Regulatory Approaches to Airbnb

photo by Open Grid Scheduler

Peter Coles et al. have posted Airbnb Usage Across New York City Neighborhoods: Geographic Patterns and Regulatory Implications to SSRN. Two of the co-authors are affiliated to Airbnb and the other three are affiliated to NYU. The paper states that “No consulting fees, research grants or other payments have been made by Airbnb to the NYU authors . . .” (1) The abstract reads,

This paper offers new empirical evidence about actual Airbnb usage patterns and how they vary across neighborhoods in New York City. We combine unique, census-tract level data from Airbnb with neighborhood asking rent data from Zillow and administrative, census, and social media data on neighborhoods. We find that as usage has grown over time, Airbnb listings have become more geographically dispersed, although centrality remains an important predictor of listing location. Neighborhoods with more modest median household incomes have also grown in popularity, and disproportionately feature “private room” listings (compared to “entire home” listings). We find that compared to long-term rentals, short-term rentals do not appear to be as profitable as many assume, and they have become relatively less profitable over our time period. Additionally, short-term rentals appear most profitable relative to long-term rentals in outlying, middle-income neighborhoods. Our findings contribute to an ongoing regulatory conversation catalyzed by the rapid growth in the short-term rental market, and we conclude by bringing an economic lens to varying approaches proposed to target and address externalities that may arise in this market.

I found the review alternative regulatory approaches to be particularly helpful:

City leaders around the world have adopted a wide range of approaches. We conclude by reviewing these alternative regulatory responses. We consider both citywide as well as neighborhood-specific responses, like those recently enacted in Portland, Maine or in New Orleans. A promising approach from an economic perspective is to impose fees that vary with intensity of usage. For instance, in Portland, Maine, short-term rental host fees increase with the number of units a given host seeks to register, and a recent bill from Representatives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (H.3454) propose taxes that vary with the intensity of usage of individual units. Such varying fees may help discourage conversions of long-term rentals to short-term rentals and better internalize externalities that might rise with greater use. That said, overly-customized approaches may be difficult to administer. Regulatory complexity itself should also be a criterion in choosing policy responses. (2-3, citations omitted)

We are still a long ways off from knowing how the short-term rental market will be regulated once it fully matures, so work like this helps us see where we are so far.

Holding Servicers Accountable

image by Rizkyharis

I submitted my comment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding the 2013 RESPA Servicing Rule Assessment. It reads, substantively, as follows:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a Request for Information Regarding 2013 Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act Servicing Rule Assessment. The Bureau

is conducting an assessment of the Mortgage Servicing Rules Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (Regulation X), as amended prior to January 10, 2014, in accordance with section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Bureau is requesting public comment on its plans for assessing this rule as well as certain recommendations and information that may be useful in conducting the planned assessment. (82 F.R. 21952)

Before the RESPA Servicing Rule was adopted in 2013, homeowners had had to deal with unresponsive servicers who acted in ways that can only be described as arbitrary and capricious or worse.  Numerous judges have used terms such as “Kafka-esque” to describe homeowner’s dealings with servicers.  See, e.g., Sundquist v. Bank of Am., N.A., 566 B.R. 563 (Bankr. E.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2017).  Others have found that servicers failed to act in “good faith,” even when courts were closely monitoring their actions.  See, e,g., United States Bank v. Sawyer, 95 A.3d 608  (Me. 2014). And yet others have found that servicers made multiple misrepresentations to homeowners.  See, e.g., Federal Natl. Mtge. Assn. v. Singer, 48 Misc. 3d 1211(A), 20 N.Y.S.3d 291 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. July 15, 2015).  The good news is that in those three cases, judges punished the servicers and lenders for their patterns of abuse of the homeowners. Indeed, the Sundquist judge fined Bank of America a whopping $45 million to send it a message about its horrible treatment of borrowers.

But a fairy tale ending for a handful of borrowers who are lucky enough to have a good lawyer with the resources to fully litigate one of these crazy cases is not a solution for the thousands upon thousands of borrowers who had to give up because they did not have the resources, patience, or mental fortitude to take on big lenders and servicers who were happy to drag these matters on for years and years through court proceeding after court proceeding.

The RESPA Servicing Rule goes a long way to help all of those other homeowners who find themselves caught up in trials imposed by their servicers that it would take a Franz Kafka to adequately describe.  The Rule has addressed intentional and unintentional abuses in the use of force-placed insurance and other servicer actions.

The RESPA Servicing Rule Assessment should evaluate whether the Rule is sufficiently evaluating servicers’ compliance with the Rule and implementing remediation plans for those which fail to comply with the vast majority of loans in their portfolios.  Servicers should not be evaluated just on substantive outcomes but also on their processes.  Are avoidable foreclosures avoided?  Are homeowners treated with basic good faith when it comes to interactions with servicers relating to defaults, loss mitigation and transfers of servicing rights?  The Assessment should evaluate whether the Rule adequately measures such things.  One measure the Bureau could look at would be court cases involving servicers and homeowners.  While perhaps difficult to do, the Bureau should attempt to measure the Rule’s impact on court filings alleging servicer abuses.

The occasional win in court won’t save the vast majority of homeowners from abusive lending practices.  The RESPA Servicing Rule, properly applied and evaluated, could.

 

Maine Really Doesn’t Like Lenders

I recently blogged in No MERS-y for Maine Lenders about a Maine Supreme Judicial Court opinion that seemed to go against the weight of authority as to a fundamental issue:  that the mortgage follows the note.

The lender in that Maine case, Bank of America, filed a Motion to Reconsider which the Court summarily denied. I think that the lender has it right on the law here and I quote from its motion:

The Court’s standing analysis conflicts with Maine’s Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) and sets Maine apart from other states (even those construing the same language that the Court finds of particular importance here). These persuasive authorities recognize MERS’s designation in a mortgage as a “nominee” and “mortgagee of record” does not prevent MERS from validly assigning all legal rights in the mortgage to a subsequent foreclosure plaintiff. The UCC “explicitly provides that . . . the assignment of the interest of the seller or other grantor of a security interest in the note automatically transfers a corresponding [beneficial] interest in the mortgage to the assignee.” Report of the Permanent Editorial Board for the Uniform Commercial Code 12 (Nov. 2011), available at http://www.uniformlaws.org/Shared/Committees_Materials/PEBUCC/PEB_Report_111411.pdf. The UCC further provides: “The attachment of a security interest in a right to payment or performance secured by a security interest or other lien on personal or real property is also attachment of a security interest in the security interest, mortgage or other lien.” 11 M.R.S. § 9-1203(7). The Editor’s Notes to this statutory provision confirm that it “codifies the common-law rule that a transfer of an obligation secured by a security interest or other lien on personal or real property also transfers the [beneficial interests in the] security interest or lien.” Id. cmt. 9. The UCC thus “adopts the traditional view that the mortgage follows the note; i.e., the transferee of the note acquires, as a matter of law, the beneficial interests in the mortgage, as well.” 11 M.R.S. § 9-1308 cmt. 6.

In these circumstances, “the UCC is unambiguous: the sale of a mortgage note (or other grant of a security interest in the note) not accompanied by a separate conveyance of the mortgage securing the note does not result in the mortgage being severed from the note.” Report of the Permanent Editorial Board for the Uniform Commercial Code 12 (emphasis added). Instead, by the explicit terms of the statute, the attachment of the note “is also attachment of a security interest in the . . . mortgage.” 11 M.R.S. § 9-1203(7). Thus, under the UCC, the beneficial interest in the mortgage travels with the note so holding the note in addition to the assignment from MERS of bare legal title means that party has everything necessary for standing under Section 6321. Thus, the Court was inconsistent with the UCC in stating that BANA’s right to enforce the Note (along with assignment of the legal title of the Mortgage by MERS) was not sufficient to show its requisite interest in the Mortgage. The Court should reconsider its analysis on this basis.

Moreover, this Court’s analysis stands in conflict with many other state and federal courts that have examined the issue. Many courts across the nation (in judicial and non-judicial foreclosures states alike) have determined that MERS can assign all rights under a mortgage in which it is named mortgagee as nominee for the lender and lender’s successors and assigns. (18-20, footnote omitted)

As I have acknowledged before, the Supreme Judicial Court is the final arbiter of Maine law. I think, nonetheless, that the Court got it wrong in this case. I also think that this summary denial of the well-argued motion for reconsideration does not do the issue justice.

 

HT Max Gardner

No MERS-Y for Maine Lenders

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court seems to be on a roll against the mortgage industry, having recently issued an opinion that effectively wiped out a mortgage because of the lenders bad faith negotiations during a foreclosure proceeding.

And now, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in Bank of America, N.A. v. Greenleaf et al., 2014 ME 89 (July 3, 2014), that casts into doubt whether MERS has any life left in it in Maine.  The case’s reasoning is, however, somewhat suspect. The Greenleaf court held that the bank did not have standing to seek foreclosure even though it was the holder of the mortgage note. The court stated that

The interest in the note is only part of the standing analysis, however;  to be able to foreclose, a plaintiff must also show the requisite interest in the mortgage. Unlike a note, a mortgage is not a negotiable instrument. See 5 Emily S. Bernheim, Tiffany Real Property § 1455 n.14 (3d ed. Supp. 2000). Thus, whereas a plaintiff who merely holds or possesses—but does not necessarily own—the note satisfies the note portion of the standing analysis, the mortgage portion of the standing analysis requires the plaintiff to establish ownership of the mortgage. (8)

This seems to go against the weight of authority. The influential Report of The Permanent Editorial Board for The Uniform Commercial Code, Application of The Uniform Commercial Code to Selected Issues Relating to Mortgage Notes (November 14, 2011), states that

the UCC is unambiguous: the sale of a mortgage note (or other grant of a security interest in the note) not accompanied by a separate conveyance of the mortgage securing the note does not result in the mortgage being severed from the note. . . . UCC Section 9-308(e) goes on to state that, if the secured party’s security interest in the note is perfected, the secured party’s security interest in the mortgage securing the note is also perfected . . .. (12-13, footnotes omitted)

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is the ultimate authority on the meaning of Maine’s foreclosure statute, of course, but their reasoning is still open to criticism.

Borrowers Have “Been Through Hell”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion, U.S. Bank, N.A. v. David Sawyer et al., 2014 ME 81 (June 24, 2014), that makes you question the sanity of the servicing industry and the efficacy of the rule of law. If you are a reader of this blog, you know this story.

This particular version of the story is taken from the unrebutted testimony of the homeowners, David and Debra Sawyer. They received a loan modification, which was later raised to a level above the predelinquency level; the servicers (which changed from time to time) then demanded various documents which were provided numerous times over the course of four court-ordered mediations; the servicers made numerous promises about modifications that they did not keep; the dysfunction goes on and on.

The trial court ultimately dismissed the foreclosure proceeding with prejudice. Like other jurisdictions, Maine requires that parties to a foreclosure “make a good faith effort to mediate all issues.” (6, quoting 14 M.R.S. section 6321-A(12) (2013); M.R. Civ. P. 93(j)).  Given this factual record, the Supreme Judicial Court found that the trial court “did not abuse its discretion in imposing” that sanction. (6-7) The sanction is obviously severe and creates a windfall for the borrowers. But the Supreme Judicial Court noted that U.S. Bank’s “repeated failures to cooperate and participate meaningfully in the mediation process” meant that the borrowers accrued “significant additional fees, interest, costs, and a reduction in the net value of the borrower’s [sic] equity in the property.” (8)

The Supreme Judicial Court concludes that if “banks and servicers intend to do business in Maine and use our courts to foreclose on delinquent borrowers, they must respect and follow our rules and procedures . . .” (9) So, a state supreme court metes out justice in an individual case and sends a warning that failure to abide by the law exposes “a litigant to significant sanctions, including the prospect of dismissal with prejudice.” (9)

But I am left with a bad taste in my mouth — can the rule of law exist where such behavior by private parties is so prevalent? How can servicers with names like J.P. Morgan Chase and U.S. Bank be this incompetent? What are the incentives within those firms that result in such behavior? Have the recent settlements and regulatory enforcement actions done enough to make such cases anomalies instead of all-too-frequent occurrences? U.S. Bank conceded in court that these borrowers have “been through hell.” (9, n. 5) The question is, have we reached the other side?

 

HT April Charney