Articles Posted in REITs

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices continues to represent investors in claims to recover investment losses in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The carnage wrought by COVID-19 on brick and mortar stores and retail shops has taken down two REITs:  The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) and the CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. (CBL) each filled for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy this week.  Facing catastrophic losses in connection with retail tenants unable to pay rents, the REITs didn’t seem to believe they had many other options available.  If you were an investor in CBL or PREIT, your shares are now worthless. If you were solicited to invest in CBL or PREIT by a financial or investment adviser, you could have a claim to pursue to recover your losses.

PREIT and CBL are publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).  These REITs are listed on the New York Stock Exchange and trade on a fairly liquid basis. Any individual REIT maintains investments in any number of properties, from as few as two, to as many as twenty or more. REITs are concentrated real estate investments and should only play a small role in an investor’s otherwise well-managed, diversified portfolio of investments.  If your accounts have more than 10% invested in REITs, you should consider setting up an appointment with your financial advisor to discuss your broader asset allocation.

REITS, whether they are traded or the more speculative, illiquid non-traded REITs, may be unsuitable for most retail investors for another reason. Many retail investors have most of their net-worth concentrated in property already – their home – and do not need to have any additional exposure to complicated, potentially high risk investments like REITs.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices continues to see a surge of complaints from investors who bought unlisted or non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). For most investors, the prospect of getting a higher yield on any investment has been alluring. With rates near zero, it’s been hard to earn a return that beats inflation. Enter REITs and funds that invest in them. These are special vehicles that bundle real estate properties into one investment: You can invest in everything from apartment buildings to storage units.

Many REITs are listed and traded on stock exchanges, but some are not, which are called “private” or “unlisted” REITs. In their heyday, REITs routinely paid double-digit yields. Unlisted or “non-traded” REITs have been a consistent sore spot for investors in recent years. Many are loaded with fees and commissions, which dramatically lower investors’ net returns. They even may be money losers, even though they are sold with the promise that 90% of the income generated by properties they hold must be paid to investors. Middleman expenses, which can be as high as 15%, eat up returns in most cases.

Disclosure of the actual financial condition of these vehicles has also been troublesome. It’s hard for investors to know the true value of the properties within these vehicles, which have been aggressively sold by broker-dealers, who make high commissions selling them. When the COVID-19 crisis wracked the economy earlier this year – at first hitting commercial real estate developers and owners particularly hard – REITs that specialized in retail and office properties got clobbered. Retail and Hotel REITs were down 48% and 53%, respectively (as of April 15), according to Deloitte. Investors in these funds, of course, may be still experiencing large losses.

Chicago-based securities law firm Stoltmann Law Offices continues to investigate nationwide claims involving American Realty Capital (“ARC”) New York City REIT.  New York City REIT, Inc. is a non-traded real estate investment trust that owns a portfolio of high-quality commercial real estate located within the five boroughs of New York City, particularly Manhattan.  In order to induce clients to invest in the ARC New York City REIT, brokers pitched the REIT as maximizing total shareholder returns through appreciation and current income, maintaining a low loan to value rate, targeting liquidity events, acquiring high-quality New York City real estate and as having a diversified group of tenants. Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating claims against stockbrokers and investment advisors who recommended this complex high commission based product to investors.

Brokers sold the ARC New York City REIT to customers as having primary objectives of preservation and protection of capital and capital appreciation.  Unfortunately, the ARC New York City REIT ceased paying distributions on March 1, 2018.  Furthermore, the ARC New York City REIT paid substantial fees to advisors.  No public market existed for the ARC New York City REIT and the investment is illiquid pending its IPO.  As of December 31, 2017, ARC New York City REIT owned only six properties and therefore had limited diversification.  The value of the shares of ARC New York City REIT have declined substantially leaving investors stuck with the illiquid investment and a principal loss.

The New York City REIT is a “non-traded” REIT, which means it falls into a subset of the broader REIT investment class. REITs generally speaking are trusts designed to provide tax incentives to the owners of the underlying property. In order to maintain their status as a REIT, the REIT managers have to ensure that at least 90% of all taxable income generated by the REIT trickles down to the investors via dividends. REITs are concentrated investments in income producing property and are basically by definition non-diversified. The real issues investors have traditionally had with REITs are the liquidity and conflicts problems in the non-traded variety, of which the ARC New York REIT was a member.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. continues to see a surge of investor cases involving “alternative” investments like non-traded REITs, BDCs, oil and gas LPs, and other private placements. These “alts” are almost always considered to be on the speculative end of the risk scale, and frankly, they usually perform poorly and result in investor losses.

Alternative investments cover a wide variety of unconventional investment vehicles. They may employ novel or quantitative trading strategies or pool money for investments in commodities or real estate, for example. The one thing they all usually have in common is steep management fees along with commissions. Both expenses come out of investors’ pockets. Examples of alternative investments, or “alts” in industry parlance, include unlisted or “private” Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), private equity, venture capital and hedge funds. While they are generally sold to high-net worth investors who can afford to take on increased risk, they are usually illiquid and complex. Brokers who sell these vehicles may not fully disclose how risky they are. Most of these investments are unregulated, so supervision by regulators is typically light or non-existent.

Investors can file arbitration claims with FINRA if brokers sell inappropriate alternative investments to clients. A year ago, FINRA censured and fined the broker-dealer Berthel Fisher in connection with sales of “inappropriate” alternative investments. FINRA awarded six investors $1.1 million and fined the firm $675,000. Berthel Fisher has had a history of running afoul of investors and regulatory fines. In 2014, the firm was fined $775,000 by FINRA for “supervisory deficiencies, including Berthel Fisher’s failure to supervise the sale of non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), and leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs).” The firm was also selling managed commodity futures; oil and gas programs; business development companies; leveraged and inverse Exchange Traded Funds and equipment leasing programs.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. is a securities investor protection law firm offering representation nationwide to investors seeking to recover investment losses.  Our team is monitoring and reviewing information in connection with former LPL  financial advisor Donald Stephen Woods. According to published reports, Mr. Woods, of Louisville, Kentucky and currently registered with Thurston Springer Financial, intentionally manipulated and changed documents at LPL to qualify non-traded REIT sales that would have otherwise not been approved. LPL has certain limitations on how much of an investor’s declared liquid net worth can be concentrated in alternative investments, like non-Traded REITs.  Typically, LPL limits this exposure to 25% of liquid net worth, but can be lower for elderly investors and those with more conservative investment objectives. Brokers like Woods get around this limitation by inflating the client’s net worth numbers adjusting them upwards by a few hundred thousand dollars can be the difference between compliance approving the transaction and the broker getting paid his massive commission, and not approving it, leaving the broker to find something else to sell the client.

Ultimately, the responsibility for this sort of amateur chicanery engaged in by Mr. Woods falls on his firm. Stoltmann Law Offices has represented hundreds of investors in cases just like this. Almost always, there is an obvious disconnect or contradiction between the net worth numbers on the alternative investment forms, and the client’s new account forms. Compliance has a responsibility to ensure that brokers like Mr. Woods are not artificially inflating client net-worth numbers on these forms in order to qualify them for the investment. Most of the time all it would take is a simple phone call from compliance to the client to determine the accuracy of these numbers and reveal that the broker either forged the documents altogether, or advised the client to ignore the net worth numbers included on the form, to trust their adviser, and not worry about it.

Non-Traded REITs have been selling at rates not seen since before the financial crisis in 2008. There is one reason for this – commissions.  Non-Traded REITs like those offered by Northstar, Cottonwood, Highlands REIT, KBS Growth & Income REIT, Resource Innovation Office REIT, and InvenTrust Properties Corp., pay brokers like Mr. Woods and their firms like LPL commission rates that are many times higher than if they just sold clients publicly-traded, liquid REITs.  The SEC, FINRA, and NASAA all warn about issues related to these non-traded REITs.  Scholarly articles decry them as being poor investments long term compared to their publicly-traded cousins. Some of the issues about these non-traded REITs include:

There are different kinds of real estate investment trusts (REITS) in Chicago. Generally, a non-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) is a type of real estate investment that is designed to lower or eliminate taxes for the owner of the underlying real estate, while providing competitive, higher-yield income payments to investors. Non-traded REITS aren’t traded on securities exchanges. Some investors perceive non-traded REITs as less volatile than listed REITs. However, the extent to which real estate exposure is suitable for a particular investor depends on multiple factors including the investor’s tolerance for risk, high costs, and the illiquidity of the non-traded REIT.

According to investment bank Robert A. Stanger & Co. Inc., non-traded REITS sales were at all time high of $869 million in May. The year-to-date fundraising of $3.6 billion is more than double the same period 2018. It is projected that non-traded REITs will raise more than $7 billion this year, an increase over $4.6 billion last year.

In one survey, around $7.6 billion in alternative investments was raised through retail, and these alternative investments include publicly registered non-traded REITS, along with non-traded preferred stock of traded REITS, private placement offerings, non-traded business development companies, and others.

Stoltmann Law Offices is pursuing investment losses for investors in IGF Investment Grade Funds I, LP (“IGF Fund”). IGF Fund is a real estate private placement that invests in single-tenant, net leased commercial properties, with 75% of the portfolio being “investment grade rated tenants with the remainder being of quality private credit tenants or those trending to investment grade.” IGF Fund advertises that it pays 6% annual returns to investors, paid monthly, with two-thirds of the income being tax-deferred. On its website, IGF Fund solicits property owners and brokers for “single tenant triple net or double net leased assets…retail, office, restaurants, and C-stores, and leases backed by investment grade tenant credit of AAA or BBB-“. While IGF solicits properties from $1 million to $16 million, it raised less than $12 million as of August 2018. IGF Partners Realty LLC is the general partner of the IGF Fund and is headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. The IGF Fund is a Delaware limited partnership and a Regulation D private placement.

Generally, Regulation D private placements should only be sold to accredited investors, with some exceptions. Some of the criteria considered is the investor’s annual income, net worth, and sophistication and investment experience. In order to qualify as an “accredited investor”, an investor must have a $200,000 annual income, or $300,000 joint income for the past two years, or a net worth of $1 million (excluding their home). When considering the suitability of a real estate investment for a client, a broker must take into consideration the client’s current asset allocation. For most client’s, their home is already one of the largest pieces of their net worth, so investing in more real estate (and particularly illiquid real estate investments, like IGF Fund) simply does not make sense.

IGF Fund is desperate to raise cash. The initial offering of $60 million was made on March 29, 2016. As of August 21, 2018, the fund raised only $11,720,000. This means that over 80% was left to be sold two years after the initial offering. Because of this, IGF Fund notified investors in early 2019 that it was extending its offering period from December 31, 2018 to April 30, 2019. IGF Fund and brokers selling this investment have been wining and dining current and potential investors to convince them to invest more cash. The lack of capital raised limits IGF Fund’s ability to purchase properties, thus minimizing any potential return for investors. Moreover, extending the offering period also extends the time period before the Fund can be liquidated. The IGF Fund is still paying distributions to investors, however without sufficient funding to purchase assets it will run dry, leaving investors with nothing.

On June 10, 2019, the Illinois Securities Department, Massachusetts Securities Division, New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation, and New Jersey Bureau of Securities each charged Glenn C. Mueller of West Chicago, Illinois, and his companies for selling unregistered securities. Mueller developed his scheme for over 40 years, building a web of at least 32 real estate development companies and selling at least $47 million of unregistered securities in the form of promissory notes in these companies to consumers. He referred to these promissory notes as “CD alternatives”, “CD IRAs”, or represented them as being real estate investment trusts (“REITs”). His companies include, but are not limited to, Northridge Holdings, Ltd., Eastridge Holdings, Ltd., Southridge Holdings, Ltd., Cornerstone II Limited Partnership,  Unity Investment Group I, 561 Deere Park Limited Partnership, 1200 Kings Circle Limited Partnership, & 106 Surrey Limited Partnership (collectively referred to as “Mueller Entities”). Mueller organized Northridge in North Dakota with the subsidiaries incorporated in Illinois.

Northridge, founded by Mueller in 1984, is the primary property management company through which Mueller ran his scheme and is the general partner of many of his other limited partnerships. Mueller, through Northridge and the Mueller Entities, owned properties through the Chicagoland area. Mueller set up a “CD Account” through the Northridge website for investors. Once Northridge received the funds, he solicited investors to use the funds in their Northridge CD Account to invest in his various companies.

The Illinois Securities Department filed a Temporary Order of Prohibition against Mueller, Northridge, and several of the Mueller Entities. Mueller solicited 140 Illinois residents to invest over $19 million through 244 promissory notes. Some of these investments were sold to clients in their IRAs.

The securities fraud attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices, P.C. continue to investigate investor claims against brokerage firms that sold their clients investments in various GPB Capital Holdings offerings.  On March 22, 2019, attorney Joe Wojciechowski announced the filing of a Statement of Claim with FINRA Dispute Resolution for an investor who was sold units in GPB Automotive Fund, L.P. The claim was filed against NewBridge Securities and also includes allegations in connection with various non-traded REITs issued by American Realty Capital (ARC). The claim is for a retail investor whose financial advisor recommended she invest nearly 100% of her accounts in alternative investments offered by GPB Capital and ARC.  The claim alleges misrepresentations and omissions of material facts in violation of the Securities Act of Washington, consumer fraud in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, negligence for violating numerous regulatory rules including FINRA Rules 2111 (suitability) and 3110  (supervision), and breach of fiduciary duty. Our client seeks rescission of her GPB Automotive Fund investment and compensatory damages for her realized losses in the ARC REITs, plus attorneys fees, costs, interest, and punitive damages.

Investors who were solicited by financial advisors and brokers to invest in GPB Capital funds should consider their legal options to seek rescission of those investments.  Under the state securities laws (frequently referred to as the Blue Sky Laws), the primary remedy for investors is called rescission, which means the investor sues to force the brokerage firm to buy the investment back.  The rescission remedy seeks to put the investor back in the same place she was prior to purchasing the investment. This is important for investors who own alternative investments like GPB Capital Funds.  These are not liquid or tradable investments, meaning an investor cannot call their advisor and sell it and realize a gain or a loss. Essentially, the investor is stuck. Given the troubling news about GPB Capital over the last several months, something Stoltmann Law Offices has written about extensively, investors are correct to be wary and should consider an exit strategy. Unfortunately, because there is no way out of the GPB Funds, the only option for investors may be to pursue arbitration claims against the brokerage firm responsible for soliciting the investments in the first place.

In the last several years, as interest rates remained very low, it has been difficult for investors to find fixed income investments, like corporate and municipal bonds, that offered higher yields without exposing them to speculative risk. Likewise, due to the long term low interest rate environment, the principal value of the bonds begin to drop as interests rates have risen. The solution to these problems for brokerage firms has been to sell “alternative investments” that offer relatively high yields, but because they are non-traded and do not report any real market value, they have the appearance of a stable value for investors. The bonus for brokerage firms is that these alternative investments offer the advisors commissions they could never achieve by selling standard fixed income securities like corporate bonds or municipal bonds. Advisors sell the sizzle of a high yield and fixed prices and either gloss over or completely misrepresent the speculative risk being taken by investors who entrust their money to private entities like GPB Capital.

The investment fraud attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices are evaluating recent reports that the NorthStar Healthcare Income, Inc. Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) has announced it will completely stop making distributions to investors in order to retain cash. This most recent announcement follows up on the decision in April 2018 by the NorthStar Healthcare Income to suspend investor distributions. It should come as no surprise, that as the income component of this income investment was suspended, the purported value of the shares of this non-traded REIT has also plummeted.

According to HealthCare Income REIT, its NAV, or net-asset-value, is down to $7.10 per share, an almost 30% decline from its listing price of $10 per share. Importantly, shares of HealthCare Income REIT are not publicly traded, so investors cannot simply put in an order to sell their shares and have an exchange, like the NYSE, fill an order for the sale at a bid price. Because these non-traded REITs are illiquid, if investors want to sell their shares, this can only be facilitated through secondary market auctions.  According to  recent secondary market sales information,  shares of NorthStar Healthcare Income REIT were sold for only $4.76 per share on January 25, 2019 – a more than 50% decease from the offering price.  There have been no reported sales since, and the official announcement ending distributions is sure to drive the price of this REIT down even more.

Suspending distributions, ending distributions, freezing redemptions, and share prices that rarely reach the offering price are all too common storylines with non traded REITs. Non-Traded REITs have played a prominent role in our representation of investors since 2005. Financial Advisors commonly use non-traded REITs, like the NorthStar Healthcare REIT, as a piece of the fixed-income portion of an investor’s overall portfolio. They also use these non-traded REITs to fill the part of the diversification plot as exposure to the real estate sector. Neither of these reasons is sufficient to expose investors to a traditionally underperforming asset class. The fixed-income allure of these non-traded REITS really took hold after the dust settled from the financial crisis. Due to persistently low interest rates, investors just could not get any sort of yield from traditional fixed income securities. Financial advisors began to really push non-traded REITs offering distribution rates of more than 7%, all the while allegedly protecting the principal  investment with a portfolio of real estate. If this sales pitch sounds familiar and you have money stuck in the NorthStar Healthcare REIT, please call our Chicago-based securities attorneys at 312-332-4200 for a no-obligation free consultation.

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