Real estate investment trusts have begun to redeem their badly besmirched reputations as t4e high flying property speculators of the early 1970s who took a nosedive in 1974-75 have been getting back into the black. Investor interest has revived and a number of REITs have been acquired by other companies.
Yet there remains the problem of what to do about the properties that were foreclosed when so many of the investment trusts went bust in the aftermath of the recession. Across the country, 341 national banks are still saddled with more than $1 billion in real estate they acquired when REITs could not reimburse their creditors.
Legislation that would aid these and other banks in similar distress passed the Senate Banking Committee this week, while at the same time failing in a House subcommittee. If the measure survives on the Senate floor, the issue would be decided in conference.
Most of the banks that have more than the allowed 5 percent of their capital invested in real estate are concentrated in Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Texas, although 17 of them are in New York. The bulk of the properties are located in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Puerto Rico. The properties range from downtown buildings to undeveloped land.
To prevent national banks from becoming monopolistic holders of real estate, which their enormous assets would facilitate, a 1864 law prohibits them from holding property acquired through foreclosure more than five years. Many of the Sun Belt banks now find themselves of being forced to sell at a loss to satisfy the law.
The House subcommittee on financial institutions voted this week to allow the Comptroller of the Currency to approve an additional five-year extension. This could be allowed in cases where the Comptroller determines that a bank has made a good-faith attempt to comply with the five-year rule or that disposal during that period would be detrimental to the bank. The kicker in the House version is that it applies only to property acquired before June 30, 1979; the Senate version contains no date.
In other words, the House would give a break only to victims of the REIT debacle; the Senate would offer any bank at any time, if the Comptroller agreed, a decade in which to dispose of foreclosed property.
Supporters in the House argued that many of the banks had not made imprudent loans and that the problem could arise again. Opposition came from members such as subcommittee chairman Fernand St. Germain (D-R.I.). He observed that banks had lent excessive amounts of money during the period in question, and had overvalued the properties they now hold.
St. Germain said the bill represents "forgiveness of sin for this one time. If we make it five more years, (banks) will be inclined to keep on sinning."