Monday, January 17, 2011

Subdivision house and lot buyers; protections under PD 957; rule on mortgaged subdivision units.

G.R. No. 168646

G.R. No. 168666, January 12, 2011.


x x x.

The following are the issues raised by the two petitions:

1. Whether the Contract to Sell conveys ownership;

2. Whether the dacion en pago extinguished the loan obligation, such that DELTA has no more obligations to the BANK;

3. Whether the BANK is entitled to damages and attorney’s fees for being compelled to litigate; and

4. What is the effect of Enriquez’s failure to appeal the OP’s Decision regarding her obligation to pay the balance on the purchase price.

Our Ruling

Mortgage contract void

As the HLURB Arbiter and Board of Commissioners both found, DELTA violated Section 18 of PD 957 in mortgaging the properties in Delta Homes I (including Lot 4) to the BANK without prior clearance from the HLURB. This point need not be belabored since the parties have chosen not to appeal the administrative fine imposed on DELTA for violation of Section 18.

This violation of Section 18 renders the mortgage executed by DELTA void. We have held before that “a mortgage contract executed in breach of Section 18 of [PD 957] is null and void.”[61] Considering that “PD 957 aims to protect innocent subdivision lot and condominium unit buyers against fraudulent real estate practices,” we have construed Section 18 thereof as “prohibitory and acts committed contrary to it are void.”[62]

Because of the nullity of the mortgage, neither DELTA nor the BANK could assert any right arising therefrom. The BANK’s loan of P8 million to DELTA has effectively become unsecured due to the nullity of the mortgage. The said loan, however, was eventually settled by the two contracting parties via a dation in payment. In the appealed Decision, the CA invalidated this dation in payment on the ground that DELTA, by previously entering into a Contract to Sell, had already conveyed its ownership over Lot 4 to Enriquez and could no longer convey the same to the BANK. This is error, prescinding from a wrong understanding of the nature of a contract to sell.

Contract to sell does not transfer ownership

Both parties are correct in arguing that the Contract to Sell executed by DELTA in favor of Enriquez did not transfer ownership over Lot 4 to Enriquez. A contract to sell is one where the prospective seller reserves the transfer of title to the prospective buyer until the happening of an event, such as full payment of the purchase price. What the seller obliges himself to do is to sell the subject property only when the entire amount of the purchase price has already been delivered to him. “In other words, the full payment of the purchase price partakes of a suspensive condition, the non-fulfillment of which prevents the obligation to sell from arising and thus, ownership is retained by the prospective seller without further remedies by the prospective buyer.”[63] It does not, by itself, transfer ownership to the buyer.[64]

In the instant case, there is nothing in the provisions of the contract entered into by DELTA and Enriquez that would exempt it from the general definition of a contract to sell. The terms thereof provide for the reservation of DELTA’s ownership until full payment of the purchase price; such that DELTA even reserved the right to unilaterally void the contract should Enriquez fail to pay three successive monthly amortizations.

Since the Contract to Sell did not transfer ownership of Lot 4 to Enriquez, said ownership remained with DELTA. DELTA could then validly transfer such ownership (as it did) to another person (the BANK). However, the transferee BANK is bound by the Contract to Sell and has to respect Enriquez’s rights thereunder. This is because the Contract to Sell, involving a subdivision lot, is covered and protected by PD 957. One of the protections afforded by PD 957 to buyers such as Enriquez is the right to have her contract to sell registered with the Register of Deeds in order to make it binding on third parties. Thus, Section 17 of PD 957 provides:

Section 17. Registration. All contracts to sell, deeds of sale, and other similar instruments relative to the sale or conveyance of the subdivision lots and condominium units, whether or not the purchase price is paid in full, shall be registered by the seller in the Office of the Register of Deeds of the province or city where the property is situated.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied.)

The purpose of registration is to protect the buyers from any future unscrupulous transactions involving the object of the sale or contract to sell, whether the purchase price therefor has been fully paid or not. Registration of the sale or contract to sell makes it binding on third parties; it serves as a notice to the whole world that the property is subject to the prior right of the buyer of the property (under a contract to sell or an absolute sale), and anyone who wishes to deal with the said property will be held bound by such prior right.

While DELTA, in the instant case, failed to register Enriquez’s Contract to Sell with the Register of Deeds, this failure will not prejudice Enriquez or relieve the BANK from its obligation to respect Enriquez’s Contract to Sell. Despite the non-registration, the BANK cannot be considered, under the circumstances, an innocent purchaser for value of Lot 4 when it accepted the latter (together with other assigned properties) as payment for DELTA’s obligation. The BANK was well aware that the assigned properties, including Lot 4, were subdivision lots and therefore within the purview of PD 957. It knew that the loaned amounts were to be used for the development of DELTA’s subdivision project, for this was indicated in the corresponding promissory notes. The technical description of Lot 4 indicates its location, which can easily be determined as included within the subdivision development. Under these circumstances, the BANK knew or should have known of the possibility and risk that the assigned properties were already covered by existing contracts to sell in favor of subdivision lot buyers. As observed by the Court in another case involving a bank regarding a subdivision lot that was already subject of a contract to sell with a third party:

[The Bank] should have considered that it was dealing with a property subject of a real estate development project. A reasonable person, particularly a financial institution x x x, should have been aware that, to finance the project, funds other than those obtained from the loan could have been used to serve the purpose, albeit partially. Hence, there was a need to verify whether any part of the property was already intended to be the subject of any other contract involving buyers or potential buyers. In granting the loan, [the Bank] should not have been content merely with a clean title, considering the presence of circumstances indicating the need for a thorough investigation of the existence of buyers x x x. Wanting in care and prudence, the [Bank] cannot be deemed to be an innocent mortgagee. x x x[65]

Further, as an entity engaged in the banking business, the BANK is required to observe more care and prudence when dealing with registered properties. The Court cannot accept that the BANK was unaware of the Contract to Sell existing in favor of Enriquez. In Keppel Bank Philippines, Inc. v. Adao,[66] we held that a bank dealing with a property that is already subject of a contract to sell and is protected by the provisions of PD 957, is bound by the contract to sell (even if the contract to sell in that case was not registered). In the Court’s words:

It is true that persons dealing with registered property can rely solely on the certificate of title and need not go beyond it. However, x x x, this rule does not apply to banks. Banks are required to exercise more care and prudence than private individuals in dealing even with registered properties for their business is affected with public interest. As master of its business, petitioner should have sent its representatives to check the assigned properties before signing the compromise agreement and it would have discovered that respondent was already occupying one of the condominium units and that a contract to sell existed between [the vendee] and [the developer]. In our view, petitioner was not a purchaser in good faith and we are constrained to rule that petitioner is bound by the contract to sell.[67]

Bound by the terms of the Contract to Sell, the BANK is obliged to respect the same and honor the payments already made by Enriquez for the purchase price of Lot 4. Thus, the BANK can only collect the balance of the purchase price from Enriquez and has the obligation, upon full payment, to deliver to Enriquez a clean title over the subject property.[68]

Dacion en pago extinguished the loan obligation

The BANK then posits that, if title to Lot 4 is ordered delivered to Enriquez, DELTA has the obligation to pay the BANK the corresponding value of Lot 4. According to the BANK, the dation in payment extinguished the loan only to the extent of the value of the thing delivered. Since Lot 4 would have no value to the BANK if it will be delivered to Enriquez, DELTA would remain indebted to that extent.

We are not persuaded. Like in all contracts, the intention of the parties to the dation in payment is paramount and controlling. The contractual intention determines whether the property subject of the dation will be considered as the full equivalent of the debt and will therefore serve as full satisfaction for the debt. “The dation in payment extinguishes the obligation to the extent of the value of the thing delivered, either as agreed upon by the parties or as may be proved, unless the parties by agreement, express or implied, or by their silence, consider the thing as equivalent to the obligation, in which case the obligation is totally extinguished.”[69]

In the case at bar, the Dacion en Pago executed by DELTA and the BANK indicates a clear intention by the parties that the assigned properties would serve as full payment for DELTA’s entire obligation:


This instrument, made and executed by and between:

x x x x

THAT, the ASSIGNOR acknowledges to be justly indebted to the ASSIGNEE in the sum of ELEVEN MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED SEVENTY-EIGHT THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED PESOS (P11,878,800.00), Philippine Currency as of August 25, 1998. Therefore, by virtue of this instrument, ASSIGNOR hereby ASSIGNS, TRANSFERS, and CONVEYS AND SETS OVER [TO] the ASSIGNEE that real estate with the building and improvements existing thereon, more particularly described as follows:

x x x x

of which the ASSIGNOR is the registered owner being evidenced by TCT No. x x x issued by the Registry of Deeds of Trece Martires City.

THAT, the ASSIGNEE does hereby accept this ASSIGNMENT IN PAYMENT OF THE TOTAL OBLIGATION owing to him by the ASSIGNOR as above-stated;[70]

Without any reservation or condition, the Dacion stated that the assigned properties served as full payment of DELTA’s “total obligation” to the BANK. The BANK accepted said properties as equivalent of the loaned amount and as full satisfaction of DELTA’s debt. The BANK cannot complain if, as it turned out, some of those assigned properties (such as Lot 4) are covered by existing contracts to sell. As noted earlier, the BANK knew that the assigned properties were subdivision lots and covered by PD 957. It was aware of the nature of DELTA’s business, of the location of the assigned properties within DELTA’s subdivision development, and the possibility that some of the properties may be subjects of existing contracts to sell which enjoy protection under PD 957. Banks dealing with subdivision properties are expected to conduct a thorough due diligence review to discover the status of the properties they deal with. It may thus be said that the BANK, in accepting the assigned properties as full payment of DELTA’s “total obligation,” has assumed the risk that some of the assigned properties (such as Lot 4) are covered by contracts to sell which it is bound to honor under PD 957.

A dacion en pago is governed by the law of sales.[71] Contracts of sale come with warranties, either express (if explicitly stipulated by the parties) or implied (under Article 1547 et seq. of the Civil Code). In this case, however, the BANK does not even point to any breach of warranty by DELTA in connection with the Dation in Payment. To be sure, the Dation in Payment has no express warranties relating to existing contracts to sell over the assigned properties. As to the implied warranty in case of eviction, it is waivable[72] and cannot be invoked if the buyer knew of the risks or danger of eviction and assumed its consequences.[73] As we have noted earlier, the BANK, in accepting the assigned properties as full payment of DELTA’s “total obligation,” has assumed the risk that some of the assigned properties are covered by contracts to sell which must be honored under PD 957.

x x x

Balance to be paid by Enriquez

As already mentioned, the Contract to Sell in favor of Enriquez must be respected by the BANK. Upon Enriquez’s full payment of the balance of the purchase price, the BANK is bound to deliver the title over Lot 4 to her. As to the amount of the balance which Enriquez must pay, we adopt the OP’s ruling thereon which sustained the amount stipulated in the Contract to Sell. We will not review Enriquez’s initial claims about the supposed violation of the price ceiling in BP 220, since this issue was no longer pursued by the parties, not even by Enriquez, who chose not to file the required pleadings[76] before the Court. The parties were informed in the Court’s September 5, 2007 Resolution that issues that are not included in their memoranda shall be deemed waived or abandoned. Since Enriquez did not file a memorandum in either petition, she is deemed to have waived the said issue.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed November 30, 2004 Decision of the Court of Appeals, as well as its June 22, 2005 Resolution in CA-G.R. SP No. 81280 are hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATIONS that Delta Development and Management Services, Inc. is NOT LIABLE TO PAY Luzon Development Bank the value of the subject lot; and respondent Angeles Catherine Enriquez is ordered to PAY the balance of the purchase price and the interests accruing thereon, as decreed by the Court of Appeals, to the Luzon Development Bank, instead of Delta Development and Management Services, Inc., within thirty (30) days from finality of this Decision. The Luzon Development Bank is ordered to DELIVER a CLEAN TITLE to Angeles Catherine Enriquez upon the latter’s full payment of the balance of the purchase price and the accrued interests.