17 May 2020
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Hotel Lawyer: Increasing Distressed Hotel Loans and Troubled Hotel Assets
Originally published in November 2008 on HotelLawBlog.com, then updated in 2010 for our Lenders Handbook for Troubled Hotels, we have updated this article through May 2020 to assist industry friends in dealing with distressed loans provoked by the COVID-19 crisis.
How can a “special purpose entity” borrower ever file bankruptcy
if independent directors must approve the filing?
Jim Butler, Bob Kaplan, and Nick De Lancie
Since the mid-1990s, lenders on hotels and resorts have generally required their borrowers to transfer the asset being financed into a “single purpose” LLC or other “bankruptcy remote” entity sometimes respectively referred to as an “SPE” and “BRE.” The main feature of an SPE is that it owns only the single asset being mortgaged, is unlikely to become insolvent due to its own activities, and is generally protected from the effects of the insolvency of its affiliates. The main feature of a BRE is that filing bankruptcy is only a remote possibility because of various inherent or contractual legal requirements built into the very entity.
What is a bankruptcy remote entity? Why use one?
A BRE is an entity (usually an SPE) that has a structural layer of protection in its organic documents that makes it more difficult for the entity to seek bankruptcy protection. A number of approaches have been developed to create this “bankruptcy remote” structural layer.
Today, a BRE’s structural protection for the lender typically provides in its organic documents that in order to commence a bankruptcy case, approval must first be obtained from one or more independent directors or the equivalent, depending on the entity. Such a person must be independent of the borrower and is appointed by the lender, or approved by the lender. For simplicity, we will call such persons “independent directors.”
The lender expects that the independent director simply will not approve the entity’s commencement of any bankruptcy case. Thus, without a bankruptcy, the lender would be able to foreclose on the hotel or real estate without the delay and cost of bankruptcy.
Clashing fundamental principles – state corporate governance vs federal bankruptcy relief
At root, each BRE approach or strategy is based on the long-established, fundamental principle that, even though bankruptcy is a federal law matter, the entities in question are created under and governed by state law. Some believe that such corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships or other types of “corporate” entities can only be governed by the law of the state in which the corporate entity was organized. Therefore, the organic documents of the entity (adopted pursuant to that state’s law), govern who has the authority to decide that the entity will commence a bankruptcy case.
But this long-established principle of state law controlling corporate governance runs headlong into another long-established, fundamental principle of bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Code (section 109(a)) expressly authorizes any “person” to file a bankruptcy petition. A person includes any corporation, limited liability company, and general or limited partnership. Waivers or attempts to contractually surrender this right are void as against public policy and, thus, unenforceable. CONTINUE READING →