SC Court of Appeals Upholds Developer’s Plan for Tailgate Condo Project

Standard

The SPUR avoids kiddie condo status.

In a case decided in the midst of a wretched Carolina football season, the South Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a restriction against rentals to students in a condominium project that was clearly built to accommodate terrific tailgate parties.

williams brice condoLalla v. The SPUR at Williams Brice Owners Association, Inc.* involved a three bedroom condominium in the shadow of Williams Brice stadium purchased in 2007 for $470,000. Mr. and Mrs. Lalla purchased the condo intending to enjoy football games and to allow their daughter and two roommates to live there during college.  However, the great market decline beginning in 2008 spoiled their plans.

The Master Deed contained a prohibition against renting to any student enrolled in a two or four year college. But owners could allow their children or grandchildren to reside in or rent a unit along with rent-paying roommates.

When the market declined, the value of the condominium substantially decreased in value, and the Lallas unsuccessfully attempted to sell it. At the time of the appellate court hearing in 2014, the condo had been on the market for four years.

During the summer of 2010, the Lallas notified the owners’ association of their decision to rent to college students and began to do so. In June of 2010, the board of the association met and considered a comment card from a unit owner complaining that the association was allowing the project to turn into a dormitory.  Following this meeting, the board sent out a notice to each owner indicating the restrictions would be enforced and giving owners until May of 2011 to terminate any violating leases.

When the rules were not followed by Mr. and Mrs. Lalla, the association filed a declaratory judgment action seeking interpretation and enforcement of the master deed. The Lallas answered and counterclaimed, seeking a ruling that the restrictions were null and void because of changed circumstances. The association prevailed in the circuit court, and the Lallas appealed, asserting that the restrictions discriminated against a specific class of individuals (college students) and are unreasonable because the violation caused no damage to other property owners.

football tailgateThe discrimination argument failed because ”college students have not faced a long history of discrimination, are not an insular minority, and have not been classified according to an immutable trait acquired at birth.” In other words “college students” is not an inherently suspect class. The purpose of the restriction, to insure the comfort and safety of the residents and to protect the investment of the property owners by minimizing the risk of creating a dormitory-like atmosphere, was held to be rational.

The Court of Appeals also held that the economic change in circumstances failed to support the termination of the restriction because the declining market had no effect on the association’s need to minimize the risk that the project might develop a dormitory-like atmosphere.

South Carolina dirt lawyers like to see restrictive covenants enforced as written, so this case matches our world view.  And the Carolina fans among us dream of an outstanding replacement for Steve Spurrier so those terrific tailgate parties can resume!

Advertisements

The Strange Appearance of Title Insurance Rates on the New Closing Disclosure

Standard

calculator paperIs this what the CFPB intended?

South Carolina closing attorneys are in the throes of their first closings under the new CFPB rules. Title insurance company offices are fielding all kinds of unusual questions as everyone works through their first few sets of documents. And our collective eyes are having difficulty adjusting to the appearance of title insurance rates on the new Closing Disclosure.

Under the filed rates of the title companies in South Carolina, we have a simultaneous issue rate of $100 for a second policy in a transaction. Typically, the owner’s liability amount and premium are higher, so the simultaneous issue rate of $100 is the charge for the loan policy.

The South Carolina Department of Insurance (SCDOI) requires us to disclose the true cost of an owner’s policy over the cost of the loan policy. We have been accustomed to referring to this charge as the “difference plus $100” because we take the difference in the full cost of both policies and add the $100 simultaneous issue fee to arrive at the number the SCDOI requires.

Let’s look at an example:

In a purchase transaction, the sales price is $455,000, and the loan amount is $409,500.  The full premium for the ALTA Homeowner’s policy is $1,290.60, and the full premium for the loan policy is $981.00. In the past, the title and software companies’ rate calculators would have shown:

ALTA Homeowner’s policy rate: $1,290.60 (full premium)
Loan Policy (standard rate): 100.00 (simultaneous issue fee)
$1390.60 (total)

For the SCDOI required disclosure, we would have shown:

ALTA Homeowner’s policy rate: $409.60 (difference plus $100)
Loan Policy (standard rate): 981.00 (full premium amount)
$1390.60 (total)

The total of the two calculations was always consistent.

Now, the CFPB requires that the total cost of the loan policy be disclosed and any simultaneous issue discounts must be shown against the owner’s policy. That’s ok with our South Carolina eyes because we can use our “difference plus $100” calculation to reach the same result.

The problem occurs where there is a reissue credit. While the CFPB never specifically addressed how to handle a reissue credit, the agency was clear that the loan policy premium had to be reflected in full. So most of the title and software companies have decided to take the reissue credit from the owner’s policy premium as well.

In our example, let’s assume that there was a prior ALTA Homeowner’s policy in the amount of $315,000. The reissue credit would be $468.90 (half the full premium for $315,000), so the new total cost would be $921.70 ($1,390.60 – $468.20), and this is where the problem becomes more challenging:

ALTA Homeowner’s policy rate: $ -59.30 ($409.60 minus the credit of $468.90)
Loan Policy (standard rate): 981.00 (simultaneous issue fee)
$921.70 (total)

The total is the same (and correct in our collective view), but notice the negative number as the cost of the owner’s policy.

We have decided in our office to think about it this way. The Closing Disclosure is not a replacement for the HUD-1, and it is not a closing statement. It is simply what it is entitled, a closing disclosure that the CFPB requires for the consumer borrower.

We are going to have to prepare other documents (closing statements, disbursement analyses) that will allow us to properly disburse and to completely disclose each disbursement as required by the SCDOI, not to mention the South Carolina Supreme Court! And our eyes are just going to have to adjust to those negative numbers!

Thanks to Cris Garrick, the IT guru in our office who figured this out and convinced me it’s correct!

SC Supreme Court Crafts New Foreclosure Law

Standard

foreclosureFailure to file bond does not render appeal moot

In a case decided on November 4*, the Supreme Court of South Carolina interpreted S.C. Code §18-9-170** in a way that may come as a surprise to dirt lawyers.

The case arose from the foreclosure of an HOA lien. The absentee owner defaulted in the foreclosure and did not appeal. Instead, he moved to vacate the resulting sale. When his motion to vacate was denied, the master issued a deed to the successful bidder, and the defaulting owner appealed without filing an appeal bond.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, holding that the property owner failed to comply with the statute that would have stayed the sale, and, therefore the master-in-equity’s deed rendered the appeal moot.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for a decision on the merits.

Real estate practitioners have likely read §18-9-170 to mean that failure to file a bond in this situation renders the appeal moot. This case indicates that the failure to file a bond may not be an issue. If no bond is filed, the master may issue the deed to the successful bidder, but the appeal can proceed. By implication, if the appeal is successful, then the purchaser’s deed may be set aside. The Court specifically stated that the master’s deed does not moot the appeal, and the appellate court may reach the merits.

For title examiners and the lawyers who rely on title examinations, this case means that whether or not an appeal bond has been filed, we must pay attention to a case on appeal.

* Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc., v. Alexander, Appellate Case No. 2012-21340, Opinion 27585

** S.C. Code §18-9-170 reads in relevant portion: “If the judgment appealed from directs the sale or delivery of possession of real property, the execution of the judgment shall not be stayed unless a written undertaking be executed….”

SC Supreme Court Decides Family Equitable Mortgage Case

Standard

…and dirt lawyers are gratified to see the deeds called deeds!tug o war

On Oct. 28, the South Carolina Supreme Court decided a family dispute surrounding a transaction between a deceased brother and his sister and held that two deeds to the sister were, in fact, deeds, and did not constitute an equitable mortgage*.

While Justice Kittredge’s dissent suggested the Court established a “categorical rule” that only evidence created contemporaneously with a conveyance can be considered in support of an equitable mortgage, the majority, in a footnote, disagreed with Justice Kittredge’s interpretation and signified subsequent events and writings may assist in determining the intent of the parties at the time of the conveyance.

After two appeals, the facts remain murky.

Kenneth Walker owned and lived on a 200-acre farm in Colleton County. In 1996, he conveyed 26.52 acres to his sister, Catherine Brooks. The stated consideration was $13,250, although Brooks testified she paid nothing. In 2002, Walker conveyed an additional 15.16 acres to Brooks for the stated consideration of $5.00.

According to Brooks, her brother conveyed the property to her because she supported him emotionally and financially. She testified that she paid his debts, paid his electric and telephone bills, bought his groceries, gave him cash for living expenses, helped him receive social security benefits and served as trustee for those benefits.

In 2004, at Walker’s request, Brooks wrote a note stating that Walker intended proceeds from sand removal and soil and waste water discharge onto the property would be paid to Brooks until she received $60,000. Walker and Brooks also generated a ledger that began with an entry of $60,000 and ended with an entry of $27,400.

It is clear that Brooks did not exercise control over the property.

deed - definitionBefore Walker died, his attorney sent a letter to Brooks referring to this note and ledger, and requesting her to tender a deed in exchange for $2,893.87. This amount was inexplicable, according to the Court.  After Walker’s death, his son and personal representative offered to pay Brooks $27,400 in exchange for a deed. Brooks refused, and this dispute arose.

The special referee held that the note and ledger showed that Walker was indebted to Brooks at the time of his death, and the conveyance was intended as security for the debt. He found the existence of an equitable mortgage, and held that the estate was entitled to the property upon payment of $27,400. The Court of Appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The Supreme Court, referring to a C.J.S. article and a prior case, indicated that the existence of an equitable mortgage must be shown by clear and convincing evidence, and that the intent of the parties must be evaluated at the time of the conveyance.  The court referred to the personal representative’s “self-serving testimony” and the fact that Brooks did not exercise control over the property as the only evidence that the parties intended to establish an equitable mortgage at the time the property was conveyed. The existence of the note and ledger were discounted as not being contemporaneous with the deeds.

Justice Kittredge would have reinstated the trial court’s finding of an equitable mortgage, denouncing the Court’s “categorical rule” in the face of these “equitable, fact intensive inquiries.” He found the existence of the note and ledger persuasive that the parties intended that the conveyance was, in legal effect, a mortgage.

Like dirt lawyers everywhere, I like certainty when it comes to deeds and find the Supreme Court’s holding comforting.

 

 

*Walker v. Brooks, Appellate Case No. 2013-001377