In 95% of Tennessee foreclosures, the foreclosing lender has appointed a substitute trustee to conduct the sale but, of those, about 10% mess the process up and conduct a defective sale.
First, some background. When a borrower grants a lien pursuant to a deed of trust, the real property is conveyed to a specific trustee named in the instrument “to hold title to the property in trust” pending the repayment. If there is a default, the trustee can later sell and convey title to the property.
These trustees are generally a closing lawyer or trust officer at the bank, but they are rarely the same lawyer who does the foreclosures for the bank. (Note: There’s no reason that they can’t be same.)
Later, if the bank decides to foreclose, one of the first steps is to appoint a “foreclosure” lawyer to be the successor trustee under the deed of trust. This is done by simply preparing an Appointment of Substitute Trustee, having the lender sign and notarize it, and recording it with the register of deeds in the relevant county.
Sounds easy, right?
Here’s where the mistake happens. When the decision to foreclose is made, the bank (or the lawyers) sometimes rush it out the door and start the foreclosure either before the Appointment of Substitute Trustee is signed or before it is recorded. (Spoiler: One of those is fatal to the foreclosure.)
Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-114(b)(3), if the Appointment is not recorded by the first publication date, there is specific “savings” language that must be included in the foreclosure sale notice. This text says, basically, that, even though the appointment hasn’t been recorded, the lender “has appointed the substitute trustee prior to the first notice of publication as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-5-101…”
As a result, it’s still a valid sale, as long as that text is included. But, as this text also suggests, it may not be a valid sale if the actual Appointment of Substitute Trustee was not signed until after the foreclosure sale notice was published. If that’s the case, a court may find that the successor trustee was a stranger to the property at the time he or she issued the sale notice. (And strangers have no power to start a sale.)
Tennessee foreclosure statutes are non-judicial, which means it’s all just paperwork, but there’s an exact sequence of steps that must be followed.
This particular error is an easy one to avoid, but also an easy one to make. Many creditors want to foreclose quickly, which requires the lender and its counsel to satisfy strict publication deadlines to get the sale notice published and to obtain a sale date.
In doing so, they can often overlook the necessity of getting the initial paperwork executed in advance (whether it’s the rush of getting the sale notice to the local newspaper or the simple hassle of finding a notary for the appointment of substitute trustee).
As we have seen in recent cases, the failure to follow the technical requirements of Tennessee law and deeds of trust can result in a challenge to a foreclosure. It’s all paperwork, but make sure you get it right.