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Why Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds Are the Hottest Topic of Crowdfunding Real Estate

Podcast: MAPABLE USA 

Why Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds Are the Hottest Topic of Crowdfunding Real Estate

Mapable USA Podcast

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The word is out about Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ) and just about every real estate professional in the country is interested about how this IRS sanctioned program works. Investing in a QOZ Fund provides all Americans with a way to save money on their taxes and provides real estate developers with a great angle to raise money for their projects. But are these investment vehicles securities? Can non-accredited investors participate in this form of crowdfunding? How can issuers create their own fund? Listen to attorney Mark Roderick from Flaster Greenberg PC address these questions, what the intricacies of QOZ investing are, and many other items of interest on this episode of the Mapable USA crowdfunding podcast.

While most funds center around real estate projects, any form of substantial improvement into a Qualified Opportunity Zone will satisfy the requirement of a QOZ fund – and that includes bringing in businesses and employment opportunities into these distressed communities. As such, the QOZ Marketplace is a website in progress connecting and identifying Qualified Opportunity Zone tracks and census data, along with a list of Opportunity Zone Funds and real estate properties for those interested in QOZ investing. Because of their tax deferral benefits, getting people seeking to defer their capital gains taxes to invest in these funds probably won’t be an issue. But Mr. Roderick brings up a great point: because QOZ Funds are self-certified, it’s important to be on the outlook for fraud. His advice? Look for a deal with a strong foundation with reputable people – the tax deferral savings is just icing on the cake!

Recent Blog Posts related to QOZ Fund:

Questions? Let me know.

What’s an Investment Adviser in Crowdfunding?

 

investment adviser.jpgAs Crowdfunding grows and investment advisers migrate into the space, we’re going to devote a few blog posts to investment adviser basics:

  • Federal vs. State regulation of investment advisers
  • Advisers to private funds
  • Venture capital advisers
  • Duties of investment advisers
  • Registration of investment advisers

Today we start with the most basic question:  What is an investment adviser?

Here’s the definition from the Investment Adviser Act of 1940:

“[A]ny person who, for compensation, engages in the business of advising others, either directly or through publications or writings, as to the value of securities or as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities, or who, for compensation and as part of a regular business, issues or promulgates analyses or reports concerning securities. . . .”

The term “securities” is very broad, covering obvious things like stock, bonds, and interests in limited liability companies, but less obviously things like (1) mortgages, and (2) blockchain tokens that are treated as securities under Howey.

EXAMPLE #1:  Molly Smith operates a Crowdfunding site that allows investors to participate in specific mortgage loans made to real estate fix-and-flippers. Because investors choose their own mortgage loans, Molly probably isn’t an investment adviser.

EXAMPLE #2:  Samantha O’Hara creates a fund that buys and sells mortgage loans made to real estate fix-and-flippers. If Samantha is deciding which loans the fund will buy and sell, she’s probably an investment adviser.

EXAMPLE #3:  John Kelly, software engineer, reads the Wall Street Journal and often gives investment tips to his friends. Because he’s not in business and not being compensated, John isn’t an investment adviser.

EXAMPLE #4:  Craig Toricelli creates a fund that buys and sells apartment buildings. Because a fee simple interest in real estate isn’t a “security,” Craig isn’t an investment adviser.

EXAMPLE #5:  Gregg Wright creates a fund that buys and sells bitcoin (buy on the dip!). Because bitcoin isn’t a “security,” Gregg isn’t an investment adviser.

A few common exceptions:

  • Lawyers, accountants, engineers, and teachers aren’t investment advisers if their performance of advisory services is solely incidental to their professions.
  • Brokers and dealers aren’t investment advisers if their performance of advisory services is solely incidental to the conduct of their business as brokers and dealers, and they do not receive any special compensation for advisory services.
  • Publishers of bona fide newspapers, newsletters, and business or financial publications of general and regular circulation aren’t investment advisers if their publications meet three requirements:
    • The publication must offer only impersonal advice, e., advice not tailored to the individual needs of a specific client, group of clients, or portfolio.
    • The publication must contain disinterested commentary and analysis rather than promotional material disseminated by someone touting particular securities.
    • The publication must be of general and regular circulation rather than issued from time to time in response to episodic market activity or events affecting the securities industry.

EXAMPLE:  Each time Cindy Liu, Esquire finishes work on an ICO, she post on her Facebook page:  “Take a look!” Even If her clients think they’re paying for the publicity as well the legal work, Cindy’s not an investment adviser, because she’s not being paid by her Facebook friends.

In that list, you don’t see “advisers to private funds” or “advisers to family offices.” That’s because while these and other common species of investment advisers are exempt from registering with the SEC, they are still investment advisers, which means (1) they are still subject to certain legal obligations, and (2) they still might have to register with a state. More on all that later.

Questions? Let me know.

Think Twice About a Low Target Amount in Title III Crowdfunding

Target amount in Title III Crowdfunding

Many Title III issuers are setting “target amounts” as low as $10,000. I understand the motivation, but I’d urge issuers and the platforms to think twice.

Background

In Title III Crowdfunding (also known as “Regulation Crowdfunding” or “Regulation CF” or “Reg CF”), the issuer establishes a “target amount” for the offering. Once the offering achieves the target amount, the issuer can start spending the money raised from investors, even while continuing to raise more money. That gives issuers a strong incentive to set a low target amount.

EXAMPLE:  A brewery needs to raise $400,000 for equipment, fit-out, marketing, and salaries. If the brewery establishes $400,000 as the target amount, it can’t start spending the money from investors until it raises the entire $400,000. If it establishes $10,000 as the target amount, on the other hand, it can start spending investor money as soon as it raises the first $10,000 — even if the business will fail without the full $400,000.

The platform benefits, also, in two ways:

  • If the brewery establishes a target amount of $10,000 and raises at least that much, the platform can include the brewery in its “Reached Target Amount” list, even if overall the brewery raised only $12,000 and failed.
  • The platform receives a commission only on funds released to the issuer. The sooner money is released to the issuer, the sooner the platform earns a commission.

Minimum Offering Amounts

Target amounts were around long before Title III Crowdfunding, in the form of “minimum offering amounts.” A company raising capital would establish a “minimum offering” equal to the lowest amount of money that would make the business viable. If a brewery absolutely needs $400,000 to be viable, then the minimum offering would be $400,000. If it could plausibly scrape by with $315,000 — maybe by deferring the purchase of an $85,000 piece of equipment — then the minimum offering would be $315,000.

Issuers don’t establish minimum offerings because they want to, but because experienced investors won’t invest otherwise. If $315,000 is the minimum that will make the brewery successful, an experienced investor writing the first check will demand that her money be held in escrow until the offering raises $315,000. If the offering doesn’t raise $315,000, she gets her money back. Investing is hard enough:  why invest in a company that’s guaranteed to fail?

That’s also why we have traditionally seen “minimum/maximum” offerings. The brewery that needs at least $315,000 to be viable might be able to make great use of up to $475,000, with both numbers anchored to a believable business plan.

The Decision in Title III

Cash is king for most entrepreneurs, the sooner the better, so a Title III issuer will be tempted to establish a low target amount. And to the extent an issuer can rely on inexperienced investors, it might be successful, at least in the short term.

But the issuer should also be aware of the downside:  by establishing a low target amount, the issuer is driving away experienced investors. How many experienced investors are driven away, and the amount they might have invested, can’t be captured.

On the positive side, an issuer that establishes a realistic target amount can and should advertise that fact in its Form C, perhaps drawing a favorable contrast vis-à-vis other Title III issuers, whose target amounts were picked from the air. That’s the kind of information an experienced investor will like to see.

An issuer that weighs the pros and cons and nevertheless decides on an artificially low target amount should include a prominent risk factor in its Form C:

“The ‘target amount’ we established for this offering is substantially lower than the amount of money we really need to execute our business plan. If we raise only the target amount and are unable to raise other funds, our business will probably fail and you will lose your entire investment.”

Artificially low target amounts carry a long-term downside for the platform, too. I would argue that as long as issuers are establishing $10,000 minimums, Title III won’t be taken seriously as an asset class, and the industry won’t grow.

Questions? Let me know.

Podcast: The BAD Crypto Podcast – Crowdfunding Law with Mark Roderick

Mark Roderick Crowdfunding Attorney

Recently, BAD Crypto Podcast hosts Joel Comm and Travis Wright were foolish enough to have me on their show, talking about Crowdfunding and Crypto and ICOs and blockchain and French cooking (or was that another podcast?). Click here to listen.

I hope it was informative – it was definitely fun.

Questions? Let me know.

Non-U.S. Investors and Companies in U.S. Crowdfunding

Non-US Investors and Companies in US Crowdfunding

When I was a kid, back in the 1840s, we referred to people who live outside the United States as “foreigners.” Using the more globalist and clinical term “non-U.S. persons,” I’m going to summarize how people and companies outside the U.S. fit into the U.S. Crowdfunding and Fintech picture.

Can Non-U.S. Investors Participate in U.S. Crowdfunding Offerings?

Yes. No matter where he or she lives, anyone can invest in a U.S. Crowdfunding offering, whether under Title II, Title III, or Title IV.

The Crowdfunding laws don’t distinguish U.S. investors from non-U.S. investors. Thus:

  • To invest in an offering under Title II (SEC Rule 506(c)), a non-U.S. investor must be “accredited.”
  • If a non-U.S. investor invests in an offering under Title III (aka “Regulation CF”), he or she is subject to the same investment limitations as U.S. investors.
  • If a non-U.S. investor who is also non-accredited invests in an offering under Tier 2 of Title IV (aka “Regulation A”), he or she is subject to the same limitations as non-accredited U.S. investors, e., 10% of the greater of income or net worth.

What About Regulation S?

SEC Regulation S provides that an offering limited to non-U.S. investors is exempt from U.S. securities laws. Mysterious on its face, the law makes perfect sense from a national, jurisdictional point of view. The idea is that the U.S. government cares about protecting U.S. citizens, but nobody else.

EXAMPLE:  If a U.S. citizen is abducted in France, the U.S. military sends Delta Force. If a German citizen is abducted in France, Delta Force gets the day off to play volleyball.

Regulation S is relevant to U.S. Crowdfunding because a company raising money using Title II, Title III, or Title may simultaneously raise money from non-U.S. investors using Regulation S. Why would a company do that, given that non-U.S. investors may participate in Title II, Title III, or Title IV? To avoid the limits of U.S. law. Thus:

  • A company raising money using Title II can raise money from non-accredited investors outside the United States using Regulation S.
  • A company raising money using Title III can raise money from investors outside the United States without regard to income levels.
  • A company raising money using Tier 2 of Title IV can raise money from non-accredited investors outside the United States without regard to income or net worth.

Thus, a company raising money in the U.S. using the U.S. Crowdfunding laws can either (1) raise money from non-U.S. investors applying the same rules to everybody, or (2) place non-U.S. investors in a simultaneous offering under Regulation S.

What’s the Catch?

The catch is that the U.S. is not the only country with securities laws. If a company in the U.S. is soliciting investors from Canada, it can satisfy U.S. law by either (1) treating the Canadian investors the same way it treats U.S. investors (for example, accepting investments only from accredited Canadian investors in a Rule 506(c) offering), or (2) bringing in the Canadian investors under Regulation S. But to solicit Canadian investors, the company must comply with Canadian securities laws, too.

Raising Money for Non-U.S. Companies

Whether a non-U.S. company is allowed to raise money using U.S. Crowdfunding laws depends on the kind of Crowdfunding.

Title II Crowdfunding

A non-U.S. company is allowed to raise money using Title II (Rule 506(c)).

Title III Crowdfunding

Only a U.S. entity is allowed to raise money using Title III (aka “Regulation CF”). An entity organized under the laws of Germany may not use Title III.

But that’s not necessarily the end of the story. If a German company wants to raise money in the U.S. using Title III, it has a couple choices:

  • It can create a U.S. subsidiary to raise money using Title III. The key is that the U.S. subsidiary can’t be a shell, raising the money and then passing it up to the parent, because nobody wants to invest in a company with no assets. The U.S. subsidiary should be operating a real business. For example, a German automobile manufacturer might conduct its U.S. operations through a U.S. subsidiary.
  • The stockholders of the German company could transfer their stock to a U.S. entity, making the German company a wholly-owned subsidiary of the U.S. entity. The U.S. entity could then use Title III.

Title IV Crowdfunding

Title IV (aka “Regulation A”) may be used only by U.S. or Canadian entities with a “principal place of business” in the U.S. or Canada.

(I have never understood why Canada is included, but whatever.)

If we cut through the legalese, whether a company has its “principal place of business” in the U.S. depends on what the people who run the company see when they wake up in the morning and look out the window. If see the U.S., then the company has it’s “principal place of business” in the U.S. If they see a different country, it doesn’t. (Which country they see when they turn on Skype doesn’t matter.)

Offshore Offerings

Regulation S allows U.S. companies to raise money from non-U.S. investors without worrying about U.S. securities laws. But once those non-U.S. investors own the securities of the U.S. company, they have to think about U.S. tax laws. Often non-U.S. investors, especially wealthy non-U.S. investors, are unenthusiastic about registering with the Internal Revenue Service.

The alternative, especially for larger deals, is for the U.S. entity to form a “feeder” vehicle offshore, typically in the Cayman Islands because of its favorable business and tax climate. Non-U.S. investors invest in the Cayman entity, and the Cayman entity in turn invests in the U.S. entity.

These days, it has become a little fashionable for U.S. token issuers to incorporate in the Cayman Islands and raise money only from non-U.S. investors, to avoid U.S. securities laws. Because the U.S. capital markets are so deep and the cost of complying with U.S. securities laws is so low, this strikes me as foolish. Or viewed from a different angle, if a company turns its back on trillions of dollars of capital to avoid U.S. law, I’d wonder what they’re hiding.

What About the Caravan from Honduras?

Yes, all those people can invest.

Questions? Let me know.

The IRS Regulations on Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds

Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds

The Internal Revenue Service just issued regulations about qualified opportunity zone funds, answering many of the questions raised by the legislation itself. And for the most part, the answers are positive for investors and developers.

Can I Use An LLC?

Yes. Although the legislation provides that a QOZF must be a “corporation or a partnership,” the regulations confirm that a limited liability company treated as a partnership for tax purposes (or any other entity treated as a partnership for tax purposes) qualifies.

How Do I Calculate Rehabilitation Costs?

To qualify as “qualified opportunity zone business property,” either the original use of the property must begin with the QOZF or the QOZF must “substantially improve” the property. The statute says that to “substantially improve” the property, the QOZF must invest as much in improving the property as it paid for the property in the first place.

The regulations carve out an important exception: in calculating how much the QOZF paid for the property, the QOZF may exclude the cost of the land. Thus, a QOZF that buys an apartment building for $2,000,000, of which $1,500,000 was attributable to the cost of the land, is required to spend only $500,000 on renovations, not $2,000,000.

What Kind of Interest Must an Investor Own?

To obtain the tax deferral, an investor must own an equity interest in the QOZF, not a debt instrument. Preferred stock is usually treated as an equity interest.

Are Short-Term Capital Gains Covered?

Yes, all capital gains are covered. Ordinary income — for example, from depreciation recapture — is not.

Do All The Assets of the Business Have to be in the Qualified Opportunity Zone?

A business can qualify as a “qualified opportunity zone business” only if “substantially all” of its tangible assets are located in the qualified opportunity zone. The regulations provide that “substantially all” means at least 70%. That means that 30% of the assets of the qualified opportunity zone business can be outside the qualified opportunity zone.

NOTE:  Don’t get confused. To qualify as a QOZF, the fund itself must have invested 90% of its assets in “qualified opportunity zone property.” One kind of of “qualified opportunity zone property” is a “qualified opportunity zone business.” The 70/30 test applies in determining whether a business is a “qualified opportunity fund business.” So if a QOZF owns assets directly, 90% of those assets must be in the qualified opportunity zone. But if the QOZF invests in a business, then only 70% of the assets of the business must be in the qualified opportunity zone.

NOTE:  Many QOZFs will own property through single-member limited liability companies. When applying the 70% test and the 90% test, bear in mind that a single-member limited liability company is generally not treated as a “partnership” for tax purposes, but rather as a “disregarded entity.” For tax purposes, assets owned by the single-member limited liability company will be treated as owned directly by the QOZF.

What Happens in 2028, When the Program Ends?

The qualified opportunity zone program ends in 2028. Nevertheless, the regulations allow investors to continue to claim tax benefits from the program until 2048.

How Long can the QOZF Wait to Invest?

Suppose a QOZF raises $5M today. When does the money have to be invested?

The regulations provide that under some circumstances, you can wait up to 31 months to invest. But this is one area where more guidance is needed.

Questions? Let me know.

Help Wanted

help wantedMy work in the Crowdfunding space has been the most interesting and challenging of my career. Now I’m looking to add to our Crowdfunding team here at Flaster/Greenberg, and I hope you can help find the right person.

The right person would have these qualifications:

  • An attorney with 2-4 years of experience in corporate and securities offerings
  • Crowdfunding-specific experience appreciated but not required
  • A good, fast learner, unafraid to ask questions
  • Someone who pays attention to detail, and takes pride in great legal work
  • A good writer and communicator
  • Good technology skills
  • Lives in the Philadelphia area or is able to work effectively remotely

If you or someone you know has these qualifications, please forward a resume to our Human Resources Director, Karen Roberts, at Karen.Roberts@flastergreenberg.com.

Thank you!

MARK

Questions? Let me know.

Marc R. Garber: 9/23/55 – 8/21/2018

marc garberMarc R. Garber, an employee benefits lawyer, was a partner with my firm for almost 20 years. He died last week of cancer at age 62.

Marc loved practicing law. He loved the very arcane qualities of employee benefits law that make most of us shy away. He knew the 1953 case and the 1972 IRS ruling and the 2017 statute and everything in between. He reveled in the intellectual detail, and he was always right. I wish more lawyers shared Marc’s attention to detail. If he had chosen Crowdfunding rather than employee benefits, you wouldn’t know me.

Life dealt Marc some harsh blows, including a traffic accident that shattered his health. He was, in spite of everything, one of the most positive, optimistic human beings I’ve ever met. When I saw Marc’s unrelenting optimism in the face of adversity, and compared that to my own circumstances, I could feel almost ashamed. Marc’s joy for life was both a lesson and an inspiration.

Everyone who knew Marc will miss him dearly.

Yes, A Parent Company Can Use Title III Crowdfunding

Title III Crowdfunding

We know an “investment company,” as defined in the Investment Company Act of 1940, can’t use Title III Crowdfunding. For that matter, an issuer can’t use Title III even if it’s not an investment company, if the reason it’s not an investment company is one of the exemptions under section 3(b) or section 3(c) of the 1940 Act. By way of example, suppose a a company is engaged in the business of making commercial mortgage loans. Even if the company qualifies for the exemption under section 3(c)(5)(C) of the 1940 Act, it still can’t use Title III.

We also know that, silly as it seems, a company whose only asset is the securities of one company is generally treated as an investment company under the 1940 Act. That’s why we can’t use so-called “special purpose vehicles,” or SPVs, in Title III Crowdfunding, to round up all the investors in one entity and thereby simplify the cap table.

Put those two things together and you might conclude that only an operating company, and not a company that owns stock in the operating company, can use Title III Crowdfunding. But that wouldn’t be quite right.

A company that owns the securities of an operating company – I’ll call that a “parent company” — can’t use Title III if it’s an “investment company” under the 1940 Act. However, while every investment company is a parent company, not every parent company is an investment company. Here’s what I mean.

Section 3(a)(1) of the 1940 Act defines “investment company” as:

  • A company engaged primarily in the business of investing, reinvesting, or trading in securities; or
  • A company engaged in the business of investing, reinvesting, owning, holding, or trading in securities, which owns or proposes to acquire investment securities having a value exceeding 40% of the value of its assets.

Suppose Parent, Inc. owns 100% of Operating Company, LLC, and nothing else. If Parent’s interest in Operating Company is treated as a “security,” then Parent will be an investment company under either definition above and can’t use Title III. However, it should be possible to structure the relationship between Parent and Operating Company so that Parent’s interest is not treated as a security, relying on a long line of cases involving general partnership interests.

These cases arise under the Howey test, made famous by the ICO world. Under Howey, an instrument is a security if and only if:

  • It involves an investment of money or other property in a common enterprise;
  • There is an expectation of profits; and
  • The expectation of profits is based on the efforts of someone else.

Focusing on the third element of the Howey test, courts have held that a general partner’s interest in a limited partnership generally is not a security because (1) by law, the general partner controls the partnership, and (2) the general partner is therefore relying on its own efforts to realize a profit, not the efforts of someone else.

If Operating Company were a partnership and Parent were its general partner, then the arrangement would fall squarely within this line of cases and Parent wouldn’t be treated as an investment company. As a general partner, however, Parent would be fully liable for the liabilities of Operating Company, defeating the main purpose of the parent/subsidiary relationship, i.e., letting the tail wag the dog.

Fortunately, Parent should be able to achieve the same result even though Operating Company is a limited liability company. The key is that Operating Company should be managed by its members, not by a manager. That should place Parent in exactly the same position as the typical general partner:  relying on its own efforts, rather than the efforts of someone else, to realize a profit from the enterprise.

If Parent’s interest in Operating Company isn’t a “security,” then Parent isn’t an “investment company,” and can raise money using Title III.

Questions? Let me know.

REALCROWD Podcast – An Attorney’s Take On Real Estate Crowdfunding

Roderick Podcast Image

Listen as Adam Hooper and Mark Roderick discuss crowdfunding for real estate and the legal documents investors sign when investing in a real estate deal.

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