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Court holds that a seller has no duty to reveal that a murder/suicide took place in the house

July 7th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

A Pennsylvania trial court held that a seller had no duty to reveal that a murder/suicide took place in the house. Milliken v. Jacono, 60 A.3d 133 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013). The court interpreted a state statute that required sellers to reveal “material defects” and found that events that had happened in the house were not a “material defect” in the physical structure of the property. The court declined to find any common law duty to reveal the information on the ground “an expansion of required seller disclosures from the physical to the psychological is a massive expansion in the character of disclosure. It requires the seller to warn not only of the physically quantifiable but also of utterly subjective defects.” Id. at 140. A dissenting opinion would have found such an obligation because “[r]eputation and history can have a significant effect on the value of realty.” Id. at 145 (Bender, J., dissenting).

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Lawyers held to be “debt collectors” that can be held liable for false statements in connection with a foreclosure

July 7th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

In Glazer v. Chase Home Finance, 704 F.3d 453 (6th Cir. 2013), the Six Circuit found lawyers who initiated a foreclosure may be “debt collectors” subject to the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. §§1692 to 1692p, if they regularly perform this function, and thus may be liable for making “false, deceptive or misleading representations” in connection with the foreclosure.

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Court uses equitable considerations to give legal force to a forged deed to protect one of two innocent victims who had less ability to prevent the harm

July 7th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

In Pasqualino v. Washington Mutual Bank, 982 N.E.2d 72 (Mass. App. Ct. 2013), the court was forced to decide which of two innocent parties should bear the financial burden of a forged deed. Although the normal rule is that a forged deed is a nullity and conveys nothing, in this case, the court protected the party that relied on the forged deed because the original owner contributed to the problem by making the forger the trustee of the property. The property was originally conveyed by Salvatore Pasqualino to a trust controlled by his son Ronald. The father Salvatore knew his son used aliases in his real estate business and the recorded documents listed the trust of the trustee of the trust as “Jonathan Pasqualino III,” an alias used by Ronald. Ronald subsequently forged a deed from the trust to a fictitious buyer who then took out a $166,600 loan from a bank (Washington Mutual Bank) in exchange for a mortgage. Ronald died shortly thereafter in police custody on unrelated charges and the bank sought to foreclose on the mortgage.

The court framed the question as a choice of which innocent party should bear the risk (and the loss) associated with the forgery. A forged deed usually conveys no title and that would suggest that the bank should bear the loss of the money. But the court determined otherwise, allowing the bank to foreclose on the property. It did so on the grounds that the father knew his son Ronald engaged in deceptive activities by using an alias in his real estate transactions and was in a better position to prevent the forgery from occuring.

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Massachusetts court enjoins company from preparing and selling deeds because it constitutes the unauthorized practice of law

July 7th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

The superior court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction against a company called ANADeeds, Inc. to stop it from preparing and selling deeds and other legal instruments for the conveyance of property in Massachusetts. Real Estate Bar Ass’n v. ANAdeeds, 2012 Mass. Super. LEXIS 380 (Mass. Super. Ct. 2012). Judge Lauriat explained that “[i]n Massachusetts, drafting a deed constitutes the practice of law,” citing Real Estate Bar Ass’n of Massachusetts (REBA) v. Nat’l Real Estate Info. Servs., 946 N.E.2d 665 (Mass. 2011).

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First Circuit allows MERS to assign mortgages to the mortgage holder

March 3rd, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

State courts have disagreed about whether MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) has standing to foreclose on property or to assign whatever interest it has in the mortgage to the bank that holds the mortgage currently so that that bank can bring foreclosure proceedings. Some courts have held that MERS has no property interest in the mortgage but is a mere agent for the mortgage owner so it cannot bring foreclosure proceedings itself or assign the mortgage to anyone else.   Bain v. Metropolitan Mortgage Group, Inc., 285 P.3d 34, 36–37 (Wash. 2012) (because MERS does not hold the note, it can neither initiate nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings not assign an interest in the note to a trustee who can do so). But others have held that MERS may initiate foreclosure proceedings in its own name and/or assign the mortgage to someone else.  Gomes v. Countrywide Home Loans Inc., 121 Cal. Rptr. 3d 819, 826–827 (2011) (MERS may initiate nonjudicial foreclosure under deed of trust); Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Revoredo, 955 So. 2d 33, 34 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007) (MERS may foreclose as agent of the note holder); Residential Funding Co., LLC v. Saurman, 805 N.W.2d 183 (Mich. 2011) (MERS had sufficient “interest in the debt” to initiate nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings); Jackson v. Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., 770 N.W.2d 487, 494–495, 501 (Minn. 2009)(applying Minn. Stat. §507.413 allowing MERS to initiate foreclosure proceedings).

In Culhane v. Aurora Loan Servs. of Neb., — F.3d —, 2013 WL 563374 (1st Cir. 2013), the First Circuit, applying Massachusetts law, has now held that MERS may assign mortgages because it does own a legal interest in the mortgage. In an opinion by Judge Selya, the court held that MERS has the “legal interest” in the mortgage because it is named as the mortgagee but that the bank that actually issued the note and has the right to enforce the mortgage to secure the loan has the “beneficial interest” in the mortgage. The court reasoned  that the party that owns the note or is entitled to enforce it (not necessarily the same party) has the equitable right to the protection of the mortgage giving it a right to foreclose and that MERS is merely holding title to the mortgage for the benefit of that party. At the same time, MERS has a sufficient interest to hold the mortgage title for the benefit of the owner of the “beneficial interest” in the mortgage. It is not clear if that would mean that MERS could bring foreclosure proceedings in its own name or that means that the right to foreclose cannot be separated from rights in the note.

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HUD issues final regulations defining disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act

February 9th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

The Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has issued final regulations defining the standards to make a claim that a neutral policy has a disparate impact on a protected group in a manner that constitutes unlawful discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq. The regulations are at 24 C.F.R. 100.500 and can be found here. The rule affirms that disparate impact claims are available under the Fair Housing Act and identifies an approach to proving them to respond to the variation that exists among Circuits on what the legal test is for disparate impact in this area. Here is the test:

1. Plaintiff must show a discriminatory effect either because defendant’s policies or actions result in a disparate impact on a protected group or because those policies or actions promote segregation.
2. Defendant then has the burden to showthat  its practice is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest, and that that interest cannot be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect.
3. Plaintiff can rebut defendant’s argument by showing that the defendant’s interest is not substantial, legitimate, or nondiscriminatory or that defendant’s interest can be achieved by a practice that has a less discriminatory effect.

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Foreclosure denied when the lender obtained assignment of the note and mortgage after filing the foreclosure action

November 3rd, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

In Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Schwartzwald, 2012 Ohio 5017, 2012 Ohio LEXIS 2628 (Ohio 2012), the Supreme Court of Ohio joined other courts that have refused to allow banks to foreclose if they cannot prove by written evidence at the time of foreclosure that they have a legal right to foreclose. In this case, Federal Home Loan commenced a foreclosure action before it obtained an assignment of the promissory note and mortgage securing the loan, although it attempted to “cure” that defect by obtaining the assignment later. The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed lower court rulings that had decided that the cure would allow the foreclosure to proceed; instead, it held that state law required lawful standing at the time the foreclosure action was brought. It cited cases from other states that denied standing to MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) because it did not possess any interest in the note or the mortgage. The court dismissed the foreclosure claim without prejudice, so the lender can refile now that it has obtained a written assignment of the mortgage and lawful possession of the note. The court’s ruling suggests, however, that a bank that cannot provide proof that it “owns” the rights in mortgage and/or the note may not be able to foreclose, leaving to another day the question of whether the lender can use alternate evidence to prove its property rights and how a borrower/homeowner can clear title to the property that appears to still be encumbered by a mortgage.

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Washington Supreme Court holds MERS cannot initiate private deed of trust foreclosures

August 20th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

In Washington state, lenders typically use the deed of trust form for mortgages where the lender is the “beneficiary” of the trust and the “trustee” has the power to act to protect the beneficiary’s interest by foreclosing on the property if the borrower defaults on the note (the underlying loan). MERS is typically listed as the beneficiary of the deed of trust rather than the lender that actually issued the loan  (and signed the note) in order to avoid having to record future assignments of the mortgage; the deed of trust is recorded listing MERS as the beneficiary rather than the lender that issued the note to the borrower/homeowner. Interpreting the meaning of the word “beneficiary” in state foreclosure statutes, the Washington Supreme Court agreed with other courts that have held that MERS is not actually the beneficiary of the note and thus has no power to initiate a nonjudicial foreclosure of the property upon default of the payments. Bain v. Metropolitan Mortgage Group, Inc., 2012 WL 3517326 (Wash. 2012).

The court refused to say what the consequences of this ruling would be, although it did suggest that the proper party to bring the foreclosure is the current holder of the note who actually possesses the note or can demonstrate the chain of transactions that makes it the beneficiary of the note. The court also suggested that MERS might act as an agent of the actual beneficiary but only if it could identify the principal and prove that it had been granted agency power to act on behalf of that principal.

The court also held that the facts might present a violation of the state consumer protection act because MERS misrepresented itself as the beneficiary to the borrower, thus engaging in a deceptive business practice. Whether the statute was violated depended on whether the borrower could show that she was injured by the deceptive statement. This is a potentially explosive ruling because MERS’s entire business model depends on listing it, rather than the lender, as the “mortgagee” or “beneficiary” of the deed of trust. On the other hand, the court finds no consumer protection violation unless the borrower can show injury and MERS could avoid causing injury by keeping track of who holds the note and revealing that information to the borrower. This would represent a significant change in MERS’s original business model since it typically only would reveal to borrowers the identity of the loan servicer, not the current holder of the note and not the chain of assignments from the original lender.

 

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Implied beach easement found from recorded plans and sales statements

August 8th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

A Massachusetts court has held that owners of lots near the ocean had an implied easement of access to the beach because recorded plans drafted in 1892 showed an unenumerated lot with access to the ocean and the developer had advertised the lots as “Shore Lots” with a “Cool breeze all the time, good bathing, boating and fishing, nice beach, no undertow, shade trees on several of the lots.” Leahy v. Graveline, 82 Mass.App.Ct. 144, — N.E.2d —, 2012 WL 2819395 (Mass. Land Ct. 2012). The case represents an application of the recent decision in Reagan v. Brissey, 844 N.E.2d 672 (Mass. 2006) that similarly found implied rights to use open land depicted on a subdivision map.

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Court affirms that nonuse does not extinguish an old easement

July 2nd, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has reaffirmed that even longstanding non-use of an easement will not extinguish it or cause it to lapse because of prescription. Cater v. Bednarek, — N.E.2d —, 462 Mass. 523 (Mass. 2012). To extinguish an easement by prescription requires acts inconsistent with the easement that put the easement owner on notice that its uses are being disrupted. Moreover, if the servient estate owner makes only part of an easement inaccessible, it is extinguished only as to that part but not the rest. In addition, the court held that, where a deed does not specify the dimensions of the easement, it must be interpreted to establish dimensions that are reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the dominant estate; the easement is not limited to the purposes for which the dominant estate was used at the time the easement was created. Moreover, if the easement is for access to a public road, it must be interpreted to be wide enough to comply with applicable local regulations on minimum width of roads. Compare the result in this case to the ruling in Cox v. Glenbrook Co., 371 P.2d 647 (Nev. 1962), which interpreted an easement to be limited to one lane when that was the physical layout of the road at the time the easement was created even though such an easement was insufficient as an access road to the dominant estate which consisted of 80 acres.

 

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Homeowners’ Association sign regulations violate free speech rights under state constitution

June 26th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Court of New Jersey held in Mazdabrook Commons Homeowners’ Ass’n v. Khan, — A.3d —, 2012 WL 2120868 (N.J. 2012), that the free speech clause of the state constitution guarantees the right to post political signs on one’s property and that any covenants or rules of a homeowners association to the contrary are unenforceable. The owner in this case posted a sign inside the window of his townhouse and a second sign inside his door. Those signs supported his own candidacy for town council. The Association’s rules banned all signs other than “for sale signs.” The court distinguished its earlier ruling in Committee for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners’ Ass’n, 929 A.2d 1060 (N.J. 2007), which upheld minor restrictions on sign placement by property owners who were members of the association and did not involve an election to a state or local public office as was the the case in Mazdabrook. Conversely, because the sign was on Khan’s own property, and not common property managed by the association, his interests were stronger. The ruling was premised on prior cases interpreting New Jersey’s free speech clause to apply to private actors on private property in at least some instances, a ruling at odds with the First Amendment which only applies to the federal government or “state actors” through the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Mass high court prospectively requires banks to physically possess the note as well as the mortgage in order to foreclose

June 23rd, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

In Eaton v. Fed. Nat’l Mortgage Ass’n (Fannie Mae), 2012 Mass. LEXIS 488 (Mass. June 22, 2012), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a foreclosing party must be in physical possession of both the note and the mortgage (or be acting on behalf of someone who does) when bringing a foreclosure proceeding. However, the ruling applies only prospectively to foreclosures that occur in the future, with the exception that the plaintiff in Eaton that convinced the Court to clarify this rule can take the benefit of it. The refusal to apply the rule retroactively was based on the belief that the law may have been unclear beforehand and that it was the case that many people acted without regard for this principle in the past.

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Easements implied by prior use or by necessity

June 8th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

The Massachusetts Land Court has reaffirmed that easements can be implied from prior use if they were used before severance of the two parcels and are “reasonably necessary” for use of the dominant estate while easements by necessity require the dominant estate to be inaccessible but for the easement. Black v. Klaetke, 20 LCR 120, 2012 Mass. LCR LEXIS 56 (Mass. Land Ct. 2012).

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Possibility of reverter enforced by Tennessee court with award of damages for lost rental income

May 19th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

An appeals court in Tennessee correctly interprets a conveyance which provided that the lot “shall automatically revert to Seller in fee simple” if the buyer did not comply with stated conditions created a fee simple determinable with a possibility of reverter. Lasater v. Hawkins, 2011 WL 4790971 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011). The court not only enforced the condition, finding title to have automatically reverted to the seller but granted the seller (and possibility of reverter owner) five years of rent that the present estate owner had collected since the condition was violated.

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Court rules that designated open space on plat is insufficient to establish an easement absent proof the developer induced buyers to purchase in reliance on promises of open space.

May 19th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

Disagreeing with the ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Reagan v. Brissey, 844 N.E.2d 672 (Mass. 2006), an appeals court in New Mexico held that open space designated on a recorded plat is not sufficient to create an easement of access by owners of lots on the map in the absence of evidence the developer made representations to buyers inducing them to buy in reliance on promises those lots would remain open. The mere presence of open space on the map was insufficient to prevent the developer from selling that open space for development purposes. Agua Fria Save The Open Space Ass’n v. Rowe, 255 P.3d 390 (N.M. 2011)

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Covenants no longer strictly construed to reduce encumbrances on land but are now interpreted to achieve the intent of the parties

May 19th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

A New Mexico Appeals Court joined the modern trend in rejecting the interpretive rule that covenants should be narrowly construed, instead adopting the modern approach of interpreting the grant to achieve the grantor’s intent. Agua Fria Save The Open Space Ass’n v. Rowe, 255 P.3d 390 (N.M. 2011). When the language of the grant is unclear, “evidence of the circumstances surrounding the making of the contract and of any relevant usage of trade, course of dealing, and course of performance” is relevant in interpreting the government documents. 255 P.2d at 395.

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Texas joins states prohibiting real estate transfer fees

May 9th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

Texas joined the other states that have passed statutes prohibiting real estate private transfer fees. 2011 Tex. Gen. Laws 211.

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Bank cannot foreclose if it fails to mediate in good faith as required by state law

May 9th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

In Pasillas v. HSBC Bank USA, 255 P.3d 1281 (Nev. 2011), the Nevada Supreme Court held that a bank cannot foreclose if it fails to act in good faith to participate in state-mandated mediation with the borrower.

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Automatic reverter creates fee simple determinable

May 9th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

In a straightforward application of traditional doctrine, a Tennessee court ruled that a deed condition that stated that a lot “shall automatically revert to Seller in fee simple” if the buyer does not comply with stated conditions (to install a waterline within a year) creates a fee simple determinable that transfers title automatically. Lasater v. Hawkins, 2011 WL 4790971 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011)

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New Jersey Supreme Court allows foreclosure despite faulty procedures

May 9th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

In US Bank Nat’l Ass’n v. Guillaume, 38 A.3d 570 (N.J. 2012), the Supreme Court of New Jersey applied the equitable doctrine of substantial compliance to allow a bank to foreclose despite its failure to include the name and address of the actual lender on the notice of intent to foreclose as required by state law. The notice actually only included the name of the mortgage service, not the mortgage lender. Dismissal without prejudice is not the exclusive remedy for the service of a notice of intention to foreclose that does not satisfy Fair Foreclosure Act’s requirement that a notice of intention include the name and address of the actual lender. Instead, the trial court may dismiss the action without prejudice, order the service of a corrected notice, or impose another remedy appropriate to the circumstances of the case; overruling Bank of N.Y. v. Laks, 27 A.3d 1222 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2011).

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Washington state requires mediation before foreclosure

February 26th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

Washington state passed the Foreclosure Fairness Act, 2011 Wash. Legis. Serv. 58, requiring telephone notification and a 60-da6 opportunity to meet with the lender before foreclosure proceedings can begin. read article

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More states prohibit transfer fee obligations

February 26th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

Statutes have been passed in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington prohibiting transfer fee obligations which requires payments of fees to a prior seller every time the property is sold. 2011 Pa. Laws 8; 2011 S.D. Sess. Laws 196; 2011 Va. Acts 706; 2011 Wash. Legis. Serv. 36.

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Banks as landlords

February 26th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

Banks that have obtained title to foreclosed properties traditionally would sell them quickly but the current real estate malaise resulting from the subprime crisis has made it difficult for them to do so. The result is that many properties remain on the books of the banks. Under state property law, the banks have the obligations all landowners have to comply with housing codes and the warranty of habitability. But many banks do not have established procedures for keeping track of all the individual properties they own, especially when the mortgages to those properties were securitized, making the owner of the trust that owns those mortgages the effective landlord of thousands of homes. Both localities and tenants are having to deal with the failure of banks to comply with regulations mandating maintenance of rental properties. read article.

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Michigan Supreme Court holds that MERS has standing to foreclose

January 2nd, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

Contrary to the ruling of some other courts, the Michigan Supreme Court held that MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) has standing to foreclose on properties for which it is the record holder of the mortgage even if it does not “own’ the note or the right to moneys under the note. The court held that because MERS is the “holder of the mortgage, MERS owned a security lien on the properties, the continued existence of which was contingent upon the satisfaction of the indebtedness.” The court concluded that the legislature would want the record mortgage holder to have the right to foreclose on the property. The case is Residential Funding Co. v. Saurman, 805 N.W.2d 183 (Mich. 2011).

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Oral agreement to buy property does not create a compensable property interest when the property is condemned

November 21st, 2011 by Joseph William Singer

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a potential buyer who had an oral contract to buy real estate did not have a right to just compensation when the property was condemned by public authorities. American Central City, Inc. v. Joint Antelope Valley Auth., 2011 WL 2420787 (Neb. 2011). Although oral agreements to buy property are enforceable despite the statute of frauds in cases of part performance, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the potential buyer’s sole remedy was against the seller of the property rather than the public authorities that took the property by eminent domain.

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