A three-judge panel of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on October 19 that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s funding structure is unconstitutional. *
Rather than receiving its funding through periodic Congressional appropriations, the CFPB is funded directly from the Federal Reserve, which is funded through bank assessments. This funding method was intended to remove some congressional influence on the bureau.
Most federal agencies receive annual appropriations from Congress that are determined each year through legislative negotiations. Many agencies have separate funding sources like fees and assessments collected from the entities they regulate. The arrangement, like CFPB’s, which provides for a continuous funding source, is common among financial regulatory agencies like the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Many commentators have suggested that this opinion will not stand because nothing in the Constitution prevents Congress from funding agencies in a variety of ways. The case is expected to be appealed to the full Fifth Circuit and after that to the Supreme Court. But while this holding stands, it renders all CFPB actions from its inception vulnerable to challenge.
*Community Financial Services Association of America, Ltd. v. CFPB
Several news sources have reported that Renaissance Tower condominium project in Myrtle Beach was evacuated on October 7 because the building was deemed unsafe. The concern is apparently the structural foundation of the 22-story building which is located just north of Ocean Lakes Campground.
The Sun News reported on October 14 that Horry County Code Enforcement posted a sign outside the resort that the building is unsafe, and occupancy has been prohibited. The paper also reported that residents received an evacuation letter from the management company stating that the steel frame within the foundation is in substantially worse condition than previously believed. The damage was apparently discovered during a repair project that had just begun.
I have recommended previously that all South Carolina dirt lawyers subscribe to the DIRT listserv run by Professor Dale Whitman of the University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School. Two updates from that service in June relate to problem high-rise projects.
First, a 50-unit condominium building in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Horizon West, has been ordered to be demolished by the Waukesha City Council. Professor Whitman reports that the building’s steel structure has been compromised by water infiltration, much like the collapsed Surfside project near Miami, and is considered a risk for collapsing.
The residents don’t have the funds to pay for the demolition, and the insurance company is taking the position that the building should be repaired, not demolished. The cost of the demolition has skyrocketed because of the presence of asbestos.
The units were valued at $90,000 to $140,000 according to Zillow, prior to the discovery of the defects. During the current high-priced housing market, it is not likely that the property owners will be able to replace their housing even if they receive their full replacement costs from insurance. It is a very sad situation, but, of course, not as sad as an actual collapse resulting in the loss of lives.
Second, Florida’s legislature has passed a law that requires regular building inspections and requires homeowners’ associations to maintain reserves. The act was unanimously passed by both houses, and Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law on May 26th.
Under the new law, inspections are required when a condominium building reaches 30 years of age and every ten years thereafter. For buildings within three miles of the coast, the first inspection is required at 25 years of age.
In addition, mandatory structural integrity reserve studies are required every ten years under the new law, and reserves are required to be maintained based on the studies. The power of the HOA to waive reserves was removed, effective December 31, 2024.
This legislation is encouraging and should be considered in South Carolina, particularly because of the existence of our numerous high-rise coastal condominium projects. The Renaissance project is an example.
The only downside I see about such legislation is that it will make condominium living more expensive and may price some retirees and lower-income individuals out of the market entirely. But, logically, the cost of maintenance should be factored into every residential property purchase. The ability of an owners’ association to waive reserves and thereby kick the maintenance can down the road is a dangerous proposition.
If I told you how many articles I’ve written about fraud and scams, you’d think I’m much older than I am, so we won’t go there. But I am old enough to be retired. My husband and I both worked for large corporations who kept us current on scams of all kinds. In retirement, we must read numerous sources to make sure we keep ourselves safe online and otherwise.
The Washington Post, one of my favorite newspapers, published an article on September 6 entitled “Yes, it’s a scam; Simple tips to help you spot online fraud.” You can read it here.
The first tip makes so much sense: “Have “the talk” with family members.” This is so important! Tell your aging parents, your teenagers who spend a considerable portion of their lives online, and everyone in between the tricks you learn from your practice and your title insurance company about safety online. As painful as it may be to assist your elderly family members with their computer issues, keeping them safe from scams will save you from having to unwind the problems. Tell your family members to come to you to “gut-check”, as the article advises, suspicious messages and phone calls.
The second tip involves social media. The article advises that privacy settings can make it significantly harder for cybercriminals to successfully target you and your family members. Read the article for the details.
The third tip is my mantra: stay current! Using current events for unjust enrichment is a prime strategy of scammers. The article reports that within 24 hours of President Biden’s announcement of the student loan forgiveness program, The Federal Trade Commission released a warning about student loan scams. Updates for all of us are available at Fraud.org, a project of the National Consumers League. Make one of your employees responsible for reviewing and reporting on the great information from that site. And make sure your family members know about it.
I love this one: “Assume that people or companies aren’t who they say they are.” As lawyers, we’re naturally and by education skeptical. Make sure those around you approach the internet and telephone as skeptically as you do.
This one is great: “Verify everything using a different channel.” Title insurance companies have been telling their agents for years (decades!) to verify wiring instructions by making a telephone call using a known and trusted telephone number. This advice can be used in other areas of online life. Use official customer service numbers and websites. Call your bank! Call or text a friend who asks for money via social media. The article advises the use of AARP’s free telephone service to ask about possible scams: 877-908-3360.
The article advises all of us to memorize the signs that something is a scam:
You didn’t initiate the conversation.
You won something.
You are panicked: scammers want to create a sense of urgency.
It involves fast payment methods: peer to peer payment apps, for example.
There are payment complications. For example, the scammer will offer to pay over an app like Zelle, say there’s a problem, then ask for your email address so they can send a fake email to get your information.
They want information.
Something doesn’t feel right.
Stay current, keep your office current, and keep your family members current!
Real estate cases can be sad, and this is one of those. City of Charleston Housing Authority v. Brown* Involved the eviction of a mother from a public housing apartment because her son committed a crime.
The facts, according to the Court, are not in dispute. Katrina Brown renewed her lease with CHA in 2015. Brown’s minor son and daughter were listed as residents and members of her household. Early in 2016, Brown’s son, who was 17 at the time, was arrested a mile away from his home carrying a gun. Two weeks later, CHA sent an official 30-day notice of eviction to Brown. The notice informed Brown that her eviction was based on the lease’s prohibition against violent criminal behavior.
At the magistrate’s hearing, a Charleston detective testified that Brown’s son confessed to an attempted armed robbery that occurred two days before his arrest and approximately one mile from the housing complex. Brown testified that her son was being held in jail, and if he was able to make bond, he would live with his grandmother.
The magistrate found that evictions based on criminal activity provisions of housing lease agreements must be determined on a case-by-case basis and denied the application for eviction based on the testimony as well as factors from federal law. On appeal, the circuit court remanded the case for factual findings and analysis regarding whether Brown’s eviction was warranted under 42 U.S.C. §1437(1)(6), the federal statute governing public housing leases, which is colloquially known as the “One-Strike Rule.”
The “One-Strike Rule” requires federally-funded public housing authorities and private landlords renting their properties to tenants receiving federal housing assistance to include a provision in all leases stating that drug-related criminal activity, as well as criminal activity that threatens other tenants or nearby residents, are grounds for eviction, regardless of the tenant’s personal knowledge of the criminal activity. The strict-liability, no-fault rule was premised on the idea that public housing tenants are entitled to homes that are “decent, safe, and free from illegal drugs.
In May of 2017, the magistrate issued an order evicting Brown, finding her son’s actions created good cause for eviction. At an appeal hearing before the circuit court, Brown argued that non-drug related criminal activity can only be grounds for eviction if the activity constitutes a present threat to the residents of the public housing facility and occurred in the immediate vicinity of the facility. She also argued that CHA was required to demonstrate that they used discretion in evaluating the circumstances and alternatives to eviction of an innocent tenant before evicting the entire household. She asserted that CHA made no showing that it exercised discretion.
The circuit court affirmed Brown’s eviction. The Court of Appeals found that Brown’s son’s actions created good cause for the eviction. The Court cited a 2007 Massachusetts case that set out the policy reason for the “One-Strike Rule”: Tenants of public housing developments represent some of the most needy and vulnerable segments of our population, including low-income families, children, the elderly, and the handicapped. It should not be their fate, to the extent manifestly possible, to live in fear of their neighbors.
The Court further held that the threat need not be “ongoing” to justify eviction. Then the Court turned to an interesting aspect of federal law, holding the “One-Strike Rule” does not automatically require eviction. Rather, the housing authority must demonstrate that it exercises discretion in the decision to evict. The record must reflect that the housing authority knew it could refrain from invoking the “One-Strike Rule” under the circumstances.
The case was remanded to the magistrate for a hearing to determine whether CHA exercised discretion in deciding to pursue the eviction of Brown’s entire household for the criminal actions of her son.
I’m sure you understand what I mean about this case being sad. It is sad for the mother to be evicted for the actions of her son, and it is sad for the other residents of the facility to be subjected to such criminal activity. This is a difficult situation, and I’m encouraged to know that discretion must be exercised.