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Matt Festa has posted an interesting, short article, Land Use in the Unzoned City, to SSRN. He writes,

The popular conception that Houston is unzoned because it is some sort of ultra-Texan free-market landscape is not accurate. Houston’s land use is in fact highly regulated. While no Houston ordinance explicitly uses the “z-word,” and its rules for the most part don’t prescribe limitations on use, there are numerous land use regulations that, in any other city, would be part of the zoning code. Houston defines certain areas as “urban” versus “suburban,” with different regulations.There are laws prescribing minimum lot sizes, which in turn restrict density. There are setbacks from the street, buffer zones for development, and regulated street widths. There are other laws that affect land use, such as the new historical preservation ordinance, which allows citizens to petition the council for designation as a historic area, which comes with additional restrictions. These are all government measures that, in my opinion, operate as “de facto zoning”— they prescribe different land use rules based partly on geographic location. And even these rules pale in comparison to the extensive regime of private covenants and deed restrictions that govern a majority of the property in Houston. (17)

Festa explains that this lack of zoning may have some partial explanations that have to do with the culture of the city. But he finds a more compelling explanation in the ban on zoning contained in the Houston City Charter. This ban, which can only be overturned by referendum, has been challenged three times but zoning supporters have come up a bit short each time.

Festa is certainly correct that land use scholars (Edward Glaeser, for instance) use Houston as a foil to communities that heavily limit new construction with restrictive zoning provisions. So Festa’s thesis is an important one that I hope he develops in a longer article. Until we determine how much less restrictive Houston’s land use regime is than other American cities’ formal zoning ordinances, we can’t fully understand the interaction between restrictive land use policies and the housing crisis affecting cities across the country.

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The court in deciding Dias v. Fannie Mae, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 181584 (D. Haw., 2013) rejected all but one of the plaintiff’s claims.

The court found that the plaintiff’s Haw. Rev. Stat. § 667-5 defective assignment claims against defendants failed because the mortgage gave the requisite authority.

The court found that a claim that no sale could be held pending a Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) modification failed because the mortgagor lacked standing. The false mortgage assignment claim failed because nothing showed a publicly recorded assignment was false. Likewise, the breach of contract claim for violating HAMP guidelines failed because the mortgagor had no such claim, no HAMP trial payment plan supported it, and she was not an intended beneficiary of any HAMP agreement between defendants and the U.S. Treasury.

However, the plaintiff’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1692, claims survived because a defaulted debt was assigned, so defendants could not show they were not debt collectors, under 15 U.S.C.S. § 1692a(6)(F).

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The court in deciding Bank of Am., N.A. v. Pasqualone, 2013-Ohio-5795 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County, 2013) affirmed the decision of the lower court.

The court found that the promissory note was a negotiable instrument subject to relevant provisions of R.C. Chapter 1303 because it contained a promise to pay the lender the amount of $100,000, plus interest, and did not require any other undertakings that would render the note nonnegotiable.

Further, the court found that since the bank was the holder of the note it was a person entitled to enforce the note pursuant to R.C. 1303.31(A)(1). Based on the authorization, the note became payable to the bank as an identified person and, because the bank was the identified person in possession of the note, it was the holder of the note.

Lastly, as the property owner’s defenses to the mortgage foreclosure did not fit the criteria of a denial, defense, or claim in recoupment under R.C. 1303.36 or R.C. 1303.35, the bank’s right to payment and to enforce the obligation was not subject to the owner’s alleged meritorious defenses.

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The court in deciding M & T Bank v. Strawn, 2013-Ohio-5845 (Ohio Ct. App., Trumbull County 2013) affirmed the lower court’s decision and found that appellant’s argument was without merit.

Appellant framed three issues for this court’s review. First, appellant contended that the trial court erred in relying upon the affidavit of Mr. Fisher to demonstrate that appellant had possession of the promissory note and that the copies were true and accurate. Second, appellant questioned whether appellee fulfilled the condition precedent of providing notice of the default and notice of acceleration. Third, appellant argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether appellee was the real party in interest possessing an interest in the promissory note and mortgage.

The court found that the bank’s possession of the note was shown by an affidavit, along with attached copies of the note endorsed to the bank, and one in possession of a note endorsed to that party was a holder, for purposes of R.C. 1301.201(B)(21)(a), and thus entitled to enforce the instrument under R.C. 1303.31.

The court also found that the affidavit for the bank clearly stated that the bank had been in possession of the original promissory note, and the affidavit was sufficient for the trial court to have held that the affiant had personal knowledge. Lastly, the court found that nothing suggested that voided endorsements affected the bank’s status as a holder, and thus it did not create an issue of fact and that the bank acquired an equitable interest in the mortgage when it became a holder of the note, regardless of whether the mortgage was actually or validly assigned or delivered.

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The Rand Corporation has posted Flood Insurance in New York City Following Hurricane Sandy. The report has a chapter on affordability issues that is worth a read, particularly as the de Blasio Administration undertakes its ambitious affordable housing plan. The report notes that

many New Yorkers will face substantially higher flood insurance premiums moving forward. Many more structures will be in areas considered high-risk than in the past, and premiums for many structures already in high-risk areas will be based on considerably higher flood levels.

*     *    *

These substantial premium increases will reduce the disposable income or wealth (or both) of many households and may well be unaffordable for some. In the absence of intervention, the consequences may be foreclosures, turnover, and hardship for some of New York City’s more-vulnerable citizens.(63)

The book goes on to review a variety of approaches “for addressing the affordability issue.” (67) It reviews “tax credits, grants, and vouchers that could be applied toward the cost of flood insurance.” (63) It also notes that such interventions distort “the price signal that incentives property owners to invest in risk-mitigation measures in order to reduce premiums.” (67) It considers proposals to deal with such distortion, such as a means-tested voucher program that is coupled “with a requirement that mitigation measures be taken that make sense for the property.” (67) The book only scratches the surface of this topic, noting that more “information is needed to address the advantages and disadvantages of alternative strategies for addressing affordability.” (68)

As the de Blasio Administration considers the preservation portion of its affordable housing agenda, one could imagine that a concerted effort to incentivize risk mitigation while also promoting affordability could be a significant component of the final plan. Solutions could range from deferred payment, due on sale or refinance of a home, to outright subsidies as outlined by the Rand report. Whatever the ultimate solution is, the problem should be incorporated into the City’s planning now.

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The court in deciding Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys. v. Ditto, 2014 Tenn. App. (Tenn. Ct. App., 2014) affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

This appeal involved the purchase of property at a tax sale. MERS filed suit against purchaser to invalidate his purchase of property because it had not received notice of the sale even though it was listed as a beneficiary or nominee on the deed of trust.

Purchaser claimed that MERS was not entitled to notice because MERS did not have an interest in the property. Purchaser also alleged that MERS failed to properly commence its lawsuit because it did not remit the proper funds pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-5-2504(c).

The trial court refused to set aside the tax sale, holding that the applicable notice requirements were met and that the purchaser was the holder of legal title to the property. MERS appealed the lower court’s decision, however this court affirmed the decision of the lower court.

Since appellant was never given an independent interest in the property, and it did not suffer an injury by the sale of the property at issue, and the only injury suffered by appellant related to the future effect the case could have on its business model, which was not a distinct and palpable injury capable of being redressed by the court, the trial court’s grant of the purchaser’s motion for judgment on the pleadings was properly granted as appellant did not have standing to file suit to set aside the tax sale of the property for lack of notice under Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-2502(c) and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court found that the failure to tender the appropriate funds when filing the petition to set aside the sale under Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-2504(c) was not a prerequisite for relief.

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The court in deciding Champion v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2014 U.S. Dist. 78 (E.D.N.C., 2014) dismissed the plaintiff’s FDCPA and RESPA claims.

Plaintiff initiated this action asserting claims for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), and North Carolina statutory and common law. In response, the moving defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

The court first considered plaintiff’s federal claims. The movants’ primary arguments for dismissal of this claim was that plaintiff had failed to sufficiently allege that BANA was a debt collector under the FDCPA. The court agreed with this argument.

Plaintiff’s other federal claim was asserted under RESPA. Plaintiff alleged that defendants collectively violated that act ” through numerous assignments and transfers of the note and deed of trust without having given the proper notice to plaintiff within the proper time frame,” and “by failing to inform Plaintiff of any transfers of the loan servicing of her loan.”

However, the court agreed with the movants that plaintiff had failed to allege any damages flowing from the purported failure to be notified of the change in the entity servicing her mortgage. Accordingly the court dismissed the plaintiff’s remaining claims.