October 7, 2021
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a mixed decision for Fannie & Freddie shareholders in Bhatti v. Federal Housing Finance Agency, No. 18-2506 (8th Cir. Oct. 6, 2021). While the Court ruled (consistent with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Collins v. Yellin, 141 S. Ct. 1761 (2021)) that the shareholders could sue for retrospective relief (damages), it otherwise ruled against the shareholders. The court ends on what I found to be a very commonsensical note in its discussion of the nondelegation claim:
Congress’s delegation of authority directs the FHFA to act as a “conservator,” with clear and recognizable instructions. 12 U.S.C. § 4617(a). “[T]he Agency is authorized to take control of a regulated entity’s assets and operations, conduct business on its behalf, and transfer or sell any of its assets or liabilities.” Collins, 141 S. Ct. at 1776, citing 12 U.S.C. §§ 4617(b)(2)(B)-(C), (G). “When the FHFA exercises these powers, its actions must be ‘necessary to put the regulated entity in a sound and solvent condition’ and must be ‘appropriate to carry on the business of the regulated entity and preserve and conserve [its] assets and property.’” Id. (alteration in original), quoting 12 U.S.C. § 4617(b)(2)(D). “Thus, when the FHFA acts as a conservator, its mission is rehabilitation, and to that extent, an FHFA conservatorship is like any other.” Id. There is one difference: “when the FHFA acts as a conservator, it may aim to rehabilitate the regulated entity in a way that, while not in the best interests of the regulated entity, is beneficial to the Agency and, by extension, the public it serves.” Id. But this difference clarifies that serving the public is one goal of the FHFA’s conservatorship; it does not render the delegation unintelligible. See id. (explaining how the FHFA works to rehabilitate housing in the public interest under the statute). In light of the Court’s identification of the principles guiding the FHFA, it is clear those principles are intelligible. See Saxton v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, 901 F.3d 954, 960 (8th Cir. 2018) (Stras, J., concurring) (“The provision is broad but not boundless.”). Congress’s delegation in the Recovery Act was permissible. Id. at 963 (“Picking among different ways of preserving and conserving assets, deciding whose interests to pursue while doing so,
and determining the best way to do so are all choices that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act clearly assigns to the FHFA, not the courts.”). This court affirms dismissal of the nondelegation claim. Page 6.
The plain reading of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act gave the FHFA broad authority to act on the public’s behalf. The FHFA acted within that broad authority. The court therefore rightly defers to the FHFA’s response to the financial crisis. Case closed?
July 21, 2021
I spoke with Business Insider about the use of escalation clauses in hot housing markets. The article (behind a paywall) opens,
With people around the US competing in a tight housing market, many are turning to a unique strategy: escalation clauses.
Escalation clauses are meant to help buyers beat the competition for an in-demand property. When would-be buyers put an offer on a home that they anticipate will have other offers, it automatically increases the buyer’s original offer by a specified amount in an effort to outbid everyone else.
Whether the buyer is notified before a seller applies an escalation clause depends on the particular contract terms, according to David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School specializing in real estate. Some real-estate agents encourage clients to use escalation clauses, though not every state or seller allows them.
These clauses can give you a fighting chance by allowing you to skip some of the negotiation and back-and-forth, but can be harmful in that they show sellers how much buyers are willing to spend.
Insider spoke with several home buyers who used escalation clauses to understand the risks and rewards they come with.
April 5, 2021
I was interviewed by Indira Stewart on the TVNZ Breakfast show, the biggest morning news show in New Zealand, about New York City’s system of rent regulation (I serve as the Chair of the NYC Rent Guidelines Board). You can find the interview here.
March 24, 2021
Politifact quoted me in Can New York State Rename Donald J. Trump State Park? It reads,
Even after officially decamping for Palm Beach, Fla., former President Donald Trump has continued to stir emotions in his previous home state of New York.
New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, a Democrat, said she believes a park currently named for Trump north of New York City should be renamed. Trump donated the land for the park, and it was agreed at the time it would be named after him.
In a Jan. 14 letter to Erik Kulleseid, the Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner in New York, Galef wrote, “It is my understanding that Mr. Trump did not sign the appropriate documents with the state, rendering any claim of breach of contract moot. We can and should rename the park.”
In an interview, Galef added that the park “really hasn’t been fixed up” and that efforts to do so would be hobbled by having Trump’s name on it. Galef said she believes the park should instead be named after former New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican.
“Around this area, when you have ‘Trump’ on the name of something, it doesn’t go over very well,” Galef said. “My concern is that people aren’t going to want to put money into Trump Park, whether it’s state dollars or any private dollars.”
Galef has support in her quest to rename the park: On Feb. 11, a bill advanced in the Assembly to continue talks on renaming the park.
But the former president may pursue litigation against the state if the Parks Department decides to rename the park, a Trump spokesman said.
“Despite the fact that the state has done a horrible job running and maintaining the park in question, an utter disgrace to such incredible land and a generous donation, the conditions of this gift, formally documented and accepted by the state of New York, could not be clearer: the park must bear Trump’s name,” Trump’s office said in a statement. “This would be breaching its agreement by removing Trump’s name, and Trump will take whatever legal action that may be necessary to fully enforce his rights under this agreement.”
Is Galef right that New York state could change the name without too much difficulty? The answer isn’t clear enough for us to render a Truth-O-Meter verdict. But we decided to take a look at the issue and explain what we found.
Donald J. Trump State Park sits on the border of Putnam and Westchester counties along the Taconic Parkway. Trump gave the land to New York State in 2006 after the former president failed in building a golf course on it.
The land deed for the property does not include any naming provisions, but the state named the park after Trump based on a letter of agreement between the Parks Department and Trump’s lawyers.
The letter outlined several terms, one of which is the following: “Each of the properties will bear a name which includes Mr. Trump’s name, in acknowledgment of these gifts. The name will be prominently displayed at least at each entrance to each property.”
The letter includes signatures by Trump’s lawyers and by Trump himself, and it was “acknowledged and accepted” by James Sponable, who was then the Parks Department’s director of real property.
The New York State Attorney General’s office referred questions about the park’s possible renaming to the Parks Department. The Parks Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
But legal experts say it isn’t clear how ironclad the terms in the letter are.
“The land is called a gift, so this seems to be memorializing the terms of a gift,” David Reiss, a real estate law specialist at Brooklyn Law School, told PolitiFact. “So, one question is, ‘What’s the enforceability of this letter?’ It’s not obvious to me that this would be analyzed as a contractual dispute.”
Reiss said because the letter does not clearly state that it is a binding contract, it is unclear how a court would treat it if the state were to rename the park and Trump legally challenged it.
“The letter says, ‘We have this understanding,’ but it doesn’t say what would happen if the understanding isn’t held to,” Reiss said. “It doesn’t say what would happen if, at some later time, it changed. There is no promise that the naming would be perpetual. So it’s unclear what Trump’s rights would be to enforce this based on the language of this document.”
Ultimately, Reiss said, “the one sure thing is there could be a lot of litigation about these issues, if the parties chose to litigate.”
As an alternative, Galef said Trump’s name could be removed from a sign on the Taconic Parkway, which is the most common way for motorists to see it. The letter “doesn’t say you have to have a sign on the Taconic Parkway, … That could come down,” Galef said in the interview.
Reiss, the legal expert, agreed with Galef’s interpretation and said that it might be a feasible option.
“The sign on the Taconic is not the entrance of the park, so you could comply with the letter and still take that sign down,” he said. “It might be confusing to people if you say, ‘Unnamed State Park, next right,” but if you stuck to the black letter of this letter, you could say, ‘Right at the entrance of the park is where we’re going to put the sign, but nowhere before.’”
December 16, 2020
I, along with 73 other law profs, signed a letter of support drafted by Professor Pamela Foohey (Indiana). It reads in part,
Congress enacted our current Bankruptcy Code in 1978. Much has changed since then. Even after adjusting for population growth and inflation, Federal Reserve data show that credit card debt has tripled. In 1978, student-loan debt was such a small part of household finances that the Federal Reserve did not even separately track it. Today, student-loan debt is the largest component of household debt except for home mortgages. In 1978, asset securitization was in its infancy. Mortgages and auto loans are now routinely bundled and sold to investors, separating the servicing of the loan from the financial institutions that own the loan. Advances in technology have made it easier for debt collectors to hound consumers even for debts that are decades old. In 1978, what we now think of as the Internet was a little-known research tool for academics instead of a global information revolution that has affected how Americans interact, including with consumer lenders, attorneys, and the court system. Given all these changes, it is little surprise that a forty-year-old bankruptcy law no longer serves our needs today.
The central piece of the Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act is to create a new chapter 10 for individual bankruptcy filers. The Act also eliminates chapter 7 as an option for individual filers and repeals chapter 13. Individuals will remain able to file under chapter 11 (those with debts over $7.5 million will be required to use that chapter), but for most people, the new chapter 10 will be a single point of entry into the bankruptcy system.
The single point will substantially improve the consumer bankruptcy system by replacing the current structure where consumer debtors must choose between a chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy or a chapter 13 repayment plan bankruptcy. There are substantial differences around the country in the rates at which people use chapter 7 and chapter 13. In 2019, only 9.6% of the bankruptcy cases in the District of Idaho were chapter 13 cases as compared to 81.0% of the cases in the Southern District of Georgia. The gaping disparity itself is an indictment of a federal system that the Constitution directs to be “uniform.”
October 5, 2020
US News & World Report quoted me in How to Buy a Foreclosed Home. It opens,
AS HOME PRICES SOAR IN many cities, buyers may look to foreclosures to land bargains on houses. Foreclosure happens when a borrower can no longer make mortgage payments, and the lender seizes and then sells the home to recover losses.
Foreclosed homes are often sold for less than their market value.
That discount could bring a home within reach, but the financing and the home’s condition could present challenges. Before you bid on a foreclosed home, make sure you know the risks and the limitations.
Is It A Good Idea To Buy A Foreclosure Home?
Buying a foreclosure can save you some cash, but it comes with risks. If you pursue a foreclosure, it helps to have a “stomach of steel,” says David Reiss, law professor and research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.
Expect a lot more ups and downs than the typical homebuying process, says b, whose work focuses on real estate finance and community development.
Homebuying, including financing, can be more complicated with a foreclosed home. Yet the lure of savings can be irresistible.
“It can be like a 15% discount on your neighboring houses,” Reiss says. “So, it can be significant.”
But your savings will depend on the local real estate market and the condition of the foreclosed home, says Vince Malta, a San Francisco Realtor and president of the National Association of Realtors. Properties that need a lot of work sell for less than market value because of their condition and lower demand.
Not every foreclosure is a “steal” or a very good deal, Malta says.
“The truth is, the bank doesn’t want to ‘give’ the house away or sell it for less than it’s worth,” he says. “Foreclosures generally sell for very close to the appraised value.”
How Do You Buy a Foreclosed Home?
Buyers can find foreclosures at auctions, on home search sites such as Zillow and from traditional real estate agents, to name a few sources. You can finance or use cash to pay for a foreclosed home, but the former can be tricky.
Will you need cash to buy a foreclosure? You don’t necessarily need a full cash payment, but when you think you might buy at auction, you should prepare. Have some cash ready to make an immediate down payment.
Ask the auctioneer how much you might need in cash and how long you have to pay in full. Many foreclosures close within 30 to 45 days.
If you plan to finance the foreclosure, you will want to obtain a preapproval from a mortgage lender before the auction and bring it with you.
If you’re buying a bank-owned foreclosure at auction, you might want to apply for a loan from the same bank to simplify matters. Just be sure the bank offers a competitive interest rate.
If you’re buying a foreclosure from a bank, you could get a loan from the same bank to make your purchase. It’s not required but could make the process easier. Still, be sure the bank offers a competitive interest rate, as even a slightly higher rate could cost you thousands over the life of the loan.
Fair warning: Some banks will not want to finance foreclosures or will require large down payments because they can be risky investments.
Government-backed loan programs from the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Federal Housing Administration may offer financing options, but the property will need to meet standards for approval. Fannie Mae’s HomePath program helps homebuyers purchase properties the government-sponsored mortgage buyer has foreclosed on, Reiss says.
The program provides up to 3% in closing cost assistance for buyers who complete a homeowner education course.
“I have seen Fannie Mae put a lot of money into properties to get them in the condition for an owner-occupant to purchase them,” Malta says. “But I’ve also seen properties that would only accept cash offers due to the overwhelming deferred maintenance and damage to the property.”
An FHA 203(k) loan could be another smart choice for foreclosures in disrepair. The 203(k) program allows borrowers to finance repairs and renovations into the mortgage.
What Are the Risks of Buying a Foreclosure?
Buyers can embrace the process with eyes wide open, knowing the risks involved. The biggest risks can stem from buying property sight unseen.
“The big, scary thing is that with a number of foreclosures, you can’t actually inspect the property before you actually bid,” Reiss says. “That’s in part why the prices are below the market.”
Even if you pay for a home inspection, you typically have to buy the foreclosure “as is.” This means that if you purchase the home, any problem that pops up and the cost of fixing it are yours.
You can end up with a lot more of these problems in a foreclosed home, depending on the circumstances. A frustrated family might strip the home of valuable fixtures and appliances before leaving the house.
“Or they kind of just beat it up because they were angry about having to go through the foreclosure,” Reiss says.
A home lost to foreclosure could indicate a home neglected, Malta adds. “(You) have no idea what the previous owner has done for maintenance, or in many cases, hasn’t done,” he says.
How Can You Reduce the Risks of Buying a Foreclosure?
You can take a few steps to reduce the risks of buying a foreclosed property.
Get an inspection. “Buyers should absolutely hire their own inspector and thoroughly inspect the property,” Malta says.
In most instances, the bank will disclose any defects in the house, but sometimes the bank doesn’t have these details, he adds.
Research public property records. If you aren’t allowed to inspect the property, which may sometimes be the case, Reiss recommends researching its publicly available history. A property record search can reveal information about sales, tax liens, changes to square footage and additions to the property.
You can check the county tax office, which may have records available online.
“Maybe you’ll see some good news, like a boiler was replaced two years ago,” Reiss says. “Or maybe you’ll see some scary news, like there’s all these permits, and you don’t know if the work was completed.”
Do some informal due diligence. Start by visiting the house and performing a “curbside inspection” of your own, Reiss says.
“Even if you can’t go inside the house, you want to look at the property,” he says. “If you can peek in the windows, you probably want to peek in the windows.”
Knock on the doors of neighbors and see if they can answer your questions about the foreclosure. Tell them you want to bid on the home but need to learn all you can about the previous owners, including how long they lived in the house and how well they maintained it.
Ask if the home has had squatters or recent break-ins.
“Try to get all that information,” Reiss says. “Neighbors are probably going to have a good sense of a lot of that, and I think that kind of informal due diligence can be helpful.”