REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

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May 4, 2015

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

  • Ocwen and Assurant settle with homeowners for $140 million in class action suit, in which the homeowners alleged that Ocwen received kickbacks by inflating premium costs for forced-placed insurance.
  • New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed dismissal of suit against UBS AG for $30 million, brought by Hanwha Life Insurance Co. (a Korean corporation) claiming that NY courts do not have an interest in adjudicating the suit. Hanwha purchased $30 million in credit-linked notes from UBS that turned out to be worthless. It was trying to recover its losses because it relied on UBS’s advice in purchasing the notes.
  • CFPB and the Maryland Attorney General filed suit and settlement consent orders against a title company and participants in an alleged illegal mortgage-kickback scheme.
  • After the National Credit Union Administration Board (NCUA) filed a complaint against HSBC for failing as trustee of $2 billion in residential mortgage-backed securities trusts, HSBC claims that the regulator lacks standing to represent the trusts and is barred by Delaware’s three-year statute of limitations.
  • Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank moved to dismiss fives suits from BlackRock Inc., Pacific Investment Management Co. and NCUA for allegedly failing to watch over 850 RMBS trusts as the trustees.

May 4, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 1, 2015

En-Titled Insurance

By David Reiss

Benjamin M. Lawsky, the New York State Superintendent of Financial Services, has promulgated a proposed regulation regarding title insurance that is sure to shake up the title industry and, more importantly, reduce closing costs for NY homeowners.

The proposed regulation opens with a statement of its scope and purpose:

(a) The purpose of this Part is to promote the public welfare by proscribing practices that are not in accordance with Insurance Law section 2303, which provides that insurance rates shall not be excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory. This Part also interprets and implements Insurance Law section 6409(d), which prohibits giving any consideration or valuable thing as an inducement for title insurance business, as well as Insurance Law section 6409(e), which states that title insurance premiums shall reflect the anti-inducement prohibition of Insurance Law section 6409(d).

(b) This Part further protects consumers, pursuant to the authority of Insurance Law sections 2110 and 2119 and Article 24 and Financial Services Law sections 301 and 302, by ensuring that the title insurance industry provides valuable products and services to consumers at reasonable rates and fees and does not overcharge consumers or charge improper and excessive fees that constitute engaging in untrustworthy behavior and unfair and deceptive acts and practices. (Section 227.0 )

New York has long had some of the most expensive title insurance premiums in the country, so homeowners and other owners of real estate should welcome this development. Title insurance agents are not allowed to compete on price in NY, so they compete for business from real estate lawyers (who typically select the title insurance agent for any given transaction) by offering them all sorts of perks such as hard-to-get tickets to events and fancy meals. The proposed regulation attempts to rein in this behavior.

The NYS Department of Financial Services will be accepting comments for 45 days after the proposed regulation is published in the State Register, so get crackin’.

May 1, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports

By Serenna McCloud

May 1, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

April 30, 2015

Too Many Parks?

By David Reiss

Robert Ellickson has posted Open Space in an Urban Area: Might There Be Too Much of a Good Thing? to SSRN. The abstract reads,

Numerous policies encourage the preservation of open space in urban areas. Two of many examples are large-lot zoning and tax benefits to donors of conservation easements. These policies rest on the plausible inference that an open space can benefit nearby residents, for instance, by enhancing scenic vistas and recreational opportunities. But commentators tend to underestimate the costs of open space. The key advantage of urban living is proximity to other people. Open spaces reduce urban densities, increase commuting times, and foster sprawl. I advance the heretical view that a metropolitan area can suffer from having too much open space, and briefly suggest some reforms, particularly in zoning and conservation-easement policy.

This brief essay is thought-provoking, particularly for those of us in NYC. Mayor De Blasio is embarking on an ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing and there are all sorts of land use debates raging over the appropriate level of density in the city. This essay suggests that we should model the costs and benefits of open space in order to work toward a more optimal amount of it in each community. As Ellickson notes, “Development displaced by the setting aside of open space could be pushed in one of three directions: toward the center city, toward the periphery, and beyond the region in question.” (8) This dynamic plays out differently in a city that is built up as much as NYC. But it is reflected in our discussions about density: low density in the central city pushes development outward, one way or another.

Ellickson’s insights are also relevant to the analysis of the overall land use regimes of broader regions: “Open space provides essential relief from urban asphalt and concrete. But debates over the merits of open space tend to understate the opportunity costs and negative externalities of protecting land from development.” (19) He argues that the archetypal bedroom community near NYC is “ideally situated to house commuters. Its large-lot zoning and unstinting acquisitions of open space have contributed to the further sprawl of Greater New York. There can be too much of a good thing.” (19) The essay does not give too much guidance as to how regions such as Greater New York can best address these issues, but it does raise important questions that policy makers should seek to answer.

April 30, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thurday’s Advocacy & Think Thank Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

April 30, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

April 29, 2015

HELOC vs. Cash-out Refinance for Card Debt Repayment

By David Reiss

CreditCards.com quoted me in HELOC vs. Cash-out Refinance for Card Debt Repayment. It reads, in part,

On paper, it may look as if it makes a lot of sense to replace high interest card debt with a low interest payment if you have home equity you can tap into. If it’s available and will ease your pay-off pain, why not use it, right?

While using a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or cash-out refinance (in which you refinance your mortgage, but tack on an additional cash payout) to rectify your debt woes might seem like a no-brainer, there are lots of factors to consider to determine which avenue is right for you or if you should go that route at all.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” says Malcolm Hollensteiner, director of retail lending sales at TD Bank. “Utilizing equity to pay down or eliminate higher interest rate consumer debt can be a very beneficial strategy, but it should be done in moderation, accessing some — not all — of your equity,” he says.

Gone are the days when banks allowed homeowners to tap into 125 percent of their home value (thanks to the lessons learned during the real estate market meltdown, which left many people “underwater,” owing more on their home loans than the value of the home). And, you’ll need to have a respectable credit score to qualify. But even with more restrictions in place now than in years past, borrowers still should tread carefully if they’re contemplating borrowing against their home.

“Although the interest rates are much lower on a HELOC or cash-out, the issue becomes that you’re taking your short-term debt and turning it into something you’re going to be paying back for 30 years,” says John Walsh, CEO of Total Mortgage Services.

And then there’s the risk factor. Before you jump on that lower rate, you have to understand that if you cannot keep up with your new payments, you risk going into foreclosure, warns David Reiss, professor of law and research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, who also writes the REFinBlog. “In other words, you are getting the lower rate in exchange for putting up your house as collateral for the debt,” he says.

With stakes this high, it’s not as simple as using a HELOC or cash-out refinance as your “get out of debt free” card. Here are the factors you need to consider.

*     *     *

As you consider your options, think about both the short-term and long-term benefits and costs, says Reiss. “You can’t think of home equity as free money. That’s your retirement, money you may leave to your children or use for an emergency. It’s money that your future self may need,” he says. If you do decide to move forward, make sure you’re using your home equity wisely — paying off your debt would fall into that category, as long as you commit to smart spending habits moving forward.

Take an honest assessment of where you are in life, and think through your ability to pay off the debt in whatever form it may take. “Run some numbers, and talk this through with someone whose financial judgment you trust,” says Reiss. By being honest with yourself and becoming an educated consumer, you can figure out which option makes the most sense for you.

April 29, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

April 29, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments