June 18, 2014

S&P Must Face The Orchestra on Rating Failure

By David Reiss

After many state Attorneys General brought suit against S&P over the objectivity of their ratings, S&P sought to consolidate the cases in federal court. Judge Furman (SDNY) has issued an Opinion and Order in In Re:  Standard & Poor’s Rating Agency Litigation, 1:13-md-02446 (June 3, 2014) that remanded the cases back to state courts because “they arise solely under state law, not federal law.” (3) Explaining the issue in a bit greater depth, the Court stated,

there is no dispute that the States’ Complaints exclusively assert state-law causes of action — for fraud, deceptive business practices, violations of state consumer-protection statutes, and the like.The crux of those claims is that S&P made false representations, in its Code of  Conduct and otherwise, and that those representations harmed the citizens of the relevant State. (20, citation omitted)

The Court notes that in “the final analysis, the States assert in these cases that S&P failed to adhere to its own promises, not that S&P violated” federal law. (28) The Court concludes that it does not reach this result “lightly:”

Putting aside the natural “tempt[ation] to find federal jurisdiction every time a multi-billion dollar case with national  implications arrives at the doorstep of a federal court,” the federal courts undoubtedly have advantages over their state counterparts when it comes to managing a set of substantial cases filed in jurisdictions throughout the country. Through the MDL process, federal cases can be consolidated for pretrial purposes or more, promoting efficiency and minimizing the risks of inconsistent rulings and unnecessary duplication of efforts. (51, citation omitted)

S&P knew that it would have to face the music regarding the allegations that its ratings were flawed. But it hoped that it could face a soloist, one federal judge. That way, it could keep its litigation costs down, engage in one set of settlement talks and get an up or down result on its liability. The remand means that S&P will face many, many judges, a veritable judicial orchestra. In addition to all of the other problems this entails, it is also almost certain that S&P will face inconsistent verdicts if these cases were to go to trial. This is a significant tactical setback for S&P. From a policy perspective though, the remand means that we should get a better understanding of the issuer-pays model of rating agencies.

June 18, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

June 17, 2014

Reiss on “Generation Rent”

By David Reiss

MSN Real Estate quoted me in ‘Generation Rent’ trend changes the housing game.

Tougher lending requirements, a transient lifestyle and seeing mortgages throw their
parents’ finances in turmoil are causing more millennials to rent instead of buy a
home.

“This attitude shift on homeownership and the rise in demand for rentals is directly influencing the growth of private firms looking to fill out real estate portfolios as well as property management groups that have scooped up business from investors who have no interest in the day-to-day of being a landlord,” said Don Lawby, president of Real Property Management in Utah.

Some 82% of consumers believe owning a home is a critical part of wealth building but 18% said they are not willing to assume the risk of a mortgage, according to a National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) survey.

“The unwillingness to take on a mortgage loan may be a smart decision for some, as many borrowers have learned the hard way that homeownership does not come with a guarantee of continually increasing equity,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson with the NFCC.

The “Generation Rent” phenomenon is not just about younger Americans. As a societal shift has slowly emerged to redefine the American Dream, many older Americans with empty nests are also exploring apartment living.

“Apartments are a maintenance-free alternative to single-family homes and retirement communities,” said Abe Tekippe, a spokesperson with Waterton Associates, a national apartment investor and operator. “They also allow residents to move closer to shopping, dining and entertainment venues, making them more accessible to aging Baby Boomers.”

For many years, homeownership was a policy objective of the federal government, which symbolized a level of achievement for a person or family but these days many are taking a closer look at whether the costs and benefits of home ownership outperforms the cost of renting.

“People are realizing that coming up with funds and motivation each month for maintenance and up-keep isn’t feasible for economic, medical, lifestyle or other
reasons,” said Dillon Baynes, co-founder and managing partner with Columbia Ventures in Atlanta.

If generation rent continues, a slow down in home sales is bound to have a ripple effect. “If renting remains a popular choice, it will certainly have an impact on the broader economy starting with the home building industry,” said David Reiss, professor with Brooklyn Law School.

“There would be a move away from single-family construction to multi-family.”

June 17, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

June 16, 2014

Ohio Appeals Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Bank as Genuine Issue of Fact Existed as to Whether the Bank held the Note

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding U.S. Bank N.A. v. Kamal, 2013-Ohio-5380 (Ohio Ct. App., Mahoning County, 2013) reversed and remanded the lower court’s ruling. The court decided that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether U.S. Bank was the holder of the note or mortgage when the complaint was filed and as to whether U.S. Bank complied with the default provisions in the note and mortgage. Therefore, the grant of summary judgment in U.S. Bank’s favor was reversed and the matter was remanded for further summary judgment proceedings.

Defendants-appellants appealed the decision of the lower court, which granted summary judgment and issued a decree of foreclosure for U.S. Bank National Association. Three issues were raised; the first was whether there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether U.S. Bank complied with the notice of default provisions in the note and mortgage. The second issue was whether U.S. Bank was a real party in interest when the foreclosure complaint was filed. The third issue was whether the trial court should have struck certain evidence that U.S. Bank used to support its request for summary judgment.

This court ultimately held that a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether the bank was the holder of the note when the complaint was filed, as the record was devoid of any evidence proving the date on which the bank became the holder. There was also a genuine issue of fact as to when the mortgage was assigned, as the assignment contained information not known on the date the mortgage was executed and the only other logical date was the date the assignment was recorded, which occurred after the complaint was filed. Additionally a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether the bank complied with the notice of default and acceleration provision, as there was no evidence as to how the bank notified the debtor as the acceleration.

Ultimately, the lower court’s grant of summary judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded for further summary judgment proceedings.

June 16, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

Reiss on History of Eminent Domain

By David Reiss

The Orlando Sentinel quoted me in History also Parts City, Church in Stadium Dispute  (sign in required). It reads in part,

It’s been said that you can’t fight City Hall. Still, tiny Faith Deliverance Temple is gonna try. The city of Orlando covets its property — now the final piece of the two square blocks upon which will bloom a $110 million soccer savanna for the Orlando City Lions to roam. Church officials balked. So city officials filed suit to seize the land. Goliath shoved. Now, David’s grabbed a sling.

The church has enlisted a Jacksonville property rights law firm to fight for its right to stay put. Any way you slice it, the church’s hopes rest with a judge who, in two previous eminent domain cases involving the soccer stadium, deemed that it fits the definition of a public use.

City Hall considers the stadium manna from Major League Soccer: It’ll nourish the greater community with economic development, jobs and tourism. Pastor Kinsey Shack, meanwhile, simply says her largely black flock “does not want and has not wanted to sell its property.”

It would be easy to reduce the dispute to simplistic terms: Seeing the writing on the wall, the church has fallen prey to the sin of avarice. Orlando offered $1.5 million for property worth less than half that, and most recently upped the ante to $4 million. Church leaders countered with $35 million (but later lowered it to $15 million).

To church officials, it’s simply a matter of fairness. In 2007, Orlando plunked $35 million in cash and other sweeteners into First United Methodist Church’s collection plate. It needed the land for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and paid a small fortune to the largely white downtown church. In any case, church officials aren’t sweating the optics. Maybe that’s because money isn’t necessarily the root of its revolt.

An alternative motive seems rooted in history, personal and collective. In the late ’70s, Robert Lee Williams moved his wife Catherine, their four kids, and the church he’d incorporated in 1969 to West Church Street in Orlando’s mostly black Parramore neighborhood.

The teeny flock grew as he saved and collected souls through revivals. In the early ’80s, they moved to a West Church Street warehouse. With member donations, Williams bought the property, and largely through the sweat of local day laborers, they moved into a new church home in 1996. Williams died in 1997, but his wife carried on, before passing the mantle to Shack six years ago. For the Williams family, divesting the property divorces them from their community, their history.

Yet, through government strong-arming that very thing is — for blacks in particular — a sordid history as old as America. That’s according to Mindy Fullilove, a Columbia University clinical psychiatry professor in a recent report on the devastation eminent domain wreaks on black communities. “Eminent domain has become what the founding fathers sought to prevent: a tool that takes from the poor and the politically weak to give to the rich and politically powerful.”

David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor, noted in an email that since early last century “local governments have a long history of using eminent domain in black communities, from so-called ‘slum clearance’ to ‘urban renewal’ to ‘blight removal.’”

June 16, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

June 13, 2014

S&P: Future of Private-Label RMBS Uncertain

By David Reiss

S&P has posted an Executive Comment, Lifted By Improving Economic Conditions, The U.S. Leads The Global Securitization Rebound–But Headwinds Remain. It concludes,

After surviving its first severe test, the market for securitization is slowly emerging from a sharp downturn, demonstrating its viability to efficiently distribute risk and expand credit availability. In this light, with many regulatory and economic uncertainties still present, we’re forecasting continuing slow growth going into next year.

The question is if, and when, securitization will register large issuance numbers again, contribute to the funding diversity and liquidity positions of banks, and improve the efficient allocation of resources to foster global economic growth.

For the U.S.–far and away the largest and most mature securitization market in the world–it’s clear, given the interconnectivity of the economy, the securitization market, and housing finance, that a continued economic recovery is necessary before the securitization market can fully recover. Economic growth will also encourage regulators, policymakers, and investors to work on the eventual return of private housing finance. But we believe that mortgage financing remains a concern for general credit availability and a continuing housing market recovery. The future of non-agency RMBS will remain in question so long as the GSEs dominate housing finance while enjoying exemptions from the qualified mortgage and risk-retention rules. (7)

I do not think that there is anything particularly new in this analysis, but it does highlight an important issue, one that I have touched on before. The gridlock on housing finance reform in DC has many effects. The GSEs are not on solid footing. The private-label industry does not know what part of the mortgage market it can operate in, whether with Qualified Mortgage (QM) or Non-QM products. And most importantly, homeowners are  not getting credit at a price that a stable and mature market would offer.

The conventional wisdom is that housing finance reform is off the table until after the mid-term elections or even until after the next presidential election. That is bad news for American households, the housing industry and the financial markets. And without some strong leadership in DC, it looks like the conventional will be right.

June 13, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

June 12, 2014

Ohio Court Finds that Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Foreclosure Complaint did not Deprive it of Jurisdiction Over Defendants and Their TILA Claims

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Wick, 2013-Ohio-5422 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County, 2013) found that the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s foreclosure complaint did not deprive it of jurisdiction over defendants and their TILA claims, as these claims were separate and independent of the foreclosure complaint.

The Wicks claimed that the trial court erred in dismissing all of their counterclaims, cross-claims, and third-party claims when it dismissed Wells Fargo’s foreclosure complaint for failure to invoke the court’s jurisdiction. In ruling on the Wicks’ motion for reconsideration, however, this court determined that, with the exception of the TILA claims, the trial court’s dismissal of the Wicks’ claims was without prejudice and, therefore, as it related to those non-TILA claims, the trial court’s dismissal was not a final, appealable order.

On appeal, this court determined in considering the merits of the case, that a proper and validly asserted counterclaim is not extinguished by a plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal of its claims when the court has jurisdiction to proceed on the counterclaim. This court found, therefore, that where the court has jurisdiction over the parties and over the controversy, the borrowers’ counterclaim that does not arise from the note or mortgage can remain pending for independent adjudication.

Similarly, this court found that the trial court’s conclusion in this case that it lacked jurisdiction over the foreclosure claim because the bank lacked standing did not extinguished the Wicks’ proper and validly asserted claims.

June 12, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

Promoting Affordable Housing, and the Winner Is . . .

By David Reiss

I had blogged about a competition to generate ideas to lower the cost of affordable housing, the Minnesota Challenge to Lower the Cost of Affordable Housing.  I was pretty excited about this challenge and was happy to see that a winner has been chosen:  the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA).

CURA’s winning proposal is here.  Basically, they

propose a three-stage program for addressing the state and local regulatory cost driver. First, we will identify and summarize best practices at the state and local levels for reducing regulatory and permitting barriers to affordable housing. There is a significant national database of initiatives that can provide examples for possible implementation here, as well as the Affordable Housing Toolkit established by ULI Minnesota. Second, we will conduct an analysis of where a more complete adoption of best practices is likely to have the largest effect on the production of affordable housing, particularly those suburban cities with the largest future affordable housing goals. Finally, we will take advantage of the fact that the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities is currently drafting a Regional Housing Policy plan, which is a vehicle that could implement regulatory reforms and create incentives for local governments to adopt practices and policies to reduce development costs. (1)
These are all valuable things to do, but I have to say that I am disappointed that this is as good as it gets when it comes to innovation regarding reducing the cost of affordable housing construction. Perhaps the takeaway lesson is that building affordable housing is expensive and that we can only cut costs a bit at the margins. I am hoping, however, that I am wrong about that and that some innovative ideas are still out there. Are there big ideas about inclusionary zoning?  About modular construction? About public/private partnerships? We’ll have to wait and see.

June 12, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments