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 REFinBlog.com.  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.

(Non-)Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans

Professors Neil Cohen and Dale Whitman, two important scholars who know their way around the UCC and mortgage law, will take on a highly contested topic in an upcoming ABA Professors’ Corner webinar: “Ownership, Transfer, and Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans.” I blogged a bit about this topic a couple of days ago, in relation to Adam Levitin’s new article. There is a lot of misinformation floating around the blogosphere relating to this topic, so I encourage readers to register.

The full information on this program is as follows:

Professors’ Corner is a FREE monthly webinar, sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section’s Legal Education and Uniform Law Group.  On the second Wednesday of each month, a panel of law professors discusses recent cases or issues of interest to real estate practitioners and scholars.

December 2013 Professors’ Corner
“Ownership, Transfer, and Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans”
Profs. Neil Cohen and Dale Whitman
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
12:30pm Eastern/11:30am Cental/9:30am Pacific
Register for this FREE program at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner

Our nation’s courts have been swamped with litigation involving the foreclosure of securitized mortgage loans.  Much of this litigation involves the appropriate interaction of the Uniform Commercial Code and state foreclosure law. Because few foreclosure lawyers and judges are UCC experts, the outcomes of the reported cases have reflected a significant degree of uncertainty or confusion.

In addition, much litigation has been triggered by poor practices in the securitization of mortgage loans, such as robo-signing and the failure to transfer loans into a securitized trust within the time period required by the IRS REMIC rules.  This litigation has likewise produced conflicting case outcomes.  In particular, recent decisions have reflected some disagreement regarding whether a mortgagor — who is not a party to the Pooling and Servicing Agreement that governs the securitized trust that holds the mortgage — can successfully defend a foreclosure by challenging the validity of the assignment of the mortgage to a securitized trust.

Our speakers for the December program will bring some much-needed clarity to these issues.  Our speakers are Prof. Neil B. Cohen, the Jeffrey D. Forchelli Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, and Prof. Dale A. Whitman, the James E Campbell Missouri Endowed Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law.  Prof. Cohen is the Research Director of the Permanent Editorial Board for the Uniform Commercial Code, and a principal contributor to the November 2011 PEB Report, “Application of the Uniform Commercial Code to Selected Issues Relating to Mortgage Notes.” Prof. Whitman is the co-Reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Property — Mortgages, and the co-author of the pre-eminent treatise on Real Estate Finance Law.

Please join us for this program.  You may register at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner.

Dirty REMICs: A Debate

Brad, Joshua Stein and I have posted Dirt Lawyers and Dirty REMICs: A Debate to SSRN (also on BePress). Brad and I had posted our side of the debate at various points, but the entire back and forth is contained in this one handy download. The abstract reads:

In mid-2013, Professors Bradley T. Borden and David J. Reiss published an article in the American Bar Association’s PROBATE & PROPERTY journal (May/June 2013, at 13), about the disconnect between the securitization process and the mechanics of mortgage assignments. The Borden/Reiss article discussed potential legal and tax issues caused by sloppiness in mortgage assignments.

Joshua Stein responded to the Borden/Reiss article, arguing that the technicalities of mortgage assignments serve no real purpose and should be eliminated. That article appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of the same publication, at 6.

Stein’s response was accompanied by a commentary from Professors Borden and Reiss, which also appeared in the November/December 2013 issue, at 8.

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.

Borden & Reiss on REMIC Failure, in a Big Way

Brad and I posted REMIC Tax Enforcement as Financial-Market Regulator to SSRN (as well as to BePress). The article is forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Business and it provides our extended analysis of how the organizers of purported Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits (REMICs) failed to abide by the requirements necessary to obtain the favorable REMIC tax status. We had addressed this topic in shorter articles here, here, and here, but this is our most comprehensive take on the subject. We look forward to hearing reactions to it.

The abstract reads:

Lawmakers, prosecutors, homeowners, policymakers, investors, news media, scholars and other commentators have examined, litigated, and reported on numerous aspects of the 2008 Financial Crisis and the role that residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) played in that crisis. Big banks create RMBS by pooling mortgage notes into trusts and selling interests in those trusts as RMBS. Absent from prior work related to RMBS securitization is the tax treatment of RMBS mortgage-note pools and the critical role tax enforcement should play in ensuring the integrity of mortgage-note securitization.

This Article is the first to examine federal tax aspects of RMBS mortgage-note pools formed in the years leading up to the Financial Crisis. Tax law provides favorable tax treatment to real estate mortgage investment conduits (REMICs), a type of RMBS pool. To qualify for the favorable REMIC tax treatment, an RMBS pool must meet several requirements relating to the ownership and quality of mortgage notes. The practices of loan originators and RMBS organizers in the years leading up to the Financial Crisis jeopardize the tax classification of a significant portion of the RMBS pools. Nonetheless, the IRS appears to believe that there is no legal or policy basis for challenging REMIC classification of even the worst RMBS pools. This Article takes issue with the IRS’s inaction and presents both the legal and policy grounds for enforcing tax law by challenging the REMIC classification of at least the worst types of RMBS pools. The Article urges the IRS to take action, recognizing that its failure to police these arrangements prior to the Financial Crisis is partly to blame for the economic meltdown in 2008. The IRS’s continued failure to police RMBS arrangements provides latitude to industry participants, which facilitates future economic catastrophes. Even without the IRS taking action, private parties can rely upon the blueprint set forth in the Article to bring qui tam or whistleblower claims to accomplish the purposes of the REMIC rules and obtain the beneficial results that would occur if the IRS enforced the REMIC rules.

A REMIC Unraveling?

An unpublished opinion, Glaski v. Bank of America, No. F064556 (7/31/13, Cal. 5th App. Dist.), presents one possible future for REMICs that failed to comply with the strict rules set for them by Congress and the IRS. Glaski, a homeowner, argues that the trial court erred by dismissing his case challenging the nonjudicial foreclosure of the deed of trust secured by his home. For my purposes, I am interested in the Court’s consideration of “whether a post-closing date transfer into a [REMIC] securitized trust is the type of defect that would render the transfer void.” (20) I am going to quote the opinion at length because the reasoning is somewhat complex:

The allegation that the WaMu Securitized Trust was formed under New York law supports the conclusion that New York law governs the operation of the trust.  New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law section 7-2.4, provides:  “If the trust is expressed in an instrument creating the estate of the trustee, every sale, conveyance or other act of the trustee in contravention of the trust, except as authorized by this article and by any other provision of law, is void.”

Because the WaMu Securitized Trust was created by the pooling and servicing  agreement and that agreement establishes a closing date after which the trust may no longer accept loans, this statutory provision provides a legal basis for concluding that the trustee’s attempt to accept a loan after the closing date would be void as an act in contravention of the trust document.

We are aware that some courts have considered the role of New York law and rejected the post-closing date theory on the grounds that the New York statute is not interpreted literally, but treats acts in contravention of the trust instrument as merely voidable.

Despite the foregoing cases, we will join those courts that have read the New York statute literally.  We recognize that a literal reading and application of the statute may not always be appropriate because, in some contexts, a literal reading might defeat the statutory purpose by harming, rather than protecting, the beneficiaries of the trust.  In this case, however, we believe applying the statute to void the attempted transfer is justified because it protects the beneficiaries of the WaMu Securitized Trust from the potential adverse tax consequence of the trust losing its status as a REMIC trust under the Internal Revenue Code.  Because the literal interpretation furthers the statutory purpose, we join the position stated by a New York court approximately two months ago:  “Under New York Trust Law, every sale, conveyance or other act of the trustee in contravention of the trust is void.  EPTL § 7-2.4.  Therefore, the acceptance of the note and mortgage by the trustee after the date the trust closed, would be void.” [quoting Erobobo] Relying on Erobobo, a bankruptcy court recently concluded “that under New York law, assignment of the Saldivars’ Note after the start up day is void ab initio.  As such, none of the Saldivars’ claims will be dismissed for lack of standing.”(quoting Saldivar)

We conclude that Glaski’s factual allegations regarding post-closing date attempts to transfer his deed of trust into the WaMu Securitized Trust are sufficient to state a basis for concluding the attempted transfers were void.  As a result, Glaski has a stated cognizable claim for wrongful foreclosure under the theory that the entity invoking the power of sale (i.e., Bank of America in its capacity as trustee for the WaMu Securitized Trust) was not the holder of the Glaski deed of trust. (20-22, citations and footnotes omitted)

We are now seeing a trend that started with Erobobo and continued with Saldivar:  courts are finally addressing the REMIC attributes of the mortgage-backed securities at issue in downstream cases. I am not sure that the reasoning of those three cases will hold up on appeal, but it is interesting to see judges add another level of understanding to foreclosures in the age of of the mortgage-backed security.

[Hat tip April Charney]

UPDATE:  I just heard (August 8, 2013) from Richard L. Antognini, Glaski’s appellate lawyer, that the court has decided to publish this opinion. As he notes, “It now can be cited to other California and federal courts, and it is binding authority, until another court of appeal disagrees or the California Supreme Court decides to review it.”

Dirty REMICs, Revisited

Brad and I have posted, Dirty REMICs, Revisited (also on BePress).  The abstract reads:

We review the differences between two visions for the residential mortgage markets, one driven by the goal of efficiency and the other driven by the goals of efficiency and consumer protection. Both visions advocate for structural reform, but one advocates for industry-led change and the other advocates for input from a wider array of stakeholders. Broader input is not only important to ensure that a broad range of interests are represented but also to ensure the long-term legitimacy of the new system. This is a response to Joshua Stein, Dirt Lawyers Versus Wall Street: A Different View, Probate and Property (2013 Forthcoming), which in turn is a response to Bradley T. Borden & David J. Reiss, Dirt Lawyers and Dirty REMICs, Probate and Property 12 (May/June 2013).