“[W]hat is surprising about these cases is … the utter carelessness with which the plaintiff banks documented the titles to their assets.” –Justice Robert Cordy, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled against foreclosing lenders and those who purchased foreclosed properties in Massachusetts in the controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case. Here is the link for the decision. I’ve posted the decision below, and I’ve done a video blog embedded below.
For those new to the case, the problem the Court dealt with in this case is the validity of foreclosures when the mortgages are part of securitized mortgage lending pools. When mortgages were bundled and packaged to Wall Street investors, the ownership of mortgage loans were divided and freely transferred numerous times on the lenders’ books. But the mortgage loan documentation actually on file at the Registry of Deeds often lagged far behind.
In the Ibanez case, the mortgage assignment, which was executed in blank, was not recorded until over a year after the foreclosure process had started. This was a fairly common practice in Massachusetts, and I suspect across the U.S. Mr. Ibanez, the distressed homeowner, challenged the validity of the foreclosure, arguing that U.S. Bank had no standing to foreclose because it lacked any evidence of ownership of the mortgage and the loan at the time it started the foreclosure.
Mr. Ibanez won his case in the lower court in 2009, and due to the importance of the issue, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court took the case on direct appeal.
The SJC Ruling: Lenders Must Prove Ownership When They Foreclose
The SJC’s ruling can be summed up by Justice Cordy’s concurring opinion:
“The type of sophisticated transactions leading up to the accumulation of the notes and mortgages in question in these cases and their securitization, and, ultimately the sale of mortgaged-backed securities, are not barred nor even burdened by the requirements of Massachusetts law. The plaintiff banks, who brought these cases to clear the titles that they acquired at their own foreclosure sales, have simply failed to prove that the underlying assignments of the mortgages that they allege (and would have) entitled them to foreclose ever existed in any legally cognizable form before they exercised the power of sale that accompanies those assignments. The court’s opinion clearly states that such assignments do not need to be in recordable form or recorded before the foreclosure, but they do have to have been effectuated.”
The Court’s ruling appears rather elementary: you need to own the mortgage before you can foreclose. But it’s become much more complicated with the proliferation of mortgage backed securities (MBS’s) –which constitute 60% or more of the entire U.S. mortgage market. The Court has held unequivocally that the common industry practice of assigning a mortgage “in blank” — meaning without specifying to whom the mortgage would be assigned until after the fact — does not constitute a proper assignment, at least in Massachusetts.
- Winners: Distressed homeowners facing foreclosure
- Losers: Foreclosing lenders, people who purchased foreclosed homes with this type of title defect, foreclosure attorneys, and title insurance companies.
- Despite pleas from innocent buyers of foreclosed properties and my own predictions, the decision was applied retroactively, so this will hurt Massachusetts homeowners who bought defective foreclosure properties.
- If you own a foreclosed home with an “Ibanez” title issue, I’m afraid to say that you do not own your home anymore. The previous owner who was foreclosed upon owns it again. This is a mess.
- The opinion is a scathing indictment of the securitized mortgage lending system and its non-compliance with Massachusetts foreclosure law. Justice Cordy, a former big firm corporate lawyer, chastised lenders and their Wall Street lawyers for “the utter carelessness with which the plaintiff banks documented the titles to their assets.”
- If you purchased a foreclosure property with an “Ibanez” title defect, and you do not have title insurance, you are in trouble. You may not be able to sell or refinance your home for quite a long time, if ever. Recourse would be against the foreclosing banks, the foreclosing attorneys. Or you could attempt to get a deed from the previous owner. Re-doing the original foreclosure is also an option but with complications.
- If you purchased a foreclosure property and you have an owner’s title insurance policy, contact the title company right away.
- The decision carved out some room so that mortgages with compliant securitization documents may be able to survive the ruling. This will shake out in the months to come. A major problem with this case was that the lenders weren’t able to produce the schedules of the securitization documents showing that the two mortgages in question were part of the securitization pool. Why, I have no idea.
- The decision opens the door for foreclosing lenders to prove ownership with proper securitized documents. There will be further litigation on this. Furthermore, since the Land Court’s decision in 2009, many lenders have already re-done foreclosures and title insurance companies have taken other steps to cure the title defects.
- We don’t know how other state court’s will react to this ruling. The SJC is one of the most well respected state supreme courts in the country. This decision was well-reasoned and I believe correct given that the lenders couldn’t even produce any admissible evidence they held the mortgages. The ruling will certainly be followed in states (such as California) operating under a non-judicial foreclosure system such as Massachusetts.
- Watch for class actions against foreclosing lenders, the attorneys who drafted the securitization loan documents and foreclosing attorneys. Investors of mortgage backed securities (MBS) will also be exploring their legal options against the trusts and servicers of the mortgage pools.
- The banking sector has already dropped some 5% today (1.7.11), showing that this ruling has sufficiently spooked investors.
More more extensive analysis, please read my new post: Apocalypse Now? Will The Massachusetts Ibanez Case Unravel Widespread Irregularities In The Residential Securitized Mortgage Market?
Additional Press Coverage
- Boston Globe
- CNN Money
- Bloomberg News
- Huffington Post
- Wall St. Journal Law Blog
- Forbes Blog
- Metrowest (MA) Daily News