Your Client’s Securitized Mortgage: A Basic Roadmap PART 3: Dealing with Notes and Assignments [2009-11-19]
Your Client’s Securitized Mortgage: A Basic Roadmap
By O. Max Gardner, III and Richard D. Shepherd
Part 3: Dealing with Notes and Assignments
There are two basic documents involved in a residential mortgage loan: the promissory note and the mortgage (or deed of trust). For brevity’s sake these are referred to simply as the Note and the Mortgage.
A Note is: a contract to repay borrowed money. It is a negotiable instrument governed by Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The Note, by itself, is an unsecured debt. Notes are personal property. Notes are negotiated by endorsement or by transfer and delivery as provided for by the UCC. Notes are separate legal documents from the real estate instruments that secure the loans evidenced by the Notes by liens on real property.
A Mortgage is: a lien on, and an interest in, real estate. It is a security agreement. It creates a lien on the real estate as collateral for a debt, but it does not create the debt itself. The rights created by a Mortgage are classified as real property and these instruments are governed by local real estate law in each jurisdiction. The UCC has nothing to do with the creation, drafting, recording or assignment of these real estate instruments.
A Note can only be transferred by: an “Endorsement” if the Note is payable to a particular party; or by transfer of possession of the Note, if the Note is endorsed “in blank.” Endorsements must be written or stamped on the face of the Note or on a piece of paper physically attached to the Note (the Allonge). See UCC §3-210 through §3-205. The UCC does not recognize an Assignment as a valid means of transferring a Note such that the transferee becomes a “holder”, which is what the owners of securitized mortgage notes universally claim to be.
In most states, an Allonge cannot be used to endorse a note if there is sufficient room at the “foot of the note” for such endorsements. The “foot of the note” refers to the space immediately below the signatures of the borrowers. Also, if an Allonge is properly used, then it must describe the terms of the note and most importantly must be “permanently affixed” to the Note. Most jurisdictions hold that “staples” and “tape” do not constitute a “permanent” attachment. And, the Master Document Custodial Agreement may specify when an Allonge can be used and how it must be attached to the original Note.
Mortgage rights can only be transferred by: an Assignment recorded in the local land records. Mortgage rights are “estates in land” and therefore governed by the state’s real property laws. These vary from state to state but in general Mortgage rights can only be transferred by a recorded instrument (the Assignment) in order to be effective against third parties without notice.
In discussions of exactly what documents are required to transfer a “mortgage loan” confusion often arises between Notes versus Mortgages and the respective documents necessary to accomplish transfers of each. The issue often arises from the standpoint of proof: Has Party A proven that a transfer has occurred to it from Party B? Does Party A need to have an Assignment? The answer often depends on exactly what Party A is trying to prove.
Scenario 1: Party A is trying to prove that the Trustee “owns the loan.” Here the likely questions are, did the transaction steps actually occur as required by the PSA and as represented in the Prospectus Supplement, and are the Trustee’s ownership rights subject to challenge in a bankruptcy case?
The answers lie in the UCC and in documents such as:
- the MLPSA’s;
- conveyancing rules of the PSA (normally Section 2.01);
- transfer and delivery receipts (look for these to be described in the “Conditions to Closing” or similarly named section of MLPSA’s and the PSA);
- funds transfer records (canceled checks, wire transfers, etc);
- compliance and exception reports provided by the Custodian pursuant to the Master Document Custodial Agreement; and
- the “true sale” legal opinions.
Some of these documents may or may not be available on the SEC’s EDGAR system; some may be obtainable only through discovery in litigation. The primary inquiry is whether or not the documents, money and records that were required to have been produced and change hands actually do so as required, and at the times required, by the terms of the transaction documents.
Another question sometimes asked when examining the “validity” of a securitization (or in other words, the rights of a securitization Trustee versus a bankruptcy trustee) is, must the Note be endorsed to the Trustee at the time of the securitization? Here are some points to consider:
- Frequently the only endorsement on the Note is from the Securitizer-Sponsor “in blank” and the only Assignment that exists, pre-foreclosure, is from the Securitizer-Sponsor “in blank” (in other words, the name of the transferee is not inserted in the instrument and this space is blank).
- The concept widely accepted in the securitization world (the issuers and ratings agencies, and the law firms advising them) is that this form of documentation was sufficient for a valid and unbroken chain of transfers of the Notes and assignments of the Mortgages as long as everything was done consistently with the terms of the securitization documents. This article is not intended to validate or defend either this concept or this practice, nor is it intended to represent in any way that the terms of the securitization documents were actually followed to the letter in every real-world case. In fact, and unfortunately for the certificate holders and the securitized mortgage markets, there are many instances in many reported cases where these mandatory rules of the securitization documents have not been followed but in fact, completely ignored.
- Often shortly before foreclosure (or in some cases afterwards) a mortgage assignment is produced from the Originator to the Trustee years after the Trust has closed out for the receipt of all mortgage loans. Such assignments are inconsistent with the mandatory conveyancing rules of the Trust Documents and are also inconsistent with the special tax rules that apply to these special trust structures. Most state law requires the chain of title not to include any mortgage assignments in blank, but assignments from A to B to C to D. Under most state statutes, an assignment in blank would be deemed an “incomplete real estate instrument.” Even more frequent than A to D assignments are MERS to D assignments, which suffer from the same transfer problems noted herein plus what is commonly referred to as the “MERS problem.”
Scenario 2: Party B seeks to prove standing to foreclose or to appear in court with the rights of a secured creditor under the Bankruptcy Code. OK, granted the UCC (§3-301) does provide that a negotiable instrument can be enforced either by “(i) the holder of the instrument, or (ii) a non-holder in possession of the instrument who has the rights of a holder.”
- Servicers and foreclosure counsel have been known to contend that this is the end of the story and that the servicer can therefore do anything that the holder of the Note could do, anywhere, anytime.
- The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Guides contain many sections that appear to lend superficial support to this contention and frequently will be cited by Servicers and foreclosure counsel as though the Guides have the force of law, which of course they do not.
- There are many serious problems with this legal position, as recognized by an increasing number of reported court decisions.
Authors’ General Conclusions and Observations:
- Servicers and foreclosure firms are either wrong, or at least not being cautious, if they attempt to foreclose, or appear in court, without having a valid pre-complaint or pre-motion Assignment of the Mortgage. Yet at the same time, Servicers and note holders place themselves at risk of preference and avoidable transfer issues in bankruptcy cases if, for example, endorsements and Assignments that they rely upon to support claims to secured status occur or are recorded after or soon before bankruptcy filing.
- In addition any Servicer, Lender, or Securitization Trustee is either wrong, or at least not being cautious, if it ever: (1) claims in any communications to a consumer or to the Court in a judicial proceeding that it is the Note holder unless they are, at the relevant point in time, actually the holder and owner of the Note as determined under UCC law; or (2) undertakes to enforce rights under a Mortgage without having and recording a valid Assignment.
- The UCC deals only with enforcing the Note. Enforcing the Mortgage on the other hand is governed by the state’s real property and foreclosure laws, which generally contain crucial provisions regarding actions required to be taken by the “note holder” or “beneficiary.” State law may or may not authorize particular actions to be taken by servicers or agents of the holder of the Note.
- For the Servicer to have “the rights of the holder” under the UCC it must be acting in accordance with its contract. For example, if the Servicer claims to have possession of the Note, did it follow the procedures contained in the “Release of Documents” section of the Custodial Agreement in obtaining possession? Does the Servicer really have “constitutional” standing under either Federal or State law to enforce the Note even if it is a “holder” if it does not have any “pecuniary” or economic interest in the Note? In short, the concept of constitutional standing involves some injury in fact and it is hard to see how a mere “place-holder” or “Nominee” could ever over-come such a hurdle unless it actually owned the Note or some real interest in the same.
- The Servicer should have the burden of explaining the legal reasons supporting its standing and authority to act. Sometimes Servicers have difficulty maintaining a consistent story in this regard. Is the Servicer claiming to be the actual holder, or the holder and the owner, or merely an authorized agent of the true holder? If it is claiming some agency, what proof does it have to support such a claim? What proof is required? Sometimes this is just academic legal hair-splitting but many times it involves serious issues of fact. For example, what if the attorney for the Servicer asserts to the court that his or her client actually owns the Note, but the Fannie Mae website reports that Fannie is the owner? What if the MERS website reports that the Plaintiff is just the “Servicer?” What if the pre-complaint correspondence to the borrower names some entirely different party as the holder and indicated that the current plaintiff is only the Servicer?
- Finally, the Servicer always has an obligation to be factually accurate in borrower communications and legal proceedings, and to supervise employees and vendors and attorneys to assure that Note endorsements, Assignments of Mortgage, and affidavits are executed by persons with valid corporate authority, and not falsified nor offered for any improper purpose.
The focus of the default servicing industry must move from “how fast we can get things done” to “how honestly and accurately can we be in presenting the proper documentation to the courts and to the borrowers”. Judicial proceedings are not like NASCAR races where the fastest lawyer always wins. Judicial proceedings are all about finding the truth no matter how long it takes and regardless of the time and difficulties involved.
November 14, 2009
Richard D. Shepherd
The Law Office of Richard Shepherd
Troy, Virginia (W.D.VA)
O. Max Gardner III
Gardner & Gardner PLLC
Filed under: bubble, CDO, CORRUPTION, currency, Eviction, foreclosure, GTC | Honor, Investor, Mortgage, securities fraud | Tagged: creditor, discovery, Eviction, foreclosure, foreclosure defense, foreclosures, lost note, Mortgage, securitization, trustee |