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DAVID J. WILLIS ATTORNEY
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Copyright 2013. All rights reserved worldwide.

Due-on-Sale in Texas

"There is no due-on-sale jail"– Attorney Bill Bronchick
by David J. Willis, J.D., LL.M.

Introduction

One factor to consider in using creative methods to convey real estate is whether or not such methods will enable a lender to accelerate the existing loan using the due-on-sale clause in the deed of trust. There are a variety of contractual and statutory factors that need to be considered. However, the fundamental fact is this: If a transaction involves a title transfer without prior consent of the lender, then the risk of acceleration (however small) is present if the lender's deed of trust contains a due-on-sale clause. And nearly all of them do.

Due-on-sale has become a more important consideration since lease-options, long a mainstay of residential investor portfolios, are now defined as executory contracts subject to burdensome restrictions and requirements. Especially problematic is Prop. Code section 5.085(b)(3)(C) which requires that "the lienholder consents to verify the status of the loan on request of the purchaser and to accept payment directly from the purchaser if the seller defaults on the loan." This means that the lienholder must be informed of and consent to an executory transaction, which is unlikely to ever occur as a practical matter. Accordingly, residential executory contracts longer than 180 days are effectively limited to paid-for properties. Residential investors owning property subject to a lien now tend to look to other alternatives–wraparounds, land trusts, or leases with a right of first refusal–all of which require consideration of due-on-sale.

Historically, mortgage lenders are not usually interested in foreclosing upon a performing loan on merely technical grounds such as transfer of title by the borrower. However, some will send irate letters demanding that the new owner apply and qualify to assume the loan, threatening that the property will otherwise be posted for foreclosure. Whether or not that threat is real or just a bluff is a crapshoot. It is nonetheless clear that acceleration can happen, as can lawsuits by a party who alleges that he or she was not properly advised on the implications of due-on-sale and claims damages as a result.

The Seven-Day Notice Requirement

Property Code section 5.016 attempts to deal with the issue of due-on-sale by (1) requiring seven days' notice to the buyer before closing that an existing loan is in place; (2) giving the buyer this same seven-day period in which to rescind the contract to purchase; and (3) also requiring that a seven-day notice be sent to the lender, theoretically giving the lender an opportunity to accelerate and call the loan due. Clearly, this statute is designed to discourage transaction structures that separate title from debt and result in a lender losing control over a loan. Still, there is nothing illegal or even unethical about doing this. It happens often, most notably in "subject to" and wraparound transactions.

Section 5.016(c) lists 11 express exceptions to the seven-day notice rule:

    (c) This section does not apply to a transfer:

    1. under a court order or foreclosure sale
    2. by a trustee in bankruptcy;
    3. to a mortgagee by a mortgagor or successor in interest or to a beneficiary of a deed of trust by a trustor or successor in interest;
    4. by a mortgagee or a beneficiary under a deed of trust who has acquired the real property at a sale conducted under a power of sale under a deed of trust or a sale under a court-ordered foreclosure or has acquired the real property by a deed in lieu of foreclosure;
    5. by a fiduciary in the course of the administration of a decedent´s estate, guardianship, conservatorship, or trust;
    6. from one co-owner to one or more other co-owners;
    7. to a spouse or to a person or persons in the lineal line of consanguinity of one or more of the transferors;
    8. between spouses resulting from a decree of dissolution of marriage or a decree of legal separation or from a property settlement agreement incidental to one of those decrees;
    9. to or from a governmental entity;
    10. to a person who has purchased, conveyed, or entered into contracts to purchase or convey an interest in real property four or more times in the preceding 12 months.

The most obvious available exception between non-family members is a transaction where title insurance is issued (an odd exception, actually, since it was never the purchaser´s title that was in doubt).

Transfers into a trust do not constitute an exception, although transfers by an existing trustee are excepted. So creating a land trust is not a means around the seven-day notice requirement.

No time period is specified during which a lender must act on the notice, if at all. The actual effect of this statute remains to be seen, particularly since the only sanction is to allow a prospective purchaser to back out of a contract before closing (not after).

Effect of the Mortgage Fraud Act

The Residential Mortgage Fraud Act requires virtually anyone connected with a real estate transaction (including real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, escrow officers, attorneys, etc.) to report to an authorized government agency suspicious activity that may involve real estate fraud. Tex. Gov´t Code § 402.031. Question: Is failure to give the seven-day notice required "suspicious?" Future cases may answer this question in the affirmative. While Property Code section 5.016 may be largely toothless, fraud sanctions can be severe. Accordingly, the seven-day notice should be given unless there is a specific exception is available.

The Wording of a Due-on-Sale Clause

Even if seven-day notice must be given, it is not necessarily true that a lender will accelerate and foreclose; nor is true that a lender always may take such action. Take a close look at the language of the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Uniform Deed of Trust, which is nearly universally used to secure institutional residential loans. It contains the following due-on-sale clause:

18. Transfer of the Property or a Beneficial Interest in Borrower. As used in this section 18, "Interest in the Property" means any legal or beneficial interest in the Property, including, but not limited to, those beneficial interests transferred in a bond for deed, contract for deed, installment sales contract or escrow agreement, the intent of which is the transfer of title by Borrower at a future date to a purchaser. If all or any part of the Property or any Interest in the Property is sold or transferred (or if Borrower is not a natural person and a beneficial interest in Borrower is sold or transferred) without Lender´s prior written consent, Lender may require immediate payment in full of all sums secured by this Security Instrument. However, this option shall not be exercised by Lender if such exercise is prohibited by Applicable Law.

Conveying title without lender consent is not a crime or a "violation" of this clause. Secondly, paragraph 18 expressly states that a lender may not act if such action is "prohibited by Applicable Law." What is that? .

Exceptions Provided by “Applicable Law:”

The federal Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act, 12 U.S.C. § 1701j-3, is among the "applicable law" that limits lenders´ ability to act in matters of due-on-sale:

(d) Exemption of specified transfers or dispositions

With respect to a real property loan secured by a lien on residential real property containing less than five dwelling units, including a lien on the stock allocated to a dwelling unit in a cooperative housing corporation, or on a residential manufactured home, a lender may not exercise its option pursuant to a due-on-sale clause upon–
(1) the creation of a lien or other encumbrance subordinate to the lender´s security instrument which does not relate to a transfer of rights of occupancy in the property;

(2) the creation of a purchase money security interest for household appliances;

(3) a transfer by devise, descent, or operation of law on the death of a joint tenant or tenant by the entirety;

(4) the granting of a leasehold interest of three years or less not containing an option to purchase;

(5) a transfer to a relative resulting from the death of a borrower;

(6) a transfer where the spouse or children of the borrower become an owner of the property;

(7) a transfer resulting from a decree of a dissolution of marriage, legal separation agreement, or from an incidental property settlement agreement, by which the spouse of the borrower becomes an owner of the property;

(8) a transfer into an inter vivos trust in which the borrower is and remains a beneficiary and which does not relate to a transfer of rights of occupancy in the property; or

(9) any other transfer or disposition described in regulations prescribed by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

Subsection (8) usually gets the most attention. This exception was intended to allow individuals to create family trusts for estate planning purposes, especially probate-avoidance, without worries about due-on-sale.

Are Land Trusts a Solution to Due-on-Sale Risk?

Subsection (8) is also the exception relied upon by many investors who use land trusts with the intention of avoiding the applicability and enforceability of due-on-sale. As stated above, this was not the purpose of the exception; however, setting that point aside, there remain an obvious pitfall to this approach: such trusts make use of a lease, lease-option, or other document allowing the buyer/beneficiary to move into the property immediately–which clearly "relates to a transfer of rights of occupancy." So while land trusts may in the right circumstances be effective creative vehicles, it cannot be claimed that they are a surefire method of dodging due-on-sale under Garn-St. Germain.

Other "applicable law" exists. For instance, the FDIC has promulgated 12 C.F.R. § 591.5(b)(1) which is unfortunately even more restrictive than Garn-St. Germain. It requires that in order for a land trust to avoid enforcement of a due-on-sale clause, the property must continue to be owner-occupied-something which is almost never true in the typical case. This rule reads:

§ 591.5 Limitation on exercise of due-on-sale clauses.

(b)(1) A lender shall not (except with regard to a reverse mortgage) exercise its option pursuant to a due-on-sale clause upon:
(vi) A transfer into an inter vivos trust in which the borrower is and remains the beneficiary and occupant of the property, unless, as a condition precedent to such transfer, the borrower refuses to provide the lender with reasonable means acceptable to the lender by which the lender will be assured of timely notice of any subsequent transfer of the beneficial interest or change in occupancy.

Investor and seminar gurus often make extravagant claims that their complex and expensive forms provide immunity from due-on-sale issues, ironclad asset protection, expedited eviction in event of default, and other proprietary strategies that will lead an investor along the gold brick road to prosperity. Such claims are usually false. Few of these packages are customized for Texas, nor do they take into account the executory contract rules, violations of which are defined to be deceptive trade practices. Seminar guru forms can now get investors in real trouble.

Note on Earnest Money Contracts

Consideration of due-on-sale begins with the earnest money contract, although TREC promulgated forms are less than adequate in dealing with the subject. It is a good idea to consult a real estate attorney to obtain a suitable addendum that addresses the non-standard nature of any creative transaction, including due-on-sale issues.

DISCLAIMER

Information in this article is proved for general informational and educational purposes only and is not offered as legal advice upon which anyone may rely. Legal counsel relating to your individual needs and circumstances is advisable before taking any action that has legal consequences. Consult your tax advisor as well. This firm does not represent you unless and until it is expressly retained in writing to do so.

Copyright © 2013 by David J. Willis. All rights reserved worldwide. David J. Willis is board certified in both residential and commercial real estate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. More information is available at his website, http://www.LoneStarLandLaw.com.