REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 19, 2018

Understanding Homeownership

By David Reiss

 

The Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute released its House Finance at a Glance Chartbook for December. It states that financial education “can help reduce barriers to homeownership.” As I argue below, I do not think that financial education is the right thing to emphasize when trying to get people to enter the housing market.

The Introduction makes the case for financial education:

While mortgage debt has been stable to marginally increasing, other types of debt, particularly auto and student loan debt have increased far more rapidly. Our calculations, based on The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, show that over the past 5 years (Q3 2012 to Q3 2017), mortgage debt outstanding has grown at an annualized rate of 1.3 percent, while non-mortgage debt (which includes credit card debt, student loan debt, auto debt, and other debt) has grown by 6.8 percent annualized rate. Student loan debt has grown by 7.3 percent per year while auto debt has been growing by 9.6 percent per year. In Q3 2012, the number of accounts for mortgage loans and auto loans are very close (84 million vs 82 million). By Q3 2017, the number of accounts for mortgages had fallen to 80 million consistent with declining homeownership rate, while the number of accounts for auto loans had increased to 110 million.

Another metric where auto loans have diverged from mortgages is delinquency rates. Over the past 5 years, mortgage delinquencies have plummeted (pages 22 and 29) while the percent of auto loans that is more than 90 days late is roughly flat despite an improving economy. However, the percent of auto loans transitioning into serious delinquency has risen from 1.52 percent in Q3 2012 to 2.36 percent in Q3 2017. While these numbers remain small, the growth bears monitoring.

When we looked at the distribution of credit scores for new auto origination and new mortgage origination, we found no major change in either loan category; while mortgage credit scores are skewed higher, the distribution of mortgage credit scores (page 17) and the distribution of auto credit scores have been roughly consistent over the period. Our calculations based off NY Fed data shows the percent of auto loan origination balances with FICOs under 660 was 35.9% in Q3, 2012, it is now 31.7%; similarly the percent of auto origination with balances under 620 has contracted from 22.7 percent to 19.6 percent. There have been absolutely more auto loans with low FICOs originated, but this is because of the increased overall volume.

So what might explain the differences in trends in the delinquency rate and loan growth between these two asset classes? A good part of the story (in addition to tight mortgage credit) is that many potential low- and moderate-income borrowers do not believe they can get a mortgage. As a result, many don’t even bother to apply. We showed in our recently released report on Barriers to Accessing Homeownership that survey after survey shows that borrowers think they need far bigger down payments than they actually do. And there are many down payment assistance programs available. Moreover, it is still less expensive at the national level to own than to rent. This suggests that many LMI borrowers who are shying away from applying for a mortgage could benefit from financial education; with a better grasp of down payment facts and assistance opportunities, many of these families could be motivated to apply for mortgages and have the opportunity to build wealth. (5)

I am not sure if financial education is the whole answer here. Employment instability as well as generalized financial insecurity may be playing a bigger role in home purchases than in car purchases. The longer time horizon as well as the more serious consequences of a default with homeownership may be keeping people from stepping into the housing market. This is particularly true if renters have visions in their heads of family members or friends suffering during the long and lingering foreclosure crisis.

January 19, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

January 18, 2018

The FHFA’s Take on Housing Finance Reform

By David Reiss

FHFA Director Watt

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Watt sent Federal Housing Finance Agency Perspectives on Housing Finance Reform to Senate Banking Chair Michael Crapo (R-ID) and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on that committee. There are no real surprises in it, but it does set forth a series of housing finance objectives that the FHFA supports:

• Preserve the 30-year fixed-rate, prepayable mortgage;

• End taxpayer bailouts for failing firms;

• Maintain liquidity in the housing finance market;

• Attract significant amounts of private capital to the center of the housing finance system through both robust equity capital requirements and credit risk transfer (CRT) participation;

• Provide for a single government-guaranteed mortgage-backed security that will improve the liquidity of the to-be-announced (TBA) market and promote a fair and competitive funding market for Secondary Market Entities (SMEs);

• Ensure access to affordable mortgages for creditworthy borrowers, sustainable rental options for families across income levels, and a focus on serving rural and other underserved markets;

• Provide a level playing field for institutions of all sizes to access the secondary market;

• Include tools for the regulator to anticipate and mitigate downturns in the housing market, including setting appropriate capital and liquidity requirements for SMEs, having prompt, corrective action authority for SMEs that are weak or troubled, and having authority to adjust CRT requirements as needed; and

• Provide a stable transition path that protects the housing finance market and the broader economy from potential disruptions and ensures that the new housing finance system operates as intended. (1)

The FHFA’s take on housing finance reform seems to be somewhat different from what various members of Congress are reportedly promoting. It is not clear though that the views of the FHFA are all that relevant to the Congressional leaders who are shaping the next housing finance reform bill. Nor do I expect that Director Watt’s views are particularly valued by the Trump Administration, given that he is a former Democratic member of Congress. That being said, Director Watt has always made it clear that it is Congress and not the FHFA that should be charting the path forward for housing finance reform.

While his views on the matter differ from those of some members of Congress, all of the relevant stakeholders seem to agree on the broad contours of what the 21st century’s housing finance infrastructure should look like. There should be an explicit guarantee to support the housing market during liquidity crises.  And the main elements of the current market, such as the thirty year fixed-rate mortgage, should be maintained. Here’s hoping that a bipartisan push can get this done this year.

January 18, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

January 17, 2018

How to Rent out A Condo

By David Reiss

photo by Tokyodcs

Realtor.com quoted me in How to Rent out a Condo: Watch out! It’s Not the Same as a Home. It opens,

How to rent out a condo: This may seem like a simple question, but if you own a condominium, you probably know it’s actually rather complicated.

For those who are foggy on what a condo is, let’s start with the definition: It’s a home, typically part of a larger building, that comes with shared common areas such as yards and garages that are maintained by hired help, rather than by individual owners. This makes condo ownership a breeze, by comparison with the labor involved in maintaining your own house, and you pay for that convenience in condo fees.

This more communal living arrangement, however, also means that you can’t just rent out your place whenever the whim strikes. In the past, condominiums were pretty flexible about allowing unit owners to rent out their homes. In recent years, though, condo associations have become a little more restrictive, according to David Reiss, professor of law and academic program director at Brooklyn Law School. Here we break down everything you need to know about how to rent out a condo.

Step 1: Read your condo association’s governing documents

Every condominium is different, but they all have one important feature in common: Owners are subject to a set of rules established by the condo association and upheld by the Board of Directors. Some do not allow for renting as an option. Review your condo association’s bylaws, and/or rules and regulations, to understand the existing policies regarding renting out units.

Step 2: Know your condo association’s restrictions

If renting is allowed, there may be limitations on the length of the lease term—including minimum and maximum times—and on whether pets are allowed. Also look into whether or not renting has been an issue in the past, which could give you a crystal ball into your future. “Review board meeting minutes to see if any new policies are being discussed that might impact your plans,” says Reiss.

Another potential renting deal-breaker to be aware of is that some condominium associations allow only a certain percentage of total units to be rented out at any one time. Check to see if the current ratio of rented to non-rented condos will accommodate your unit. Keep in mind that some associations only allow renting after an owner has lived there for a minimum period, usually two years.

January 17, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

January 16, 2018

Using Your Security Deposit for Rent

By David Reiss

Realtor.com quoted me in Can You Use Your Security Deposit as Last Month’s Rent? Find the Answer Here. It opens,

Can you use your security deposit as last month’s rent? This question is common among tenants vacating their apartments, and for very good reason: When you first moved in, you probably forked over a sum (typically amounting to one month’s rent) to cover any repairs that might be required on your place once you move out. Typically this deposit is returned once the landlord sees you’ve left the place in decent shape. So what’s the harm in having that deposit serve as your final rent payment so you can simply move on without all that back-and-forth?

In many ways, using your deposit as last month’s rent makes perfect sense: You won’t have to pester your landlord for the deposit, while your landlord won’t have to mail it back. Still, while this happens all the time and rarely causes repercussions, this practice can come with risks.

Using your security deposit as last month’s rent: What could go wrong?

“Tenants should check their lease, but there is a good chance it will say that it is not okay to do this,” says law professor David Reiss, research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

The reason is simple: “The landlord wants the security deposit to cover, among other things, damage to the property,” Reiss explains. “If the security deposit is used for last month’s rent, it will no longer be available for any other purpose.”

If you leave your apartment in good condition, then your landlord is unlikely to care much. However, if you leave the apartment in poor shape and there is no security deposit left to bring it back up to snuff, then your landlord might come after you to cover the cost of repairs.

Where you live, and the local laws there, can also affect how landlords react.

“You will want to know the law as it applies in your jurisdiction,” says Reiss. “Note, for instance, that the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal states that ‘a security deposit should not be used as a final month’s rent.'” This means landlords could easily sue you for breaching the terms of your lease.

That being said, “practically, the landlord can’t do much in the 30 last days of your lease term,” says Reiss. “No court would move fast enough.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear.

January 16, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

January 12, 2018

Trump Wins Round Two At CFPB

By David Reiss

image by Slr722x

Bloomberg Law quoted me in Court Says Mulvaney Can Lead CFPB, but Legal Fight Continues. It opens,

The court battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s top leadership has shifted in the Trump administration’s favor, but continued litigation could test its ability to revamp the agency.

Judge Timothy J. Kelly yesterday denied deputy director Laura English’s bid for an order that would have barred Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney from serving as acting CFPB director, setting up what many expect to be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Although plenty of questions lie ahead, perhaps the biggest is whether and to what extent ongoing uncertainty raised by the case impacts the administration’s effort to revamp consumer protection regulation at the CFPB.

“This is clearly a win for the administration, but there’s still so much uncertainty,” David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y, told Bloomberg Law in a phone interview. “What we’ll see for the next few months is whether that uncertainty makes it harder for Mulvaney to turn the ship.”

Kelly’s 46-page decision, which several attorneys privately described as careful and thorough, is the second such setback for English, who previously lost a bid for a temporary restraining order. Even so, hazards lie ahead for the administration.

University of Michigan Law School Professor Nina Mendelson said an eventual ruling on the merits against Mulvaney could call into question any actions based on authority he now claims, such as final regulations, settlements, or other matters.

“A court could invalidate all of those actions,” Mendelson said on a call hosted by consumer advocates. Mendelson, an expert on administrative law, said she’s taken an independent stance on the case.

New York Challenge

Kelly’s Jan. 10 ruling isn’t the last word, according to Brianne Gorod, an attorney with the Constitutional Accountability Center who also joined the call. “The legal fight here is far from over,” she said.

The decision also may boost the stakes for a separate challenge to Mulvaney in federal court in New York. There, the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union also seeks a court order declaring that English, not Mulvaney, is the CFPB’s rightful acting director. The credit union says the appointment of Mulvaney has thrown the credit union into “regulatory chaos,” because it can’t identify the lawful director of the CFPB.

BTW, I am a signatory on an amicus brief filed in the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union case.

January 12, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

January 11, 2018

Decay at Donald J. Trump State Park

By David Reiss

photo by Alan Kroeger

Yahoo News quoted me in New York’s Donald J. Trump State Park: A Story of Abandonment and Decay. It opens,

Donald J. Trump State Park is dilapidated and forgotten. No running path, no picnic table, no basketball hoop, no hiking trail, no ball field. It’s 436 acres of neglected land, overrun by weeds and brush. Most of the buildings that once stood on it have been demolished, and the few that remain are in utter disrepair: broken windows, rusted metal, corroded walls, missing or boarded-up doors and caved-in roofs.

That’s what became of the “gift” Donald Trump once gave to New York State.

Yahoo News sent several recent pictures of the park to Eric F. Trump, the president’s son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, to see what he thinks of its current state. He responded that the state has failed to maintain the property and that he’s disappointed by what he saw in the photographs.

“It is very disappointing to see the recent pictures of the Donald J. Trump State Park. My father donated this incredible land to the State of New York so that a park could be created for the enjoyment of all New York State’s citizens,” Eric F. Trump told Yahoo News. “Despite the fact that the terms of his gift specifically required the State to maintain the Park, the State has done a poor job running and sustaining the property. While we are looking into various remedies, it is my sincere hope that going forward, the State will exercise greater responsibility and restore the land into the magnificent park it was, and should continue to be.”

In the ’90s, then businessman Trump purchased a large swath of open meadows and thick woods 45 miles north of midtown Manhattan for a reported two million dollars, with plans to build a private golf course. But Trump couldn’t get approval from the towns of Putnam Valley or Yorktown and wound up donating the land to New York State in 2006. He claimed to the media that this “gift” was worth $100 million (though this was likely his characteristic hyperbole), and received a substantial tax write-off.

On April 19, 2006, then Gov. George E. Pataki announced Trump’s “generous and meaningful gift” would become New York’s 174th state park. He said the park would protect open space, increase public access to scenic landscapes and provide recreational opportunities in the city’s far-northern suburbs.

“On behalf of the people of the Empire State, I express our gratitude to Donald Trump for his vision and commitment to preserve the natural resource of this property for the benefit of future generations,” Pataki said at the time.

Trump said, “I have always loved the city and state of New York, and this is my way of trying to give something back. I hope that these 436 acres of property will turn into one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the world.”

The establishment of Donald J. Trump State Park combined two parcels of land: the 282-acre Indian Hill site, which straddles the border of Westchester and Putnam counties, and the 154-acre French Hill site in Westchester County. Pataki’s office touted the new park as an example of New York’s role as a national leader in stewarding the United States’ natural resources.

But the promised recreational facilities never were built. New York stopped maintaining Donald J. Trump State Park in 2010 because of budget cuts, even though its annual operation costs were only $2,500, and it was cared for by workers at nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Park.

Randy Simons, a public information officer for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told Yahoo News that the park is currently open and serves “as a passive park offering hiking, birdwatching and similar outdoor recreational activities.”

Simons explained that the office recently removed several vacant and shabby buildings to address potential public safety and environmental hazards. This consisted of demolishing a 3,700-square-foot house, four other structures and a swimming pool. They also conducted asbestos and lead paint abatement.

 “Trail planning is underway for a formalized hiking trail network and mountain bike trails. The first step is a natural resources review and state environmental quality review to ensure that sensitive wetlands and plant and animal habitats are protected,” Simons said. “The ultimate timeline will be determined by this review.”

*     *     *

How much Trump benefited from donating the land is difficult to determine. Bridget J. Crawford, a professor at Pace University School of Law in nearby White Plains, N.Y., and a member at the American Law Institute, said it’s quite common for wealthy people to donate real property to a state or a local government for a park. The Rockefeller family, for instance, donated the Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., little by little starting in 1983.“

“There’s nothing unusual about the donation,” Crawford told Yahoo News. “The problem of course here is that the donation of land was made but there was no additional cash gift made in order to maintain or create the park. It seems the state and municipalities don’t have the money to do that. If these sort of deals ‘fail,’ it’s always because of lack of funding.”

Crawford’s scholarship focuses on wealth transfer taxation and property law. She said people who are serious about establishing open space parks that the public can use in meaningful ways often make substantial cash contributions as well to fund the park’s maintenance.

As for how much money Trump saved, it would depend on what valuation the IRS accepted for the land; the figure of $100 million was Trump’s unofficial estimate, for public consumption. Another variable is whether he personally owned the property or purchased it via a pass-through entity like an LLC. Crawford explained that if it were owned through an LLC that was ignored for income tax purposes, which is not unusual, a $100 million donation would have saved Trump about $35 million in taxes.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the IRS would accept a $100 million appraisal of land that was sold for a few million dollars at fair market value in the 1990s.

David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School who focuses on real estate finance and community development, said he doesn’t doubt that Trump got an appraisal that “pushed the limits” to price it as high as possible, a move that is not uncommon. He said it’s possible that Trump got an appraisal that determined he would make more money by donating the land than he would by selling it. And it wouldn’t have to be as high as $100 million.

“If he claimed it was worth $10 million and he bought it for two or three million dollars, it’s conceivable that he came out ahead with this donation,” he said. “He actually could be better off financially. And this is not just for Donald Trump, but any donor in a comparable situation.”

January 11, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments

January 7, 2018

Installment Land Contracts:  Uses, Abuses, and Legislative Proposals

By David Reiss

Professor Durham

Professor Freyermuth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professors’ Corner

A FREE monthly webinar featuring a panel of law professors,

addressing topics of interest to practitioners of real estate and trusts/estates

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

12:30 p.m. Eastern/11:30 a.m. Central/9:30 a.m. Pacific 

Installment Land Contracts:  Uses, Abuses, and Legislative Proposals 

Speakers:

  • Professor Jim Durham, University of Dayton
  • Professor Wilson Freyermuth, University of Missouri

Moderator:

  • Professor Chris Odinet, Southern University Law Center and Visiting Professor, University of Iowa

In the wake of the mortgage crisis, several jurisdictions have seen a resurgence in the use of the installment land contract as a financing device. Use of the installment contract creates a number of risks, particularly in jurisdictions where existing precedent and/or statutory provisions do not clearly articulate the appropriate procedures for the vendor’s enforcement of contract following the vendee’s default. Some investors have sought to capitalize on this lack of clarity, effectively using installment contracts as the equivalent of “rent-to-own” contracts that provide for landlord-like default remedies while disclaiming any responsibility for the habitability of the property.

Professors Durham and Freyermuth will discuss the existing legal background governing the characterization and enforcement of installment land contracts and the wide variety of approaches taken by various states. They will also discuss the provisions and the merits of recent legislative proposals designed to regulate some of the more abusive uses of the installment land contract device.

Register for this FREE webinar program at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner.

Sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group

 

January 7, 2018 | Permalink | No Comments