Failing to Turn Real Estate Into a Security


Fee simple ownership of the “bricks and mortar” of real estate is not a security. “The offer of real estate as such, without any collateral arrangements with the seller or others, does not involve the offer of a security.” As you move further away from that model, you move closer and closer to the ownership a security than the ownership of real estate. The line between the two is not a bright line.

A transaction that looks nothing like a sale of stock and involving such diverse items as citrus groves and vacation homes may qualify as a sale of a security under federal law.

There has been a recent ruling in case battling over that line. In Salameh v. Tarsadia Hotels, the purchasers of real estate are suing the developer of the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. The project was a condominium- hotel ownership structure to help provide capital.  The purchase/investment turned out to be a bad one, so the purchasers sued the developer.

Their claim was that a series of documents, including the Purchase Contract, the Unit Maintenance and Operations Agreement, and the Rental Management Agreement turned the ownership of the hotel/condo interest into a “security” and not the mere ownership of real estate. Since the securities were not registered, they could seek rescission. In this case, the ownership and control issues were not just split into separate documents, some of the documents were entered into at significantly different times.

The purchasers lost the case and appealed. They just lost the appeal.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling from the district court.  The Court distinguished these facts from Hocking v. Dubois885 F.2d 1449 (9th Cir. 1989)  in which it had found that there was a general issue of material fact whether the sale of a condominium along with a rent-pooling arrangement constituted a security.

In Hocking, the the purchaser would not have made the real estate investment but for the availability of the rental pool arrangement. The sale of the real estate was coupled together with the management and income sharing that made the real estate investment look more like a security.

In contrast, the Salameh plaintiffs failed to allege facts showing that the real estate was coupled together with the management and income sharing as a package. The hotel developer pointed out in its pleading that the rental management agreements were executed eight to fifteen months later.

The ruling is another loss for the SEC in this edge between real estate and securities. The SEC had filed an amicus brief that relied on its 1973 Guidelines as to the Applicability of the Federal Securities Laws to Offers and Sales of Condominiums or Units in a Real Estate Development (Securities Act Release No. 33-5347 (Jan. 4, 1973) as the standard.