Assignment of Rents – What, Why, and How?

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These days, almost all commercial loans include an Assignment of Rents as part of the Deed of Trust or Mortgage. But what is an Assignment of Rents, why is this such an important tool, and how are they enforced?

An Assignment of Rents (“AOR”) is used to grant the lender on a transaction a security interest in existing and future leases, rents, issues, or profits generated by the secured property, including cash proceeds, in the event a borrower defaults on their loan. The lender can use the AOR to step in and directly collect rental payments made by the tenant. For an AOR to be effective, the lender’s interest must be perfected, which has a few fairly simple requirements. The AOR must be in writing, executed by the borrower, and recorded with the county where the property is located. Including an AOR in the recorded Deed of Trust or Mortgage is the easiest and most common way to ensure the AOR meets these requirements should it ever need to be utilized.

When a borrower defaults, lenders can take advantage of AORs as an alternative to foreclosure to recoup their investment. With a shorter timeline and significantly lower costs, it is certainly an attractive option for lenders looking to get defaulted borrowers back on track with payments, without the potential of having to take back a property and attempting to either manage it or sell it in hopes of getting your money back out of the property. AORs can be a quick and easy way for the lender to get profits generated by the property with the goal of bringing the borrower out of default. But lenders should carefully monitor how much is owed versus how much has been collected. If the AOR generates enough funds so that the borrower is no longer in default, the lender must stop collecting rents generated by the property.

Enforcement of an AOR can also incentivize borrowers to work with the lender to formulate a plan, as many borrowers rely on rental income to cover expenses related to the property or their businesses. Borrowers are generally more willing to come to the table and negotiate a mutual, amicable resolution with the lender in order to protect their own investment. A word of warning to lenders though: since rental income is frequently used to pay expenses on the property, such as the property manager, maintenance, taxes, and other expenses, the lender needs to ensure they do not unintentionally hurt the value of the property by letting these important expenses fall behind. This may hurt the lender’s investment as well, as the property value could suffer, liens could be placed on the property, or the property may fall into disrepair if not properly maintained. It is also important for lenders to be aware of the statutes surrounding the payment of these expenses when an AOR is being used, as some state’s statutes require the lender to pay certain property expenses out of the collected rents if requested by the borrower.

In addition to being shorter and cheaper than foreclosure, AORs can be much easier to enforce. In California, the enforcement of an AOR is governed by California Civil Code §2938. This statute specifies enforcement methods lenders can use and restrictions on use of these funds by the lender, among other things. Under CA Civil Code §2938(c), there are 4 ways to enforce an AOR:

  1. The appointment of a receiver;
  2. Obtaining possession of the rents, issues, profits;
  3. Delivery to tenant of a written demand for turnover of rents, issues, and profits in the correct form; or
  4. Delivery to assignor of a written demand for the rents, issues, or profits.

One or more of these methods can be used to enforce an AOR. First, a receiver can be appointed by the court, and granted specific powers related to the AOR such as managing the property and collecting rents. They can have additional powers though; it just depends on what the court orders. This is not the simplest or easiest option as it requires court involvement, but this is used to enforce an AOR, especially when borrowers or tenants are uncooperative. Next is obtaining possession of the rents, issues, profits, which is exactly as it seems; lenders can simply obtain actual possession of these and apply the funds to the loan under their AOR.

The third and fourth options each require delivery of a written demand to certain parties, directing them to pay rent to the lender instead of to the landlord. Once the demand is made, the tenant pays their rent directly to the lender, who then applies the funds to the defaulted loan. These are both great pre-litigation options, with advantages over the first two enforcement methods since actual possession can be difficult to obtain and courts move slowly with high costs to litigate. The written demands require a specific form to follow called the “Demand To Pay Rent to Party Other Than Landlord”, as found at CA Civil Code §2938(k). There are other notice requirements to be followed here, so it is essential to consult with an experienced attorney if you are considering either of these options. California Civil Code §2938 specifically provides that none of the four enforcement methods violate California’s One Action Rule nor the Anti-Deficiency Rule, so lenders can confidently enforce their AORs using the above methods with peace of mind that they are not violating other California laws.

Whether you are looking to originate a new loan, or you are facing a default by your borrower, understanding what an Assignment of Rents is and how it operates can be extremely beneficial. Enforcing an AOR can be an easier option than foreclosure and can help promote a good relationship with your borrower when handled correctly. If you have any questions about AORs, or need further details on how to enforce them, Geraci is here to help.

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