REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 4, 2016

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • A paper by Colin Caines of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, titled Can Learning Explain Boom-Bust Cycles in Asset Prices? An Application to the US Housing Boom, argues that boom-bust behavior in asset prices can be explained by a model in which boundedly rational agents learn the process for prices. The key feature of the model is that learning operates in both the demand for assets and the supply of credit.
  • John C. Williams of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco delivers a speech titled, Measuring the Effects of Monetary Policy on House Prices and the Economy.
  • The Freddie Mac Multi-Indicator Market Index for August was up 5.4% over the same month last year, driven by its purchase component, which had an 18.6% increase. August’s Multi-Indicator Market Index was 85.7, its highest level since August 2008. This was a 1.05% increase over July. The index has continually increased on a month-to-month basis since December 2011, except for October 2013 and January 2015.
  • Purchases of new U.S. homes in September stayed close to an almost nine-year high, showing residential real estate was maintaining momentum heading into the quieter selling season. Sales climbed 3.1 percent to a 593,000 annualized rate from an August pace that was weaker than initially reported, Commerce Department data showed Wednesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 600,000 pace in September. Purchases in June and July were revised lower.

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November 4, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 3, 2016

Will Congress Recap and Release Fannie & Freddie?

By David Reiss

Senator Shelby

Senator Shelby

Richard Shelby, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs asked the Congressional Budget Office to prepare a report on The Effects of Increasing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Capital. The report acknowledges that the legislative reform of the two companies is going nowhere, but it analyzed one potential reform option that shares characteristics with some of the GSE reform bills that have been introduced over the years. The option studied by the CBO contemplates recapitalizing the two companies along the following lines:

each GSE would be allowed to retain an average of $5 billion of its profits annually and would thus increase its capital by up to $50 billion over 10 years. The government’s commitment to purchase more senior preferred stock from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if necessary to ensure that they maintain a positive net worth would remain in place. In addition, the GSEs would invest the profits that they retained under the option in Treasury securities, and returns on those securities would raise the GSEs’ income. Through its holdings of senior preferred stock, the government would continue to have a claim to the GSEs’ net worth ahead of other stockholders. (2, footnote omitted)

The CBO’s mandate is “to provide objective, impartial analysis,” but this report seems like it is laying the groundwork for a proposal to recapitalize Fannie and Freddie so that they can be released from conservatorship. Most policy analysts (as opposed to investors in the two companies) think that allowing the two companies to return to their prior lives as public/private hybrids is a terrible idea. It is too difficult for them to simultaneously answer to the federal regulators who set their public mission as well as to the private shareholders who would ultimately own them. And, if we were to take this path, the taxpayer would be left holding the bag once again if they were to ever need another bailout.

I think that Senator Shelby has done GSE reform a disservice by looking at this recapitalization option out of context. What we need is an analysis of a compromise plan that Congress can pass once the election is settled. Otherwise we are just leaving the two companies to limp along in conservatorship, slouching toward their next, yet unknown, crisis. Or worse, we are preparing to release them from conservatorship to go back to business as usual. Both of those options are very bad. Congress owes it to the American people to create a workable housing finance system for the 21st century that does not repeat our past mistakes.

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November 3, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • Freddie Mac’s David Leopold discusses the Affordable Housing Market. David Leopold is Vice President of Affordable Housing Production for the Multifamily Business at Freddie Mac. He shares the firm’s latest program changes and the trends he’ll be watching in 2017.

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November 3, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 2, 2016

Are Month-to-Month Rentals Good Deals?

By David Reiss

photo by umjanedoan

Zillow.com quoted me in Are Month-to-Month Rentals Good for Landlords? It opens,

Your tenant’s lease is up, and they ask about switching to a month-to-month arrangement. Assuming they’re a good tenant — they pay rent on time, keep the place clean, don’t host loud parties — you might be tempted to accommodate the request. But before you do, be sure to understand the relevant landlord-tenant laws.

The Appeal Of Month-To-Month Renting

From the tenant’’ perspective, the benefit of month-to-month renting — also known as tenancy at will — is its flexibility compared to a standard long-term lease. Whether they’re pursuing out-of-town job opportunities, considering relocation to a different neighborhood or just thinking about moving up to a more spacious abode, the elasticity of month-to-month renting is appealing to a potentially footloose tenant.

From your point of view as a landlord, the appeal centers on cash flow and convenience — of not having the property stand vacant while you hassle with finding a new renter. In addition, a month-to-month rental can give you some added flexibility, too.

The Terms Of The Original Lease Generally Remain In Effect

There is no overarching federal law regarding tenancy at will; the rules are typically state-specific. Or, as Matthew Kreitzer an attorney with Booth and McCarthy in Winchester, Virginia, notes, “Tenancy-at-will is largely a creature of local law.” If and when there is no formal written agreement in place, local case law usually comes into play to fill the gap, he explains.

Michael Vraa, managing attorney at HOME Line, a tenant hotline based in Minnesota, says that in his state, as well as many others, the terms of the initial rental agreement carry forward into the month-to-month rental period.

Assuming rent is paid on a monthly basis, “unless the lease has some provision that describes what would happen if a new lease is not agreed to, the law would default to the notion that the agreement becomes month to month,” says Vraa. “If the lease ends July 31 and the tenant pays the next month’s rent (August), and the landlord accepts it, the agreement probably shifts to a month-to-month agreement.”

Tom Simeone, attorney at Simeone and Miller in Washington, D.C., adds that even a verbal contract or agreement to carry forth on a month-to-month basis is legally enforceable in most states. “If the parties previously had a written lease that expired, those terms will remain in effect in the tenancy at will. If not, the court will enforce what it finds to be the parties’ intentions and fill in any contract terms with what it deems to be reasonable,” Simeone says.

As Vraa noted, landlords sometimes include provisions in the original lease describing what can or will happen if a new lease is not agreed to at the end of the set term. Some management companies, for example, include a statement in the original lease saying the landlord or management company can or will raise the rent if a new lease is not signed. This may be by a certain dollar amount, such as “increased by $50 per month,” or by a specified percentage rate, as in “up to 5 percent per month.”

Rules About Tenant Privacy And Intent To Vacate Still Apply

Vraa and Simeone say that, generally, the rules regarding a tenant’s right to privacy are the same under tenancy at will as under a lease. Thus the amount of notice you have to give a tenant before entering their premises remains the same — typically 24 hours, as dictated by law in many states.

In regard to the notice required for intent to vacate, Simeone says this, too, is determined by the original lease. “If not,” he adds, “a court will likely require the lease to be month to month, especially if rent is paid on a monthly basis, which is typical. If so, thirty days’ notice is required to terminate — by either [the] landlord or tenant.”

However, Vraa says, in a month-to-month rental term, neither the landlord nor tenant are required to provide a specific reason for discontinuing the contract. That means you can give the tenant a notice to vacate the property, regardless of whether you plan to sell the property, rent to someone else, or simply do not wish to continue leasing to that specific tenant. But David Reiss, professor at Brooklyn Law School, notes, “The big risk, for both parties, is that the other party wants to terminate [the tenancy] at a time that is inconvenient for the other party. In that case, the parties can agree to a longer term (a year-to-year lease or one for a specific term of years).”

Reiss also stresses that although most state laws regarding tenancy at will derive from common law, “each jurisdiction may have variations from these common law principles that result from court decisions or statute. For instance, the meaning of one month’s notice to terminate a month-to-month lease can have small, but legally significant variations among jurisdictions.”

REFinBlog has been nominated for the second year in a row for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition in the Education Category.  Please vote here if you like what you read.

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November 2, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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November 1, 2016

Clintons’ October Permitting Surprise

By David Reiss

hand-stop-sign

Realtor.com quoted me in Final October Surprise: Clintons Make Untimely Mistake Renovating Their New Home. It opens,

This is proving to be the year that redefines the notion of the presidential campaigns’ “October Surprise.” First Donald Trump‘s hot mic/hot mess “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, followed by the ugly after affects. Then with just over a week to go before Election Day, Hillary Clinton‘s email woes returned, this time on Anthony Weiner‘s computer. Talk about lousy timing! Now, on the final day of October, one last surprise is rearing its head. Remember when the Clintons bought the home next door to their own in Chappaqua, NY, a few months back? Well, it turns out they renovated it without permits.

Breaking news alert!

According to public records, government officials received a complaint in early October about excavation happening at the Clintons’ new home. When an inspector arrived, he saw that a number of unpermitted upgrades were taking place, including a kitchen remodel and the installation of a new HVAC system.

Conspiracy theorists take note: Once the Clintons learned of this oversight, they took steps to fix it. And to be fair, the inspector on the case, William Maskiell, concedes that architects or contractors typically file for permits rather than the homeowners themselves. Still, he points out, “If you own the house, you’re responsible on everything that goes on with that house.”

In other words, the buck stops with the Clintons.

Granted, this blooper might seem small compared with the much larger problems on Hillary Clinton’s plate right now. Still, it can serve as an important lesson to all homeowners—many of whom might be tempted to sneakily sidestep those annoying permits before they start renovating. Honestly, are those little pieces of paperwork all that important?

It turns out they really are.

“I can’t believe a contractor working on a multimillion-dollar home wouldn’t pull permits,” says Mark Clements, a contractor at MyFixItUpLife.com. “It’s very much the contractor’s responsibility to gain those permits, and nearly unthinkably stupid not to.”

Here’s why: “On the surface, permits are inconvenient, but their value vastly outweighs what it takes to obtain them,” Clements explains. “They ensure everything from zoning variances to proper building practices are followed. And they make sure there is another set of expert eyes on the work being done, checking for everything from proper structure to code-approved electric to fire stops are safely installed.”

Once that’s done, a final inspection and certificate of occupancy, or “C of O,” is issued. The home may be reappraised—which could raise property taxes—”but it will also mean that when you list it for sale with three bathrooms, you can do so legally,” Clements adds.

A Stronger America, One Permit At A Time

So what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t bother with permits before you embark on a home improvement project? For one, if you’re caught, you could face fines.

“In some jurisdictions the penalties can be heavy, but it’s the stop-work order than can really hurt,” says David Reiss, a professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School and editor of REFinBlog.com. “Not only does it delay the completion of the work, but it may lead to additional costs from the contractor and subcontractors working on the project. And to top it off, it may interfere with the homeowners’ plans to leave their current home and move into their new one. The cascade effect among the affected parties can be painful.”

And even if you’ve already completed your renovation off the radar, you aren’t in the clear. If you decide to sell your home one day, unpermitted renovations can discourage buyers from biting—if they’re discovered.

“When buying a home, you always want to pay attention to any signs that there was unpermitted work done on the house,” says Reiss. “Is the certificate of occupancy for a one-family home, but there is a mother-in-law unit in the back? Are all of the houses on the block one story but your house is two stories? In such cases, you definitely want to dig a little deeper so you are not left holding the bag.”

REFinBlog has been nominated for the second year in a row for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Competition in the Education Category.  Please vote here if you like what you read.

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November 1, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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November 1, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments