Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

May 13, 2013

Underwater Domain

By David Reiss

The securitization industry is still fighting tooth and nail against the proposal to use the power of eminent domain to acquire underwater mortgages from private-label mortgage-backed security trusts.  Four California towns are considering working with Mortgage Resolution Partners LLP to take mortgages in their communities by eminent domain and then refinance them at current rates and with valuations that reflect today’s prices.

The heavy hitters in the industry — including the ABA, MBA and SIFMA — have written to the four communities  (San Joaquin letter here) warning of the consequences of proceeding.  Some of the warned of consequences appear to be thinly veiled threats such as, we are going to sue your pants off.  Some are constitutional challenges, although I think that they are overstating their case in that regard.

The letter does, however, raise some important legal, business and practical concerns that will need to be addressed if the proposal is actually acted upon.  Will the municipalities have jurisdiction over the mortgage notes if they are located out of California and is that necessary to proceed?  Will lenders punish communities that employ eminent domain in this way by making less credit available in the future?  Will the proposal be financially workable if fair market value for the mortgages is actually paid?  To what extent will “widows and orphans” be hurt by this proposal because pension funds are big holders of MBS?  These are important questions without obvious answers. Given what is at stake, it seems worth sketching out the answers a bit more before rejecting this innovative proposal out of hand.

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