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5 Items to Include in a Real Estate Purchase Contract

October 3, 2014,

5 Items to Include in a Real Estate Purchase Contract

When you make an offer on real estate you want to buy, there can be a lot of paperwork involved. Many additions to real estate purchase contracts are obvious, such as the address of the property, purchase price and owners. Here is a list of 5 things to consider and include when drafting a real estate purchase agreement.
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1. Legal Description of Property

Be sure to include a legal description of the property, including zoning information. In commercial real estate, this is more than just the mailing address of the property. Legal descriptions must include proper nomenclature used by the U.S. Public Land Survey System, including zoning codes. If the description is not included, the real estate contract may be invalid.

2. Closing Costs

You want to establish who pays closing costs in the real estate purchase contract. The buyer and seller should specify who is responsible for common fees such as escrow fees, title fees, title insurance, transfer tax and notary fees. If you want the seller to pay all or part of the closing costs, make sure to specify this in your offer. In California, the location of the property is used to determine how fees are divided.

3. Inspection Contingency

Make sure to include an inspection contingency in your purchase contract to protect yourself if a serious issue with the property comes to light after an inspection is conducted. This includes the buyer's right to cancel the sale after conducting due diligence.

4. Closing Date

Common time frames for closing dates are 30 days, 45 days and 60 days. You should allow sufficient time for closing contingencies, including financing the transaction.

5. Right to Modify Purchase Agreement

Allow yourself room to amend or modify the purchase contract after its completion. By adding a clause allowing the right to amend of modify, both parties may amend the purchase contract after it has been completed. Keep in mind that this does not change the original contract and large amendments are usually better done by creating a new contract.

By including these essential items in your real estate purchase contract, both the buyer and the seller are protected and the purchase is transparent for both parties. Be sure to sit with an experienced real estate lawyer before making final decisions.

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

Gross Lease vs. Net Lease

July 6, 2014,

lease.jpgWhether you're starting a business or looking to expand, chances are you'll encounter some kind of lease. The most common are the gross lease and the net lease. In this blog post we'll take a look at the differences between the two and the benefits of each.

Gross Lease

In this scenario, the tenant pays a fixed amount each month. The landlord is responsible for the costs associated with property taxes, insurance and maintenance. A gross lease offers some flexibility because these properties are generally deemed as either Class B or Class C. They're less desirable so the landlord may be willing to negotiate over things like who pays the utility bill.

Net Lease

You'll likely see a net lease in properties deemed Class A. These are typically high value structures in a popular part of town. As such, tenants can expect to pay a fixed amount along with maintenance charges, insurance and taxes. The benefit to you as a business owner is exposure and the possibility of working in a new, less problem prone building.

Letter of Intent

Before you sign a gross lease or net lease, it's a good idea to craft a letter of intent. This document typically addresses issues like length of the rental, when the space is available and whether or not expansion is possible. You'll want to have a lawyer look over any lease documents. The professionals at Structure Law Group can help you craft a suitable letter of intent that protects your interests.

There is plenty more to consider when crafting a lease. At least now you understand the key differences between the two main types of commercial leases. This information will help you when you're coming up with a budget for your business. Knowing these costs up front eases some stress and makes it easier to get started.

About Structure Law Group

Structure Law Group is a San Jose based firm that specializes in business issues including business formations, commercial contracts and litigation.

Common Pitfalls in Real Estate Loan Documents: A Top Ten List - Part 2

January 28, 2014,

At a recent conference with San Jose and Silicon Valley real estate owners and lenders, Attorneys Jack Easterbrook and Tamara Pow presented their "Top 10 List" of issues that commonly arise in commercial real estate loan transactions. Having been involved in countless real estate and commercial loan transactions, Tamara and Jack developed the list to share with the participants key points to be attentive to when entering into a real estate transaction. The Top 10 List assumed that the basic business terms of the transaction had been decided, so the focus was on items that can arise in the documentation phase and create issues or obstacles in getting a deal to closing.

A previous blog presented three items from this Top 10 List, including: (1) inconsistency between a borrower's state of registration and a lender's requirement; (2) the special purpose entity and the independent direct/manager requirements of the lender; and (3) the personal guaranty. Here are three more items to keep in mind when negotiating a commercial real estate loan:

No. 4: Treatment of Other Creditors, Including Any Mezzanine Lender.

Comment: Are other creditors or lienholders involved, and will intercreditor or subordination agreements be necessary? If the answer is "yes," these agreements will need careful scrutiny. The recent trend in the case law continues on the path of strictly construing the terms of such agreements. This includes Bank of America v. PSW NYC LLC, in which it was held that an agreement between a senior secured lender and a mezzanine lender prevented a foreclosure by the mezz lender until it cured payment defaults in the senior secured lender's loan. The bottom line: other creditors of the owner/purchaser, whether new or existing when the deal is done, can significantly affect getting a transaction to closing. It is very worthwhile to have a strategy concerning them worked out early.

No. 5: Prohibition on Transfers, Including Transfers of Fractional Interests in a Borrowing Entity.

Comment: Standard loan documents often contain language that says that the borrower is in default if the property securing the loan, or any interest in the property, is transferred. However, an owner or borrower should not think it is safe from this provision if the title to the property is held in an entity, such as an LLC, just because the title is not changing. Many loan documents also provide that if an interest - perhaps even a small interest - in the ownership entity changes, a default is triggered. An owner or borrower is wise to not ignore these provisions. Borrowers should carefully consider whether they will need to (or want to) transfer partial ownership interests in the future and lenders should consider the magnitude of such changes that may be acceptable. A transfer of an ownership interest could occur as a result of estate planning needs, in connection with a management transfer, or perhaps the unforeseen death of someone in an ownership group, such as an LLC member. If the parties don't address these provisions before loan documents are finalized, subsequent events may trigger an unexpected and immediate default with unknown future implications.

No. 6: Prohibition on Changes in Management of the Borrower.

Comment: Are the borrower's short-and medium-term management plans prohibited by the loan agreement? Make sure the loan documents accommodate planned future changes in managers of the owner. For example, a family owned LLC may be intending to pass management to the next generation or a key employee long before the maturity date of the loan. Like prohibited transfers of ownership interests, loan documents may prohibit transfers of management power. Pay attention to these provisions and make sure intended changes are not prohibited by the loan documents. It may also be prudent to have potential future managers pre-approved by the lender.

Watch for our next blog for the remaining items addressed in the presentation.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

Common Pitfalls in Real Estate Loan Documents: A Top Ten List

December 19, 2013,

Attorneys Tamara Pow and Jack Easterbrook recently participated in a panel discussion of San Jose and Silicon Valley commercial real estate owners, lenders, borrowers and other professionals about issues arising in recent commercial real estate transactions. Jack and Tamara, at the conference, presented a "Top 10 List" of things to be alert to in real estate loan documents. It was assumed that the basic business terms of the purchase and sale agreement and loan transaction had been negotiated and agreed upon. The question posed was, "So what pitfalls can occur after that, and what issues do you want to be alert to as the deal gets documented - particularly in connection with the debt financing?" The point being emphasized was that a transaction can move to a closing with a minimum of angst if the parties identify early on those issues that will be important deal points, but may not be covered in detail in the financing terms outlined in a term sheet or commitment letter.

This blog addresses three of the "Top 10" points raised in the presentation. Subsequent blogs will address remaining items discussed at the conference. No one point is necessarily more important than the others, as the relative importance of a particular item will vary transaction to transaction. However, the attorneys at Structure Law Group see these factors repeatedly arising in real estate loan transactions.

No. 1: Inconsistency Between Borrower's State of Registration and Lender's Requirement.

Comment: An institutional lender sometimes has very specific requirements. If the owners are establishing a new entity to serve as the borrowing entity, they may want to wait to register the company until after a lender is chosen and any jurisdictional issues are clarified. In some unfortunate situations, we have seen borrowers go ahead with the formation of their entity in California, only to later be asked to provide the lender with a nonconsolidation opinion that may only be viable under the law of another state such as Delaware. So, in addition to asking the lender for any requirements it may have with regards to the type of entity being formed, the jurisdiction, or the bankruptcy remote requirements, make sure to ask what opinions, if any, they will be requesting from counsel. Often these opinions can be negotiated in advance so that you are sure you are forming in a state that is consistent with those requirements.

No. 2: The Special Purpose Entity and Independent Director/Manager Requirements of the Lender.

Comment: In addition to possible Lender requirements regarding which state to form your legal entity in, your lender may have specific requirements that the entity you form to take title to the property is a special purpose entity, meaning that it is formed for the purpose of holding this property only, and will not hold other properties or do other lines of business. This way the lender can feel secure that its collateral will not be negatively affected by any other properties or going concerns in the entity. In addition, the Lender may require that the entity appoint independent directors or managers who will act on its behalf when a vote is required for the entity to declare bankruptcy, or other dangers to its collateral. Sophisticated lenders will have clear language requirements that must be added to the entity's formation documents. In some instances, we have seen lenders require certain language be added to the Articles of Organization of an LLC, but usually it is required to be in the operating agreement of the LLC. However, again, make sure you and your advisors check with your potential lenders in advance of forming your entity, otherwise you may have the additional expense of amending and restating your organizational documents.

No. 3: The Personal Guaranty: Details of Its Scope.

Comment: Several different kinds of guarantees are in use beyond the full guaranty often preferred by lenders. Examples of these are the partial guaranty exempting assets or obligations, the "Bad Boy" guaranty, and the springing guaranty. A recent court case, known as Series AGI West Lynn, held that carve outs or limitations in guaranties will be very strictly construed. A carve out prohibiting the lender from taking any action against the guarantor's house, the court found, did not include proceeds from the sale of the house even though the funds were placed in segregated accounts. In a victory for the lender, the court noted that although the house was excluded under the guaranty, it did not expressly provide that proceeds from a sale of the house were excluded. The court noted that it was not its job to protect the parties from the ugly implications of the plain language in their negotiated agreements.

The remaining items addressed at the conference will be the subject of a later blog, coming in early 2014!

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

Limited Personal Guarantees: It Pays to be Precise!

September 27, 2013,

The personal guarantee has long been used to bolster the quality of a commercial loan, real estate loan or business loan. Often the personal guarantee is a full guarantee, extending to all obligations of the borrower and giving a lender potential recourse to all property of the guarantor in an enforcement action. Sometimes, however, the lender and guarantor agree that the guaranty will be more limited. A recent case out of the Bay Area, Series AGI West Linn of Appian Group Investors DE LLC v. Eves, 217 Cal. App.4th 156 (2013), dealt with such a limited guarantee , which carved-out the guarantor's home and exempted it from the lender's reach under the guarantee. The personal guarantee was very broad, but for the specific exclusion for the house. After the guarantee was signed, but before the loan soured and the lender demanded payment, the guarantor sold the exempted house for cash and put the proceeds of the sale in segregated accounts. Once defaults occurred under the loan, the question at issue was whether the carve-out under the guarantee exempted only the asset named, a house in Como, Italy (but for our purposes it could have been a home in San Jose or Palo Alto as well!) or extended to the proceeds from the cash sale of the house.

In the AGI West Linn case, the lender sued the guarantor and also asked the court to enter a right to attach order and writ of attachment to lock up the cash from the sale of the house. The guarantor opposed this, arguing that the money was simply proceeds of the excluded residence and, as the house itself was excluded from lender's recourse, the direct proceeds of the sale of the house should be excluded as well. The lender countered that the guarantee did not say anything about "proceeds" being excluded, only the house.

The court held for the lender, taking a strict reading of the guarantee.

So what is the take-away? Careful drafting is a must if parties wish to exclude certain specific assets from the otherwise broad scope of a personal guarantee. The court here read the plain language of the guarantee and stated that if the guarantor intended to include proceeds of the sale of the asset as part of the exclusion, he should have expressly put this in the guarantee , and it was not the court's job to save a party from the ugly implications of the plain language of a contract. One gleans from the court opinion that the strategy of strictly construing the guarantee would also likely apply if other limitations, such as a limitation on the scope of the guaranteed obligations, existed and required analysis.

Another point is to be aware that when analyzing the guarantee, this court rejected the approach of applying the UCC formula for treatment of proceeds of collateral, which extends a lien on an asset to a lien on proceeds of the asset if it is liquidated (subject to certain tests). If the UCC's formula was being followed, segregated proceeds of the sale of the exempted house would have naturally been included with the carve-out of the house. The court in the AGI West Linn case dismissed this avenue of analysis and instead applied principles of strict contract interpretation.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

UCC-1 Financing Statements: Easy to Make A Whopper of a Mistake

July 25, 2013,

In this digital age, the courts increasingly have zero tolerance for errors on a UCC-1 financing statement intended to perfect a lender's security interest in collateral as part of a loan transaction. Most recently, a federal court in Rushton v. Standard Industries, Inc., et al. (In re C.W. Mining Company), 488 B.R. 715 (D. Utah, 2013) ruled that a UCC financing statement that omitted two periods from the debtor's name was materially misleading, and the "secured party" was therefore not perfected. A lender who thought it was properly secured on a $3 million obligation suddenly found itself entirely unsecured because of this seemingly trivial mistake!

The debtor in this matter was C.W. Mining Company, whose fortunes had slipped, leading to a bankruptcy. Well before the bankruptcy petition was filed a creditor with a security interest in coal owned by the debtor (C.W. Mining Company was a coal producer) filed a UCC-1 financing statement naming the debtor as "CW Mining Company." The bankruptcy trustee (usually the bad guy in these situations, from the secured creditor's point of view) brought an action to, among other things, avoid the lien because of this mistake, arguing that the creditor was not properly perfected.

The Bankruptcy Court and the Federal District Court, on appeal, agreed with the trustee. They held that the manner in which the creditor set forth the debtor's name on the UCC-1 financing statement was seriously misleading, as it omitted the two periods. Of major importance was the fact that the search algorithm used by the state - Utah in this instance - did not pick up the filing in its data base when the debtor's proper name was entered.

This recent case is in line with the harsh holdings for creditors by other courts on this issue. So what is the take-away lesson? If you intend to be a secured creditor, treat the debtor's name as you would a new email address or a phone number. If you are off by one character or digit, the communication fails. This means getting the debtor's registered name (when the debtor is a corporation, limited liability company or LLC, or limited partnership) correct from the beginning by searching the Secretary of State's business entity information and/or obtaining copies of articles. Don't rely on the name put down on a letterhead, logo or business card, which may simply be a trade name. Also, when filling out a UCC-1 financing statement, be sure the information inserted on the form is carefully checked and the process supervised, not delegated to an inexperienced person and forgotten.

There is a UCC Safety Net but it has Many Holes!

If you discover that a financing statement has a mistake in the debtor's name, you of course should take steps to correct it, but even without doing so a possibility exists that the security interest will nevertheless be perfected and enforceable. The Uniform Commercial Code provides that if a search of the records in a state's filing office under the correct debtor name using "the filing office's standard search logic" would disclose the creditor's financing statement, the error in the debtor's name is not seriously misleading. (This is found in Section 9506 of the California Commercial Code.) The more sophisticated the particular state's UCC search algorithm, the more likely it is that errors or inconsistencies will be recognized and the financing statement nevertheless captured and displayed in a search, providing a small measure of safety for the secured creditor. The obvious problem is that it is difficult or impossible to know in advance whether a seemingly minor mistake on the financing statement will be fatal or not. Therefore, the only safe approach is to get the debtor's registered name right on the UCC-1 financing statement, character-by-character.

A Legal Note Concerning UCC Financing Statements and Perfecting a Security Interest in Collateral

To have an enforceable security interest in most types of business assets, a UCC-1 financing statement must be filed in the filing office of the state where a debtor is registered - assuming the debtor is a business entity such as a corporation, limited liability company or limited partnership. In California and most other states, the filing office is run by the Secretary of State. Most lenders and borrowers are very familiar with this process. The UCC-1, once filed, becomes part of the searchable data base in the state where it is filed. In lawyer-speak, filing the UCC-1 financing statement "perfects" the security interest, which is an essential requirement to making it generally enforceable. The UCC-1 filing also gives the lien priority over any lien described in a later filed UCC-1 financing statement, as well as certain other types of filings. If a person wants to learn whether anyone has a lien encumbering assets of a particular debtor, a search can be conducted under the debtor's name and all generally enforceable encumbrances on the business assets of the debtor will show up - so long as the correct debtor name is entered.

A UCC-1 filing will not perfect a security interest in certain types of collateral. To perfect a security interest in real estate in California and most other states (as is well known by most lenders and borrowers), a deed of trust or mortgage must be recorded in the real property records of the county in which the real property is located. Other types of specialized collateral, such as copyrights, aircraft and motor vehicles, have unique filing offices and requirements for perfection of security interests. A security interest in some other types of collateral, such as bank accounts, stocks and securities, may be perfected by possession or control.

You probably can guess the last point to be made here. Perfection of security interests can be a confusing matter, so if you have any questions, consult your attorney!

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

Upcoming Nationwide Changes in UCC Financing Statements

June 28, 2013,

Head's up!! UCC financing statements are changing as of July 1, 2013. Lenders and borrowers need to take extra care to ensure that they have correctly prepared UCC financing statements and, of course, consult with an attorney as necessary. UCC filings are of critical importance in any secured loan transaction, whether it involves asset based loans, technology lending, construction financing, equipment financing, and even real estate lending where fixture filings may be an integral part of the transaction or personal property may be included in the collateral pool. Accordingly, changes in UCC forms affect every lender, secured party and borrower. In a problem loan, loan workout or bankruptcy situation, the validity of the lender's security interest becomes of paramount importance.

For lenders, the basic rule for perfecting a lien or security interest in most types of assets is to file a UCC-1 Financing Statement with the Secretary of State where the debtor or borrower is registered. If the borrowing company happens to be in San Jose or Palo Alto, California, for example, and is registered as a California corporation, the UCC-1 is filed with the Secretary of State in California. As of July 1, a revised form of UCC-1 is to be used in most states, including California and Delaware.

The changes to the form are driven by privacy concerns and primarily involve eliminating entries for a company's registration number and an individual's social security number. Such identifying information has not been required - in fact, social security numbers have automatically been redacted or made unreadable - for a while now in California. One thing the change highlights, however, is the ever-increasing importance of getting the debtor's name correct on the UCC form, character by character, as other references to a borrower or debtor no longer appear.

California says that it will continue to accept the "old" form of UCC-1 for the present, but that may change with the old forms entirely eliminated in the future once new forms are widely circulated. Other states have announced that the period for accepting old forms will be phased out just 30 days after July 1, after which time only new forms will be accepted for all UCC filings.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

Lender Liability After the "Riverisland" Ruling - A Time To Assess Lending Procedures?

April 23, 2013,

In the wake of the California Supreme Court's Riverisland ruling concerning lender liability, lenders in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley may want to evaluate and consider modifying their current lending procedures. As a San Jose based attorney experienced in loan documentation, problem loans and loan workouts throughout California, I have followed the ebb and flow of lender liability law for many years. Although it is a bit early to assess the long term impact of the California Supreme Court's Riverisland decision, it is not too early to consider precautionary steps, which generally have to be taken at the outset when the loan is being negotiated and documented, to minimize the chance of claims being asserted later.

The court in Riverisland said that a lender's oral statements about loan terms, even if made before the documents were signed, can come into evidence in a lawsuit if the purpose is to show that the lender used fraud to induce the borrower to enter into the transaction. The facts of Riverisland are discussed below. Before Riverisland, if the borrower's evidence of oral statements by the lender about the loan terms was inconsistent with the loan documents, the borrower's evidence could not even come into the case. Now it can, if the purpose is to show fraudulent inducement by the lender. And the facts supporting the borrower's claims can be taken from the borrower's own testimony of his or her recollections. This shifts some bargaining strength toward the disgruntled borrower in problem loan negotiations, as it will be difficult after Riverisland to eliminate such fraud claims early in litigation, or perhaps even before a trial.

The immediate question for lenders is whether any changes in the loan-making and loan documentation process are needed to protect against the potential effect of the Riverisland ruling. Some ideas of possible changes are offered below.

Summary of the Riverisland Case.

A recap of the Riverisland case is helpful. Formally known as Riverisland Cold Storage v. Fresno-Madera Credit Association, 55 C.4th 1169 (2013), this case dealt with a commercial loan secured by California real estate. (The court's ruling, however, applies equally to technology financing, asset based lines, or any other kind of financing facility.) The borrowers fell behind on their payments and the lender and borrowers entered into a restructuring agreement in which the borrowers put up additional real estate collateral for the loan, while the lender promised to forbear and take no enforcement action. The borrowers, however, again missed payments and new loan defaults occurred. At this point, faced with the prospect of enforcement actions and foreclosure, the borrowers paid off the loan.

The borrowers then filed litigation claims against the lender alleging fraud and negligent misrepresentation, stating that two weeks before the restructuring agreement was signed a vice-president of the lender orally promised that the loan extension would be for a period of two years and only two new properties would be required as additional collateral. The actual written forbearance, however, provided for only a three month extension and identified eight parcels of additional collateral. The borrowers signed the forbearance agreement without reading it.

The trial court relied on a 1935 case commonly known as Pendergrass in ruling that the alleged oral statements of the lender could not be introduced into evidence precisely because they varied from the written loan documents. That is, the written loan documents, which contained an integration or merger clause, could not be contradicted by "parol" (oral) evidence that the lender stated the terms of the loan document were something different. In fact, the purported evidence of inconsistent oral statements could not even be considered. This "Pendergrass rule" had stood for over 75 years and has been a useful weapon in eliminating claims that fraud was used to induce a borrower to enter into a loan that actually contained different terms than those the borrower later said it had bargained for.

The California Supreme Court, however, explicitly overturned the Pendergrass rule and held that evidence of purported fraud by the bank could not be kept out. The court nevertheless indicated that the mere fact the evidence of fraud could come in did not mean it would be a winning argument; that is, the borrowers may have been negligent themselves for failing to read the loan documents even if the lender's oral statements were made.

The Potential Problem for Lenders.

The key point from Riverisland is that the evidence of oral discussions to support a fraud claim can no longer simply be kept out of litigation. That opens the door to discovery and evidence gathering, and makes it more likely the matter will go to trial. Given this new reality, the lender should consider if it has established a foundation that makes it as easy as possible to show that the disgruntled borrower's recollection of oral discussions are inaccurate or unreliable, or are put in proper context by other evidence.

Tips for Reducing Potential Claims.

To mitigate the potential negative effects of the Riverisland case, a lender should consider changes in how it conducts loan negotiations, documentation and closings. As always, business judgment will be important in deciding whether a specific change is necessary or makes sense in your particular situation. Some ideas to consider are:

1. During oral discussions with borrowers the lender should qualify statements by noting that all terms must be confirmed by the lender in writing. Be vigilant to follow up any oral discussions about loan terms with email, written summaries and/or term sheets to the borrower. If there is an important provision on which the parties do not agree, put the lender's position in writing, or note the fact that the lender has not agreed to the borrower's request.

2. Provide execution versions of final loan documents well before closing, so the borrower has sufficient time to review them prior to signing. Do not present drafts of written documents for the first time at a meeting to sign documents and close the loan.

3. Include a summary of key terms in an obvious place in the loan documents.

4. Include with the loan documents a statement that the borrower has thoroughly reviewed the loan documents and they are consistent with the agreement of the parties and no other agreements have been made. Alternatives for expanding this: (a) have that section initialed; (b) add a representation that the borrower's counsel also reviewed the loan documents; (c) have the statement made/signed on a separate document; and/or (d) include a representation that the statement is made under penalty of perjury.

5. Increase the use of initials on loan documents, so the borrower explicitly acknowledges its awareness of important provisions.

6. Increase the use of bold or large size font to highlight important sections of the loan documents.

7. The potential for increased litigation makes it more important than ever that a jury trial waiver and alternative non-jury proceedings are specified in loan documents, such as judicial reference or arbitration.

The above points indicate ways of reducing potential claims of fraud, in the wake of Riverisland.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

The Phantom Trustee - Not a Problem on a Deed of Trust

March 11, 2013,

Those of us involved in real estate loans, debt financing, and problem loans or loan workouts have sometimes wondered whether a deed of trust can be valid if no trustee is identified. I am often asked this question and, surprisingly, the issue was never been directly addressed by California courts until the end of 2012! In a decision handed down a few months ago, a California Court of Appeals ruled that the omission of a named trustee on a deed of trust at the time it is executed and recorded does not preclude enforcement of the deed of trust through a foreclosure sale of the secured property.

The facts of the case are straightforward. A real estate loan was made and secured by a deed of trust on the property being purchased. The lender designated Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., or MERS, as the beneficiary and simply omitted naming a trustee. Later, the borrowers defaulted on the loan and MERS then recorded a substitution of trustee naming ReconTrust Company, N.A. (ReconTrust) as trustee, and assigned its beneficial interest under the deed of trust to a loan servicer who further assigned the beneficiary's rights to Arch Bay Holdings, LLC - Series 2010B (Arch Bay). As newly appointed trustee, ReconTrust filed the required notice of default and notice of sale, and eventually conducted a trustee's sale at which Arch Bay purchased the property. After the sale, the borrowers filed a lawsuit asserting, among other things, that the failure to designate a trustee in the original deed of trust was a fatal flaw and precluded any trustee's sale under the power of sale in the deed of trust. See, Shuster v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, et al. 211 Cal.App.4th 505 (2012).

The court first noted that this issue had never been addressed in prior California rulings. After wading through some technical arguments, the court ruled in favor of the lender or creditor and against the borrower, stating that the essential validity of the deed of trust is not affected because a trustee is omitted in the original deed of trust, as long as a trustee is named prior to a foreclosure. The court reasoned that the very limited powers granted to a trustee under a deed of trust - to convey the property at an out of court sale - are insufficient incidents of ownership or control to make the actual naming of a trustee critical to the validity of the document.

Caveat: This decision is strictly limited to deeds of trust and does not apply to any other types of trusts.

If you are involved in a real estate loan or other financing, perhaps in Silicon Valley, San Jose or elsewhere in California, we still advise that the deed of trust contain the name of a trustee, as it avoids the risk that other critical information will accidentally be omitted. However, if the trustee name is for any reason not specified, there no longer is any doubt that the lien remains valid and enforceable.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.

Limited Liability Company Short Form Cancellations

March 4, 2013,

Last November, I was working closely with one of our clients and their real estate lender to purchase a large property in the San Francisco Bay Area. I formed two California limited liability companies for the transaction. One LLC was the investment entity that was going to own the property, and the other was the management entity that was going to hold the sponsor interests in the deal. Both entities had to be properly and fully formed so that we could obtain good standing certificates from the Secretary of State and be in position to issue legal opinions for the lender. During the due diligence period, our client discovered something about the property that was not what had been represented to them by the seller of the property. As a result of this information, the purchase fell through.

Fortunately, despite all of the other costs expended on pursuing this property, the client had not yet paid the $800 franchise taxes for each of the two LLCs we formed. In California, if an LLC meets certain requirements it may cancel its Articles of Organization within 12 months of the filing by filing a Short Form Certificate of Cancellation with the Secretary of State, and avoid paying the first year's franchise taxes. These requirements include:

- The California LLC has no debts or other liabilities (other than tax liability);
- The assets, if any, have been distributed to the persons entitled to them;
- The final tax return has been or will be filed with the Franchise Tax Board;
- The California LLC has not conducted any business since filing the Articles of Organization;
- A majority of managers or members, of if there are no managers or members, then the person who signed the Articles of Organization, voted to dissolve the LLC and
- If the LLC has received any payments from investors for LLC interests, those payments have been returned to the investors.

Source: Spidell's California Taxletter, Vol 34.11, Nov. 1, 2012.

Because our client met all of these requirements, we were able to cancel the LLCs without paying the $1600 ($800 x 2) in California franchise taxes. If, on the other hand, the client had already paid the taxes, we would not have been entitled to a refund. With this in mind, sometimes when forming an LLC it may be better to wait until the last minute before the franchise taxes are due before paying them to make sure the business is going forward, as long as you either pay them before late fees would be imposed, or you are willing to incur late fees in the event your LLC does not qualify for the short form cancellation.

Continue reading "Limited Liability Company Short Form Cancellations" »

Real Estate Loans, Mezzanine Financing and Intercreditor Agreements: Sometimes Words Mean Something

January 16, 2013,

An investor bought an apartment building in San Jose and the broker wanted to send flowers for the occasion. A large bouquet was delivered to the buyer's office with a note that read, "Rest in Peace."

The buyer was irritated and called the florist to complain. After he had told the florist of the obvious mistake and that he was not pleased, the florist said: "Sir, I'm really sorry for the mistake, but what I'm more concerned about is . . . there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note saying, "Congratulations on Your New Apartment!"This amusing joke is a good way of reminding us that both real estate and business deals continue to be closed in the Bay Area. As a banking, real estate and business lawyer representing parties to these transactions, I am very aware, and I expect most readers are as well, that financing continues to be a critical part of making a successful deal. During the robust period prior to 2008, one way parties garnered additional leverage in structuring real estate transactions was to utilize so-called mezzanine financing, in which the collateral securing a junior layer of debt consisted of the ownership interests in the borrower rather than the real estate. When the borrower was a limited liability company, this junior loan collateral could be secured through a pledge of the membership interests the owners held in the borrowing LLC.

The concept of using mezzanine debt to enhance leverage has not gone away. However, recent cases looking at transactions structured several years ago have curtailed the latitude of mezzanine lenders ("Mezz Lender") and improved the position of the senior secured lender ("Mortgage Lender") in the event problems arise after loan closings. If you are a Mortgage Lender holding real estate collateral, this may make it more attractive for you to enter into a transaction involving mezzanine financing. If you are a Mezz Lender or a borrower seeking to obtain and use mezzanine financing, obstacles now exist that were not there - or at least not believed to exist - before the markets collapsed in 2008.

The most significant point to take away from the recent case law is the enormous importance of the intercreditor agreement in multi-party transactions. This includes mezzanine financing discussed here, as well as other arrangements involving multiple creditors. In the cases mentioned below, the courts specifically analyzed the language and terms of the intercreditor agreements executed by the parties in reaching their rulings and, therefore, the exact language drafted into the intercreditor agreement will significantly affect the rights of the parties. If you become involved in a financing using mezzanine debt or a transaction with multiple creditors, close attention should be paid to the intercreditor agreement regardless of your position in the transaction.

Now, we discuss some basics about mezzanine financing and then assess the recent case law. Mezzanine financing provides an opportunity to apply an additional layer of secured debt to a real estate transaction by using the equity in the borrower itself, which are held by the owners. This debt is in addition to the Mortgage Lender's loan, which is secured by a first deed of trust against the subject property. For example, assume an entity acquiring real estate is an LLC, and the Mortgage Lender will loan 65% of appraised value based on its underwriting policies. This amount, however, is insufficient to close the transaction. A layer of mezzanine financing might be obtained by having the owners of the LLC, i.e., its members, pledge their interests in the borrowing LLC to secure additional loans. This financing, secured by entirely separate collateral and often provided by an entirely different lender - the Mezz Lender, reduces the owner/investor funds required to complete the purchase.

The Mortgage Lender, holding real property collateral, and the Mezz Lender typically enter into an intercreditor agreement as well, whereby the mezzanine financing is, among other things, subordinated to the loan held by the Mortgage Lender. But other terms and conditions are also rounded up and placed in the intercreditor agreement, including provisions limiting the remedies of the Mezz Lender while the senior secured loan is in default. One common term in many intercreditor agreements requires the Mezz Lender to cure defaults in the senior secured loan prior to transferring its interest in the borrower through a UCC foreclosure sale of its collateral to a "qualified transferee."

In the event problems develop with the project and defaults occur in the senior secured loan, the ultimate remedy for the Mortgage Lender, at some point, is to commence foreclosure proceedings. When this occurs, and particularly if values have declined, the junior Mezz Lender's strategy for protecting its interest frequently involves taking control of the borrower through a foreclosure sale of the ownership interests, and then placing the borrower in bankruptcy to maintain control and buy time to work out a liquidation that, to the extent possible, increases value at sale and protects the Mezz Lender's interests.

Recent court decisions, including Bank of America, N.A. v. PSW NYC LLC, 918 N.Y.S.2d 396, 2010 N.Y Slip O-p. 51848(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Sept. 16, 2010), and U.S. Bank National Association v. RFC CDO 2006-1 Ltd., Case No. 4:11-cv-664, Doc. No. 41 (D.Ariz Dec. 6, 2011), changed the playing field for these strategies by reaching the conclusion that the Mezz Lender is required to cure all defaults, including repaying the entire senior secured loan if that loan has been accelerated or matured, prior to conducting its UCC foreclosure sale. The Mezz Lender also may have to replace guarantors supporting recourse carve outs prior to a foreclosure. The bottom line is that these court decisions, which seem to be generating persuasive force, shift negotiating power in a workout or problem situation to the Mortgage Lender at the expense of the Mezz Lender.

As mentioned, these cases carefully scrutinized the intercreditor agreements, and therefore it will be worthwhile for a party to the transaction to pay close attention to that agreement.

The information appearing in this article does not constitute legal advice or opinion. Such advice and opinion are provided by the firm only upon engagement with respect to specific factual situations. Specific questions relating to this article should be addressed directly to the author.