Congress should make it easier for lenders to foreclose on office buildings, retail stores, and hotels, bankers said in testimony Wednesday to a House Judiciary subcommittee.
The bankruptcy code permits lenders to foreclose immediately on commercial properties if owners do not file for reorganization or begin monthly payments within 90 days after a creditor goes to court.
But it exempts any property with more than $4 million in debt.
Jill M. Sturtevant, assistant general counsel for Bank of America, attacked the $4 million loophole, saying lenders need to seize properties quickly before delinquent borrowers can let them deteriorate.
"That debt cap is simply far too low," said Ms. Sturtevant, who testified for the American Bankers Association at the hearing of the commercial and administrative law subcommittee. "It permits realty developers in control of major troubled projects to stall foreclosure efforts when they have no realistic prospects of reorganizing that single asset in a viable manner."
Donald R. Ennis, first vice president of St. Paul Federal Bank for Savings, Chicago, noted that the average commercial real estate loan exceeds $10 million. That means most of these loans are exempt from the expedited foreclosure procedures, he said.
"No dollar cap makes any sense," said Mr. Ennis, who also represents the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.
Supporters charge that a ceiling, even if it is raised, is necessary because foreclosing prematurely on a large hotel or retail store could eliminate jobs and disrupt a local economy.
Ms. Sturtevant disagreed, saying it is in the lender's best interests to allow tenants to remain in business. "We are not about to lose the tenants," she said. "The property loses its value."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., warned against rushing complex bankruptcy cases of large landlords such as Rockefeller Center in New York. "You really should not say with such assurance that nobody's job would be affected," he told Ms. Sturtevant.
The subcommittee is considering two bankruptcy bills, including one by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., that would strike the $4 million cap. The subcommittee may delay action until the National Bankruptcy Review Commission releases a report in October recommending more wholesale changes.