyer a much more accurate assessment of overall noise pollution near their home. To measure these levels, get a regular decibel meter, take hourly readings, and plug those numbers into this online noise calculator.

You can also check this interactive national transportation map created by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics to get a general idea of noise pollution levels created primarily by interstate highways and airports in your area. Just type in your address (or the address of any home you’re considering) and get a general reading. Red means loud—think vacuum cleaner (like 60dB-80 dB), and purple means even louder, like the constant sound of a garbage disposal (80 dB and up).

Identifying noise pollution culprits

It’s not always easy to figure out what’s making all the noise, but it is possible.

“While some of the main factors could be easily spotted—like the proximity of highways, stadiums, airports, train, and bus stations—other factors like specialized traffic (regular truck deliveries or rubbish removal), or the presence of neighbors with loud dogs, are far less likely to be spotted at first sight,” says Davies. The only way to get to the bottom of it is to talk to the neighbors.

Reiss also suggests taking it a step further.

“Visit at different times of the day. For example, if there is a bar across the street, drive by on a Saturday night,” he says. “Also, ask local government officials, like community board district managers, about noise complaints.” Basically, it’s up to you to do your due diligence on sound.

How noise pollution affects property prices

High noise levels don’t automatically correlate with lower prices, Reiss says. Some of the most expensive homes in New York City are located in midtown Manhattan, a busy area that’s home to the theater district, the tourist magnet Times Square, and many major corporate offices.

“But within a certain market, there will be those who value quietness and those who value being in the middle of the action,” he says.

To get a true reading on how noise pollution will affect the value of a property, “you would need to distinguish short-term noise—like a neighboring construction site—from permanent noise—like from a neighboring firehouse,” says Reiss.

April 25, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

April 24, 2018

An Inquest into the Subprime Crisis

By David Reiss

, image by Paul Townsend

Coroners Inquests in Gloucestershire from The Gloucester Journal 1814

Juan Ospina and Harald Uhlig have posted Mortgage-Backed Securities and the Financial Crisis of 2008: A Post-Mortem to SSRN. Given that the market for private-label MBS pretty much died by 2008, the title is apt. The paper presents a challenge to many of the standard narratives that have developed to explain the causes of the subprime crisis and the broader financial crisis that followed. Other researchers in this area will surely take up the gauntlet thrown down by this paper. Hopefully, we will collectively come up with the right narrative to explain the whole mess. The paper opens,

Gradually, the deep financial crisis of 2008 is in the rearview mirror. With that, standard narratives have emerged, which will inform and influence policy choices and public perception in the future for a long time to come. For that reason, it is all the more important to examine these narratives with the distance of time and available data, as many of these narratives were created in the heat of the moment.

One such standard narrative has it that the financial meltdown of 2008 was caused by an overextension of mortgages to weak borrowers, repackaged and then sold to willing lenders drawn in by faulty risk ratings for these mortgage back securities. To many, mortgage backed securities and rating agencies became the key villains of that financial crisis. In particular, rating agencies were blamed for assigning the coveted AAA rating to many securities, which did not deserve it, particularly in the subprime segment of the market, and that these ratings then lead to substantial losses for institutional investors, who needed to invest in safe assets and who mistakenly put their trust in these misguided ratings.

In this paper, we re-examine this narrative. We seek to address two questions in particular. First, were these mortgage backed securities bad investments? Second, were the ratings wrong? We answer these questions, using a new and detailed data set on the universe of non-agency residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), obtained by devoting considerable work to carefully assembling data from Bloomberg and other sources. This data set allows us to examine the actual repayment stream and losses on principal on these securities up to 2014, and thus with a considerable distance since the crisis events. In essence, we provide a post-mortem on a market that many believe to have died in 2008. We find that the conventional narrative needs substantial rewriting: the ratings and the losses were not nearly as bad as this narrative would lead one to believe.

Specifically, we calculate the ex-post realized losses as well as ex-post realized return on investing on par in these mortgage backed securities, under various assumptions of the losses for the remaining life time of the securities. We compare these realized returns to their ratings in 2008 and their promised loss distributions, according to tables available from the rating agencies. We shall investigate, whether ratings were a sufficient statistic (to the degree that a discretized rating can be) or whether they were, essentially, just “noise”, given information already available to market participants at the time of investing such as ratings of borrowers.

We establish seven facts. First, the bulk of these securities was rated AAA. Second, AAA securities did ok: on average, their total cumulated losses up to 2013 are 2.3 percent. Third, the subprime AAA-rated segment did particularly well. Fourth, later vintages did worse than earlier vintages, except for subprime AAA securities. Fifth, the bulk of the losses were concentrated on a small share of all securities. Sixth, the misrating for AAA securities was modest. Seventh, controlling for a home price bust, a home price boom was good for the repayment on these securities. (1-2)

April 24, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

April 23, 2018

Promoting Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

By David Reiss

graphic by USGAO

Enteprise has released a report, Promoting Opportunity through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD): Navigating Federal Transportation Policy. It opens,

Transportation, housing and land use decisions that form the foundation of our development patterns are made at every level of government. While the local regulatory environment significantly impacts the amount and type of development that occurs, the federal government plays a major role in local development in both overt and hidden ways. Federal funding is the most obvious source of influence. However, this funding comes with a catch, as the incentives and regulations that govern funding programs can have a significant impact – both positive and negative – on the type of housing and transportation infrastructure that is built and how it is maintained over time.

The federal ability to influence development patterns gives it both direct and indirect influence on a community’s strength and composition. Individual families, the local economy, municipal governments and the environment all benefit when well-located housing, jobs and other necessary resources are connected by efficient transportation and infrastructure networks. Equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD, see sidebar for definition) is an important approach to facilitating these connections. eTOD supports the achievement of multiple cross-sector goals, including regional economic growth, enhanced mobility and access, efficient municipal and transportation network operations, improved public health and decreased cost of living. For a full discussion of the benefits of eTOD, read Promoting Opportunity through eTOD: Making the Case.

In recent years, the federal government has taken several actions that are more conducive to fostering eTOD. Notable examples include the adoption of incentives for creating and preserving affordable housing near transit, the provision of planning and technical assistance resources to support eTOD, and the reduction of barriers to producing affordable housing on federally-funded property. However, a wide range of policies and incentives that do not explicitly address eTOD can also support or detract from the conditions that make such development possible.

Navigating Federal Transportation Policy is the third report in our Promoting Opportunity through eTOD research series. This report seeks to assist stakeholders involved in achieving eTOD, such as public entities, developers and practitioners, as they work to navigate the federal policy landscape, with a focus onFederal Transit Administration (FTA) policies and programs. These policies and programs generally offer several funding and technical assistance opportunities that can address eTOD (among a range of other uses), but housing practitioners may be less familiar with these resources and how to access them. (2, footnote omitted)

While the report explicitly acknowledges the changed environment since President Trump’s election, it does not seem to fully integrate those changes into its recommendations. While there are a lot of good ideas in the report, I am afraid that it will take a few years, or longer, for them to find a sympathetic ear in the Executive Branch.

April 23, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

April 20, 2018

Rate-Lock Lock Out

By David Reiss

photo by Ildar Sagdejev

Mick Mulvaney plays against type by signing off on a Consent Order with a billion dollar penalty for Wells Fargo. The Order stated that Wells, among other things, charged “fees for rate-lock extensions in connection with residential-mortgage lending” and violated the law when it “unfairly failed to follow the mortgage-interest-rate-lock process it explained to some prospective borrowers…” (1)  Reading the details of what happened gives a sense of what happens when a large financial institutions runs amok, making consumers feel like they are in some absurd movie where a malevolent force is out to get them and they don’t know why.  The Order states that Wells “inappropriately charged borrowers rate-lock-extension fees that should have been absorbed by Respondent.” (5-6) Here are some highlights of how such a practice develops in a large financial institution:

13. In May 2012, in response to processing delays, Respondent stopped charging any Extension Fees to borrowers. Instead, Respondent extended rate-lock periods without charging borrowers a fee.

14. In September 2013, Respondent enacted a new nationwide policy under which borrowers would pay the Extension Fee in certain circumstances.

15. Respondent’s September 2013 policy change provided that if a rate-lock extension was made necessary by borrower-caused delays, or by certain delays related to the property itself, the borrower could be charged an Extension Fee; if there were lender-caused delays, however, Respondent would extend the rate-lock period without charging borrowers a fee, as it had done since May 2012.

16. Rate-lock choices may materially affect how much it costs consumers to get a loan. Respondent expected its loan officers to explain to prospective borrowers all of the available rate-lock options, to help borrowers select the option best suited to their needs, and to clearly explain its rate-lock process to prospective borrowers.

17. During the Rate-Lock Relevant Period, Respondent trained its loan officers to inform prospective borrowers that they would be responsible for paying Extension Fees under circumstances where the delay was caused by the borrower or related to the property itself, including when the borrower does not timely return necessary documentation, the borrower disputes a low appraisal, previously undisclosed liens are uncovered, sellers or builders delay the process, the sale is not timely approved by a condo project or co-op board, or the borrower’s credit score changes.

18. Within days of rolling out the new policy, Respondent acknowledged in internal communications that its guidelines for its loan officers were inadequate. Respondent instructed employees that Extension Fees would be charged based on the factor primarily responsible for the delay, without further guidance as to what that meant.

19. Almost three years after a 2013 internal audit first identified the risks for consumer harm relating to improperly assessed Extension Fees, an October 2016 internal audit found that Respondent inconsistently applied its policy and charged borrowers Extension Fees in situations where Respondent was responsible for the delay in the loan’s closing. (6-8)

Some think that large corporations are not prone to the same sort of byzantine policies and procedures that a large government agency is. The subprime crisis, the foreclosure crisis and even now, post-crisis, it has been clearly demonstrated time and again that they are. If that does not prove the value of the CFPB to the American consumer, I don’t know what does.

April 20, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments