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Real Estate Law Update for Investors and Lenders: Court of Appeals Holds “Admittedly Curious Practice” “Expungement Affidavit” is Not Permitted under Statute.

April 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Happy Friday, all! I took this photo today – the sun is shining and it is starting to feel like spring.

4.20

 

 

In what was already a shocking day for a major lender, Wells Fargo, the Michigan Court of Appeals, in a case of binding precedent, invalidated an efficient tool lenders and investors routinely utilized to undo a foreclosure and revive a mortgage.

I just reviewed a published Court of Appeals decision that came out yesterday that will change the way investors, lenders, and mortgage holders set aside foreclosures.

 

 

The Case: Wilmington Savings Fund Society, et al. v Clare

The Facts are a bit complex, however they can be summarized as follows:

Defendant owned property in Hemlock, Michigan. The original lender held a mortgage on the Property; this mortgage was assigned numerous times. Id. page 2.

In 2010 lender’s assignee (“new lender”) foreclosed on the mortgage. After the redemption period expired, the new lender filed an action to evict the mortgagors/homeowners (“homeowners”).

After trial, the Court found in favor of the homeowners.

the court basically held that the new lender could not provide sufficient evidence that there was a proper chain of title passing on to new lender. Id.

In 2014 new lender’s servicer, Ocwen filed an “Affidavit of Expungement” – which stated that, among other things, the new lender:

agrees to set aside the above Sheriff’s Deed, making it void and of no force or effect, thus reinstating and reviving the above mortgage and Note”  Id.

 

Expungement Affidavit

The Expungement Affidavit has been a common tool used by lenders/mortgage holders  who have foreclosed on mortgages to record an affidavit that would, in theory, and relying on MCL 565.41a, set aside the foreclosure sale, sheriff’s deed, and reinstate the underlying mortgage. See Id, page 6.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that this is a “admittedly curious practice” other states with similar statutes have not interpreted the statute to allow the affidavit to be used in this way. Id. Citing Wuori v Wilmington Savings Fund Society, 666 Fed Appx 506, 510 (CA 2016).

 

The Court of Appeals agreed and held, as an issue of first impression:

“a Party cannot set aside a foreclosure sale simply through the unilateral filing of an expungement affidavit.” Wilmington, Page 5.

The Court analyzed the statute and held “the plain language of the statute does not include any indication that an affidavit may be used to create a condition. It necessarily follows that a party cannot unilaterally revoke a foreclosure sale by recording an affidavit that is itself the claimed condition.” Id. pg 6. (emphasis in the original).

 

 

Lesson

So, investors and lenders have one less tool at their disposal for what was an efficient method to clear up title if there was a problem with foreclosure.  Since this case is binding precedent, lenders showed take note of this.

 

 

 

 

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Legal Update for Real Estate Investors: Fraud, Harassment, and a Bill to Penalize Falsely Representing Need for a Service Animal.

December 19, 2017 Leave a comment

 

A beautiful end to Tuesday.IMG_2014

Here’s a profound truth those in the real estate industry will readily acknowledge:

Owning and Managing Real Estate is uniquely challenging.

 

I hear it from my Property Owner/Manager clients. I experience it when I am involved in negotiating in landlord/tenant disputes.

If you own or manage investment real estate, you are involved in messy business.

 

I believe that is why, at least in West Michigan, there is an opportunity for good property management companies – and a handful of companies I work with locally do it really well.

DOJ Sues Landlord for Sexual Harassment Allegations

Some of the pitfalls property owners/managers have to watch out for are illustrated in a recent press release announce by the Department of Justice.

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced that it filed suit against Owners and Managers related to allegations of sexual harassment in Kansas properties.

According to the press release, the owner and manager:

 

sexually harassed female residents at the rental properties from at least 2010 to 2014.  According to the complaint, Thong Cao engaged in harassment that included, among other things, making unwelcome sexual advances and comments, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, and evicting tenants who refused to engage in sexual conduct with him.

 

Sexual harassment is a violation of several Federal and State laws.

 

Georgia Real Estate Investor Sentenced to 16 months in Prison

Today, the DOJ announced that a Georgia Real Estate Investor was sentenced to 16 months in Prison for bid rigging public foreclosure sales.

According to the Press Release:

The evidence at trial showed that Purdy and his co-conspirators agreed not to compete for residential real estate at foreclosure auctions in Forsyth County and defrauded lender banks and homeowners.  Among other methods, the conspirators held secret “second auctions” of properties, dividing among themselves the auction proceeds that should have gone to pay off debts against the properties and, in some cases, to homeowners.

 

In today’s real estate market, bidding is competitive. If you are asked to take part in anything like this at your local sheriff’s sale – DON’T DO IT.
Lying About Emotional Support Animals, a Crime?

 

Michigan Law requires a public accommodation to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability.

Among other things:

“A public accommodation shall not ask a person with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises due to allergies or fear of the animal. A public accommodation may only ask a person with a disability to remove his or her service animal from the premises if either of the following applies:

(a) The service animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it.

(b) The service animal is not housebroken” MCL 750.502c

Landlords and property owners should heed the warning of General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

“Many people with disabilities require the assistance of an animal to carry out major daily activities,” said  “Complaints alleging disability discrimination now account for the majority of the complaints HUD receives. HUD will continue to enforce the law and educate the public on the rights of people with disabilities in housing.”

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However, a Michigan Senate bill proposed on November 28, 2017 would make it a crime to falsely represent the need for a service animal to a landlord. Violation would also give right to a Landlord to evict such tenant.

 

This is an interesting bill. I look forward to seeing if it gains any traction.

 

 

Two takeaways from this news headline:

 

1. It is worth being proactive and engaging legal counsel. 

Issues arise. When in doubt, e-mail or call your attorney.

 

2. Residential Real Estate Investment is highly regulated.

If you are a landlord leasing out “residential” property as opposed to purely commercial property (business tenant), you are under much more stringent regulations. You must comply with Federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and state laws, like the Michigan Truth in Renting Act. Make sure you are operating lawfully.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Law Update: Real Estate Investors Be Careful When Interacting with Occupants of Foreclosed Property.

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment

It is a rainy Monday afternoon. It has beenIMG_1873 dark all day long.  I took this picture earlier today and the rain isn’t letting up.

As a way to distract from the gloomy weather I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts about a court case that came out a few days ago involving a real estate investor, property manager, and a hold over occupant of property.

This case illustrates ways that real estate investors and property managers can go wrong when dealing with occupants of foreclosed property.

 

The Case:

Anderson v Great Lakes Property and Investment, Inc.

Facts: 

“This case arises from defendants’ actions in removing plaintiff and his personal belongings from the rental property, on two occasions, without resort to summary  proceedings in the court.” Id. page 1.

  • In 2008 Plaintiff entered into a month-to-month lease with the property owner.
  • Owner lost the property to a tax foreclosure in 2015.
  • Real Estate Investor purchased the property at tax sale in the fall of 2015, and hired defendant Great Lakes to manage the property.
  • After the purchase, Investor and Property Manager, sent a letter of ownership to all occupants of the property, including plaintiff, which gave plaintiff 10 days to vacate the property.
  • Thereafter, defendant Great Lakes’s sole shareholder, defendant McMorris, came to plaintiff’s unit and demanded that he vacate within 3 days.
  • When plaintiff did not vacate the premises, defendants came to the property on January 15, 2016, and removed plaintiff’s personal belongings from his unit.
  • After defendants left, plaintiff returned to the property, purchased and installed a new lock on his door, repaired the door, and placed his personal belongings back into his unit.
  • The next day, defendants returned and once again, removed plaintiff’s possession from the property.
  • Plaintiff filed a six-count complaint against defendants for a violation of the anti-lockout statute. Id. Page 2.

 

Law:

Anti-Lockout Statute – MCL 600.2918 

Any landlord who has gone through the process of evicting a tenant knows that, in the residential leasing context, there are heightened duties of landlords, and heightened rights of tenants.  Tenants have the right not to have their possessory interest in the property interfered with, without the proper court procedure being complied with (Summary Proceeding Action in District Court)

The Anti-Lockout statute provides damages for forcible ejectment from property or unlawful interference with a possessory interest in property.

 

Subsection (1) (forcible ejection) applies to any person. 

Subsection (2) (unlawful interference) applies to any tenant in possession.

Violating the statute can cause a property owner/landlord to be liable for statutory damages (3 times the amount of actual damages or $200.00 whichever is greater.)

 

Here, the District Court sided with the new Owner – basically holding that the Plaintiff was simply “a squatter”, entitling him to no rights or protections.  Id. page 2.

The Court of Appeals REVERSED!

 

As the Court of Appeals noted, “[t]he Michigan anti-lockout statute, MCL 600.2918, “virtually eliminates the self-help remedy in Michigan in favor of judicial process to remove a tenant wrongfully in possession.” Id. Page 3 citing Deroshia v Union Terminal Piers, 151 Mich App 715, 719; 391 NW2d 458 (1986).

The Court also held that “There is no statutory or caselaw definition of squatter.” Id. Page 4.

The Court also questioned whether the Investor or its Manager gave proper notice to terminate. It was questionable whether the “Notice” mailed to each tenant satisfied the requirements to recover possession of property under Michigan law. MCL 554.134(1) – (holding that “[a] tenant is entitled to one month’s notice to quit in order to terminate a month-to month tenancy at will” Id. Page 4.

 

 

In short – if you purchase property that is occupied, you need to properly use the court systems to remove tenants.

 

Lesson:

 

To avoid any unfounded claims by holdovers, it always makes sense after purchasing property at foreclosure, when there are any occupants present, to go through the lawful channels for a court proceeding to extinguish any possessory rights and to make sure any personal belongings are handled appropriately.

You don’t want to expose yourself to undue liability.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors: In Your Efforts to Make a Profit Be Wary of Cutting Corners.

October 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Let me illustrate a picture for you: Let’s say you are a real estate investor. You show up for a foreclosure sale. There are several people present to bid on a specific piece of property.  One of those guys winks at you, motions you to come over (in a clandestine sort of way).

The guy whispers to you “I will pay you $500 to walk away not bid on this property.

Red Flags should be going off to you by now. Unfortunately, the same red flags either did not go off or where intentionally ignored for the 63 or so individuals who were targeted for bid rigging at foreclosure sales by the Department of Justice.

“The Antitrust Division has prosecuted scores of real estate investors who, for their own benefit and profit, conspired to corrupt the bidding process at foreclosure auctions.” – Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division

In today’s market, good deals for real estate investors are getting harder to come by. With distressed property becoming a scarce resource and competition ever increasing, some real estate investors have resorted to less than  legal  acts to boost their profit.

2017-09-23 19.30.53Investors should know that the  Department of Justice as well as State Agencies are cracking down on unfair real estate practices.

 

Spartan Stadium. This photo has nothing to do with the post, and is only motivated by Spartan Nation’s victory on Saturday (I took this photo at a different game a few weeks ago)

On Friday, the DOJ announced that Jim

Appenrodt pleaded guilty to two counts of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

 

Investigations Have Yielded 63 Plea Agreements to Date.

 

 

 

 

In Michigan the record numbers of foreclosed properties since 2008 has provided a market (albeit one that is slowing down) for flipping residential real estate. With this opportunity to profit has also created an opportunity for abuse and fraud.  The real estate legal landscape is complex enough, do yourselves a favor – follow the rules.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Cautionary Tale for Real Estate Investors: Yesterday California Investor Sentenced to Prison for Bid Rigging at Foreclosure Sales.

There are many pitfalls for real estate investors who purchase distressed property.

In today’s market, good deals for real estate investors are getting harder to come by. With distressed property becoming a scarce resource and competition ever increasing, some real estate investors have resorted to less than legal  acts to boost their profit.

IMG_1684

Rosa Parks Circle in Downtown Grand Rapids

Investors should know that the Department of Justice as well as State Agencies are cracking down on unfair real estate practices.

 

As a follow up to a story that I have been keeping tabs on, just yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that a judge sentenced a real estate investor for his roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in Northern California.

This after a 3-week trial.

 

 

You can see the press release here

 

According to the press release: Alvin Florida Jr. was “sentenced to serve 21 months in prison and to serve three years of supervised release. In addition to his term of imprisonment, Florida was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $325,803.

Based upon the DOJ’s investigation – this was a large conspiracy “to rig bids to obtain hundreds of properties sold at foreclosure auctions. The conspirators designated the winning bidders to obtain selected properties at the public auctions, and negotiated payoffs among themselves in return for not competing. They then held second, private auctions at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held, awarding the properties to conspirators who submitted the highest bids.”

 

What is particularly striking to me is that including today’s sentencing the DOJ report that:

68 individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

 

Question for Real Estate Investors:

What type of unfair practices do you believe is going on in your state? What are you seeing take place at foreclosure sales?

In Michigan the record numbers of foreclosed properties since 2008 has provided a market (albeit one that is slowing down) for flipping residential real estate. With this opportunity to profit has also created an opportunity for abuse and fraud.  The real estate legal landscape is complex enough, do yourselves a favor – follow the rules.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Business Law Update: Court Lessons on Personal Guarantees.

Rosa Parks Circle in Downtown Grand Rapids

In the world of lending if a business wants to secure financing, you will be hard-pressed to find a bank that is not going to require some collateral, including a personal guarantee of the debt by the principal owner(s) of the business.

businesses don’t want to sign personal guarantees; it’s why businesses take on the corporate formalities of a limited liability company, or a corporation – to limit their personal liability. Therefore, it is understandable in a lawsuit over a promissory note that an individual would argue against the enforceability of a personal guarantee.
This is a reason why lenders, private investors, should make sure their legal documents are precise – so that in the event a lawsuit needs to be filed the document is not drafted so as to create an ambiguity.
Two cases come to mind that illustrate problems in enforcing personal guarantees – one recent and one a few years back.
June 29, 2017 Real Estate Development case
For an interesting case that went up and down the appellate courts, just look no further than a June 29, 2017 decision of WNC Housing LP v Shelborne Development Company
In that case a mortgage loan for a particular real-estate development project, the “Shelborne Park project,” was in default, and to avoid foreclosure, plaintiffs purchased the debt at a negotiated price.” Id.
The trial court found the general partner in a limited partnership of the development, Makino, to be a guarantor.
Makino appealed the trial court’s determination that she was personally liable, attacking the language of the general partnership agreement. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision that Makino was liable, but the Michigan Supreme Court, vacated that portion and essentially told the Court of Appeals to reconsider it.  The Court of Appeals reconsidered, reviewing the text of Makino’s partnership agreement and found, once again, Makino was liable under the language of the agreement (The pertinent language stated that Makino as general partner “hereby guarantees lien free Completion of Construction of the Apartment Housing on or before May 1, 2003”) . Id. at page 3.
October 9 , 2012 Case of the Ambiguously Signed Promissory Note.
Another example is illustrated in the 2012 unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals case of Marcuz v. Steven Premiere Properties & Dev., L.L.C., 305733, 2012 WL 4801060 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2012)
The promissory note was signed by Branoff twice: once as a “member” of Premiere Properties, and once “individually.” The note was also signed by defendants Mario and Antonio Giannandrea “individually.”
Premiere Properties defaulted on the promissory note so Marcuz sued the company and individuals on September 3, 2009.
In court, Branoff admitted that he signed the promissory note twice, but he claimed his second signature was not intended as a personal guarantee.  But his signature and the two other individuals were simply “because “we were showing…who were going to be the finalized members of the company.

Thus, an ambiguity exists.
Regardless, the trial court and the Court of Appeals disagreed with Branoff.
The Court held that “[w]hen Branoff signed the promissory note first as a “member” of Premiere and second “individually,” he manifested his intent to personally guarantee the note. Simply put, it would have been redundant for Branoff to sign the promissory note a second time if he did not intend that his second signature have some legal effect different from his first signature.”
LESSON from these two cases:Don’t Draft Legal Documents In a Manner That Creates Ambiguities.
Although the Lender in both instances did in fact win the day, the problem remained – they won after litigating a case that went to appeal, (and in Makino’s case, up to the Supreme court and back down to the Court of Appeals) which undoubtedly cost significant legal fees. The  drafter of the promissory note and the partnership agreement – much of the trouble could have likely been avoided if the partnership agreement and promissory note were more clearly drafted.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Warning for Real Estate Investors: Three Northern California Real Estate Investors Convicted of Rigging Bids at Public Foreclosure Auctions

 

There are many pitfalls for real estate investors who purchase dIMG_1513istressed property.

In today’s market, good deals are getting harder to come by. With distressed property becoming a scarce resource and competition ever increasing, some real estate investors have resorted to illegal acts to boost their profit.

Investors should know that the Department of Justice as well as State Agencies are cracking down on fraudulent real estate practices.

Today, the Department of Justice announced that a federal jury convicted three real estate investors for their roles in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions held in Northern California.

This after a 3-week trial.

You can see the press release here.

Based upon the DOJ’s investigation – this was a large conspiracy “to rig bids to obtain hundreds of properties sold at foreclosure auctions. The conspirators designated the winning bidders to obtain selected properties at the public auctions, and negotiated payoffs among themselves in return for not competing. They then held second, private auctions at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held, awarding the properties to conspirators who submitted the highest bids.”

 

What is particularly striking to me is that including today’s convictions the DOJ report that:

68 individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial as a result of the department’s ongoing antitrust investigations into bid rigging at public foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

 

Question for Real Estate Investors:

What type of unfair practices, including bid rigging, do you believe is going on in your state? What are you seeing foreclosure sales?

In Michigan the record numbers of foreclosed properties since 2008 has provided a market (albeit one that is slowing down) for flipping and rehabbing residential real estate.

This has also created opportunities for abuse and fraud.  The real estate legal landscape is complex enough, do yourselves a favor – follow the rules.

You don’t want to expose yourself to undue liability.

 

Questions? Comments?

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka