Court affirms that restrictive covenants are not enforceable if held in gross

October 11th, 2010 by Joseph William Singer

A Washington appeals court has affirmed the traditional rule that the benefit of a covenant cannot be held in gross. In Lakewood Racquet Club, Inc. v. Jensen, 232 P.3d 1147 (Wash. Ct. App. 2010), a donor sold 10 acres of land for use as a tennis, swimming, and squash club and prohibited the land from being used for residential purposes without the consent of the grantor or his heirs. But after all the grantor’s remaining land was sold and the grantor died, the owner of the servient estate sought to build single-family homes on the land. When the heirs of the grantor objected, the servient estate owner sued to have the covenant declared void. Although the trial court held for the heirs, enforcing the covenant, the appeals court reversed on the ground the land should be free for development unless restrictive covenants benefit nearby land. It is unclear whether the court would have come to the same conclusion if the restriction were intended to preserve land for environmental purposes and the benefit of the covenant were held by a nonprofit environmental trust.

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Banks stop foreclosures because of flaws in proof of standing

October 4th, 2010 by Joseph William Singer

Three large lenders, GMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America, have all suspended foreclosures because of irregularities in documents used to proof that they are entitled to foreclose. Various newspaper articles have talked about “technical” problems or “paperwork” problems but the real issue is that banks have obligations to prove they “own” the mortgage and have a right to foreclose, at least in states that require court proceedings for foreclosure. The problem is that many lenders did not keep accurate written records of all the assignments of these mortgages.

The statute of frauds in every state requires mortgages to be in writing and some states require them to be recorded. In lieu of providing a paper trail, some lenders have provided courts with affidavits that swear that the signing party has seen proof that the lender owns the mortgage and is entitled to foreclose. But some of the affiants now admit that they “signed” hundreds or thousands of affidavits a day, obviously with no knowledge of the underlying facts. If this is true, it is a fraud on the court and may have resulted in foreclosures when the bank was not legally entitled to foreclose. In addition, notaries often approved signed affidavits even though they did not witness the signatures as required by law.

Attorneys General in several states are now investigating these practices to see if they violate state consumer protection or property laws or if they are actionable violations of court rules. See article.

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