The Sloppy State of the Mortgage Market

photo by Badagnani

I published a short article in the California Real Property Law Reporter, Sloppy, Sloppy, Sloppy: The State of the Mortgage Market, as part of a broader discussion of Foreclosures Following Problematic Securitizations.  The other contributors were Roger Bernhardt, who organized the discussion,  as well as Dale Whitman, Steven Bender, April Charney and Joseph Forte.  My article opens,

Much of the discussion about the recent California Supreme Court case Yvanova v New Century Mortgage Corp. (2016) 62 C4th 919  has focused on the scope of the Court’s narrow holding, “a borrower who has suffered a nonjudicial foreclosure [in California] does not lack standing to sue for wrongful foreclosure based on an allegedly void assignment merely because he or she was in default on the loan and was not a party to the challenged assignment.” 62 C4th at 924. This is an important question, no doubt, but I want to spend a little time contemplating the types of sloppy behavior at issue in the case and what consequences should result from that behavior.

Sloppy Practices All Over

The lender in Yvanova was the infamous New Century Mortgage Corporation, once the second-largest subprime lender in the nation.  New Century was so infamous that it even had a cameo role in the recently released movie, The Big Short, in which its 2007 bankruptcy filing marked the turning point in the market’s understanding of the fundamentally diseased condition of the subprime market.

New Century was infamous for its “brazen” behavior.  The Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States (Jan. 2011) (Report) labeled it so because of its aggressive origination practices.  See Report at page 186. It noted that New Century “ignored early warnings that its own loan quality was deteriorating and stripped power from two risk-control departments that had noted the evidence.” Report at p 157. And it quotes a former New Century fraud specialist as saying, “[t]he definition of a good loan changed from ‘one that pays’ to ‘one that could be sold.”  Report at p 105.

This type of brazen behavior was endemic throughout the mortgage industry during the subprime boom in the early 2000s.  As Brad Borden and I have documented, Wall Street firms flagrantly disregarded the real estate mortgage investment conduit (REMIC) rules and regulations that must be complied with to receive favorable tax treatment for a mortgage-backed security, although the IRS has let them dodge this particular bullet.  Borden & Reiss, REMIC Tax Enforcement as Financial-Market Regulator, 16 U Penn J Bus L 663 (Spring 2014).

The sloppy practices were not limited to the origination of mortgages. They were prevalent in the servicing of them as well. The National Mortgage Settlement entered into in February 2012, by 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, on the one hand, and the country’s five largest mortgage servicers, on the other, provided for over $50 billion in relief for distressed borrowers and in payments to the government entities. While this settlement was a significant hit for the industry, industry sloppy practices were not ended by it. For information about the Settlement, see Joint State-Federal National Mortgage Servicing Settlements and the State of California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Mortgage Settlements: Homeowners.

As the subprime crisis devolved into the foreclosure crisis, we have seen those sloppy practices have persisted through the lifecycle of the subprime mortgage, with case after case revealing horrifically awful behavior on the part of lenders and servicers in foreclosure proceedings.  I have written about many of these Kafka-esque cases on  One typical case describes how borrowers have “been through hell” in dealing with their mortgage servicer. U.S. Bank v Sawyer (2014) 95 A3d 608, 612 n5.  Another typical case found that a servicer committed the tort of outrage because its “conduct, if proven, is beyond the bounds of decency and utterly intolerable in our community.” Lucero v Cenlar, FSB (WD Wash 2014) 2014 WL 4925489, *7.  And Yvanova alleges more of the same.

Challenging Wrongful Foreclosures

photo by Oparvez

The California Supreme Court issued an opinion a few days ago that has been getting a lot of attention, Yvanova v. New Century Mortgage Corp., S218973 (Feb. 18, 2016). The opinion opens by noting that

The collapse in 2008 of the housing bubble and its accompanying system of home loan securitization led, among other consequences, to a great national wave of loan defaults and foreclosures. One key legal issue arising out of the collapse was whether and how defaulting homeowners could challenge the validity of the chain of assignments involved in securitization of their loans. (1)

The Court concludes that

a home loan borrower has standing to claim a nonjudicial foreclosure was wrongful because an assignment by which the foreclosing party purportedly took a beneficial interest in the deed of trust was not merely voidable but void, depriving the foreclosing party of any legitimate authority to order a trustee’s sale. (30)

First, let us be clear what it is NOT saying: “We do not hold or suggest that a borrower may attempt to preempt a threatened nonjudicial foreclosure by a suit questioning the foreclosing party’s right to proceed.” (2) This is an important distinction between challenging a nonjudicial foreclosure and having standing to bring a wrongful foreclosure tort action.

And let us be clear as to what it is saying: if a homeowner argues that that an assignment of a deed of trust is void, that can provide the basis for a wrongful foreclosure action because it “is no mere ‘procedural nicety,’ from a contractual point of view, to insist that only those with authority to foreclose on a borrower be permitted to do so.” (22) Quoting Adam Levitin, the Court finds that

“Such a view fundamentally misunderstands the mortgage contract. The mortgage contract is not simply an agreement that the home may be sold upon a default on the loan. Instead, it is an agreement that if the homeowner defaults on the loan, the mortgagee may sell the property pursuant to the requisite legal procedure.” (23, italics changed)

Sounds like common sense to me.


Glaski Full of It?

I had blogged about Glaski v. Bank of America, No. F064556 (7/31/13, Cal. 5th App. Dist.) soon after it was decided, arguing that it did not bode well for REMICs that did not comply with the rules governing REMICS that are contained in the Internal Revenue Code. The case is highly controversial. Indeed, the mere question of whether it should be a published opinion or not has been highly contested, with the trustee now asking that the case be depublished. The request for depublication is effectively a brief to the California Supreme Court that argues that Glaski was wrongly decided.

Because of its significance, there has been a lot of discussion about the case in the blogosphere. Here is Roger Bernhardt‘s (Golden Gate Law School) take on it, posted to the DIRT listserv and elsewhere:

If some lenders are reacting with shock and horror to this decision, that is probably only because they reacted too giddily to Gomes v Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (2011) 192 CA4th 1149 (reported at 34 CEB RPLR 66 (Mar. 2011)) and similar decisions that they took to mean that their nonjudicial foreclosures were completely immune from judicial review. Because I think that Glaski simply holds that some borrower foreclosure challenges may warrant factual investigation (rather than outright dismissal at the pleading stage), I do not find this decision that earth-shaking.

Two of this plaintiff’s major contentions were in fact entirely rejected at the demurrer level:

-That the foreclosure was fraudulent because the statutory notices looked robosigned (“forged”); and

-That the loan documents were not truly transferred into the loan pool.

Only the borrower’s wrongful foreclosure count survived into the next round. If the bank can show that the documents were handled in proper fashion, it should be able to dispose of this last issue on summary judgment.

Bank of America appeared to not prevail on demurrer on this issue because the record did include two deed of trust assignments that had been recorded outside the Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit (REMIC) period and did not include any evidence showing that the loan was put into the securitization pool within the proper REMIC period. The court’s ruling that a transfer into a trust that is made too late may constitute a void rather than voidable transfer (to not jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the other assets in the trust) seems like a sane conclusion. That ruling does no harm to securitization pools that were created with proper attention to the necessary timetables. (It probably also has only slight effect on loans that were improperly securitized, other than to require that a different procedure be followed for their foreclosure.)

In this case, the fact that two assignments of a deed of trust were recorded after trust closure proves almost nothing about when the loans themselves were actually transferred into the trust pool, it having been a common practice back then not to record assignments until some other development made recording appropriate. I suspect that it was only the combination of seeing two “belatedly” recorded assignments and also seeing no indication of any timely made document deposits into the trust pool that led to court to say that the borrower had sufficiently alleged an invalid (i.e., void) attempted transfer into the trust. Because that seemed to be a factual possibility, on remand, the court logically should ask whether the pool trustee was the rightful party to conduct the foreclosure of the deed of trust, or whether that should have been done by someone else.

While courts may not want to find their dockets cluttered with frivolous attacks on valid foreclosures, they are probably equally averse to allowing potentially meritorious challenges to wrongful foreclosures to be rejected out of hand.