One of the commissioners from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and two U.S. Senators suggested this week that further analysis may be needed for a highly anticipated SEC rule on climate reporting, which includes a proposal for sweeping disclosures on Scope 3 GHG emissions. (Bloomberg Law, Nov. 7 | SEC headquarters in Washington, DC, above)
Given that the SEC has received more than 16,000 stakeholder comments on the proposal, Republican SEC Commissioner Mark Uyeda said, “Before the Commission adopts any final rule that significantly deviates from the proposal, it should seriously consider re-proposing the rule with revised rule text and an updated economic analysis.” (Ayuda’s comments, Nov. 7 and The Hill, April 6)
SEC Chair Chair Gary Gensler indicated in March that the agency’s climate-related reporting rule may be scaled back. (CNBC, March 7 and Roundtable Weekly, March 10)
Senators Support Additional Feedback
Sens. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) also expressed support this week for obtaining additional feedback about the SEC’s proposed rule. Sen. Manchin chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Sen. Hagerty serves on the Senate Banking Committee. (Hagerty-Manchin letter and PoliticoPro, Nov. 9)
The lawmakers wrote to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler about recent California state laws that require companies to disclose their emissions, which beat the SEC to the punch on releasing final climate reporting rules. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 22 and The Real Estate Roundtable’s summary of the California legislation.)
The Senators’ letter states, “The interconnectedness of the California requirements and the SEC’s proposal is undeniable: thousands of businesses would end up being subject to both the California requirements and the SEC’s rule, if finalized. However, key differences between the two raise significant compliance questions that the SEC should thoroughly review.”
Roundtable Comments on Scope 3
Scope 3 refers to indirect emissions that are part of an organization’s value chain but not owned or controlled by the reporting company. The 2022 SEC proposal would require corporate issuers of securities to estimate and report Scope 3 emissions “if material” in 10-Ks and other filings. (SEC News Release, March 22, 2022)
Roundtable comments submitted in June 2022 emphasized that the SEC’s proposed directive, which would mandate that companies report on Scope 3 emissions “only if material,” is a “back-door mandate” that should be dropped. The comment letter added, “No registrant should be effectively required to report on indirect emissions beyond its organizational or operational boundaries.” (Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022),
The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) plans to respond to any further developments on the SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule or other climate-related regulatory proposals affecting CRE.
The Real Estate Roundtable urged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this week to exempt real estate from a proposed Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule that could severely limit advisory clients’ ability to invest by fundamentally changing the ownership and transfer rights of real estate. The proposed rule currently includes a conditional exception for real estate assets, which would impose a new layer of unclear and unnecessary oversight—and inject significant confusion into well-established transaction protections, rules, and procedures governing real estate transactions. (Roundtable letter, Oct. 30 and SEC Proposed Rule)
The “Proposing Release”
The Oct. 30 letter from Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer reiterated current legal protections that promote the safe-keeping of real estate assets held in advisory accounts or funds. DeBoer urged the SEC “… in the strongest possible terms to exclude real estate from the scope of any final [Safeguarding] rule,” citing the ample set of existing protections that prevent real estate assets from fraudulent transfer.
The letter also emphasized that the SEC has not coherently explained how the Proposed Safeguarding Rule would apply to real estate.
Current law (the “Custody Rule”) under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 requires an investment adviser to maintain clients’ funds and securities with a qualified custodian. The new proposed SEC rule would expand this requirement to maintain all advisory client assets with a qualified custodian.
Since it is not possible to maintain real estate and certain other physical investments with a qualified custodian, the proposal includes a conditional exception that includes the following language:
“In the real estate context, a deed or similar indicia of ownership that could be used to transfer beneficial ownership of a property would not qualify for the exception, but the physical buildings or land would qualify.”
The Roundtable’s letter challenges this “Proposing Release” asconfusing, impractical, and unworkable for holding and transferring real estate deeds. It also conflicts with current state and country chain of custody legal requirements that govern real estate transactions.
The letter also notes the SEC could chose to make the conditional exemption available to real property, because a physical asset cannot be maintained with a qualified custodian. Additionally, the requirement to maintain custody of deeds with a qualified custodian—compared to recording the interest with a governmental authority—serves no regulatory purpose.
Existing Layers of Safeguards
Other existing safeguards come into play. State laws currently require signature verifications, notarizations, and accompanying IDs that provide significant hurdles to an attempted fraudulent transfer.
Modern real estate transactions in the United States also require buyers and lenders to obtain title insurance, which involves a title insurance company to engage in substantial due diligence of the chain of ownership. Real estate lawyers representing the buyer and/or seller represent yet another intermediary, since they are often involved in these asset transactions to provide yet another source of gatekeeper protections.
The Roundtable letter states the SEC must explain how it would be possible to maintain title or deed with a qualified custodian since the “Proposed Rule would fundamentally change the ownership and transfer rights of real estate.” The letter states the SEC should avoid any final rule that would limit clients’ access to, or unduly burden, investment in the real estate asset class.
The Proposing Release also contains no evaluation of any risk of loss for real estate assets—it only asserts such risk as a theoretical matter.
The Roundtable and a diverse group of 25 trade associationspreviously wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler to oppose the Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule proposal and explain the negative impacts it would have on investors, market participants, and the financial markets. This week’s letter from The Roundtable focused exclusively on the proposal’s impact on real estate assets. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 15)
Recent government actions amplify the increasing focus by policymakers on climate laws and guidelines—and their heightened impact on CRE. The California legislature recently passed first-of-its-kind state laws that require companies to disclose their emissions, beating to the punch anticipated federal climate reporting rules from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). (Politico, Sept. 17)
Meanwhile, the Biden administration issued voluntary principles this week for asset managers, banks, insurers, and venture capital companies with goals for “net zero” emissions investments, including real estate. (Treasury news release, Sept. 19)
California’s Climate Risk Disclosure Package
California’s legislature passed two bills (SB 253 and SB 261) last week requiring climate-related disclosures from certain companies doing business in the state. Most notably, the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB 253) would require entities with total annual global revenues greater than $1 billion to quantify and publicly report Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions.
SB 253 is estimated to regulate around 5,400 companies. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) pledged to sign both bills, although he may request changes when the legislature reconvenes in January. The laws could be challenged in court before they take effect over the next several years. (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 20 and New York Times, Sept 17)
The California legislature “leapfrog[ged]” the U.S. SEC (Bloomberg, Sept. 12), which has yet to release highly anticipated federal rules that are expected to require registered companies to report to investors on material climate-related financial risks in 10-Ks and other filings. (See RER’s 2022 comments on SEC proposal | Roundtable Weekly, March 10 and June 10, 2022)
U.S. Treasury’s Net-Zero Emissions Investment PrinciplesThe Treasury Department’s Principles for Net-Zero Financing & Investment is focused on “financial institutions’ scope 3 financed and facilitated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” It urges private sector financial institutions to align their GHG reduction efforts and net-zero goals with their “portfolio companies,” “portfolio of assets,” and “client base.”
The document notes that clients and portfolio companies should provide to their financial institutions their own net-zero plans, including “metrics and targets” for Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Buildings and real estate assets have long been considered part of a financial institution’s Scope 3 emissions “value chain.”
The set of nine principlesencourage greater adoption of emerging best practices for private sector financial institutions that have made net-zero commitments, while promoting consistent and credible implementation approaches.
The Roundtable and a diverse group of 25 trade associations this week wrote to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler to oppose a proposed Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule—in its current form—and explain the negative impacts it would have on investors, including their access to various services, assets, and markets with well-established rules and procedures. (Coalition letter, Sept. 12)
Inconsistent and Duplicative
The coalition letter notes how the proposal creates requirements that are inconsistent with certain recent or preexisting Commission requirements—and duplicative of, existing safeguards enforced by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), federal banking agencies, and state insurance regulators.
The letter emphasizes that substantial, material flaws in core elements of the proposal require changes that would make the proposal no longer meaningful in its current form. The letter states, “Should the Commission decide to make such changes and move forward with rulemaking, we strongly recommend withdrawing and re-proposing the [Safeguarding Advisory Client Rule].”
The Commission acknowledged this fact on August 23, 2023, when it re-opened the comment period on the proposal to give the public 60 days to provide additional feedback in light of separate final rules adopted by the SEC regarding the regulation of private fund advisers. (SEC news release, proposed rule, fact sheet, and comments received)
The proposal’s range of new custodial requirements would create significant operational and practical challenges to the custody of real estate, even though these assets cannot be misappropriated and are easily tracked by deeds and mortgages recorded by municipalities. These challenges would materially inhibit adviser clients’ access to investment strategies relating to real estate, compounding the pressures that high interest rates and vacancies are placing on commercial and residential markets.
During a Senate Banking Committee hearing this week, Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC), above, questioned Gensler about the proposal. Sen. Scott noted in his opening statement that the SEC has put forward 47 proposals and adopted 22 of them in the first several months of Gensler’s leadership, not allowing a reasonable amount of time for the public to provide input on proposed rules and for the widespread impact and confuse on created by agency’s proposed rules.
During Q&A with Gensler, Sen. Scott stated “…your proposed revisions to the current rules for safeguarding are so overreaching, you’ve placed your fellow regulators at the CFTC, the Fed and Treasury between a rock and a hard place. These proposals and rule makings will have a tremendous effect on our capital market system. Yet under your leadership, the SEC has failed to conduct thorough cost benefit analysis, much less look at the overall impacts of these proposal and has limited the time the public can have—the time to analyze and then comment on these rules and the proposals.” (CQ transcripts)
The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) established a Custody Rule Working Group, which is working on comments about the SEC proposal that are due October 30. The working group also plans to meet with the SEC’s Division of Investment Management.
The Real Estate Roundtable and industry partners encouraged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Sept. 14 to enhance its set of effective, standardized, and voluntary federal tools that can assist real estate companies meet climate targets imposed by city and state laws. (Real estate coalition letter, Sept. 14)
EPA Standards to Quantify Emissions
The coalition endorsed EPA’s planned improvements to its free, online Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool, announced in an ENERGY STAR July 2023 policy brief. Nearly 25% of U.S. CRE space measures energy and water use, waste disposal, and GHG emissions using Portfolio Manager.
Without EPA’s voluntary resources to support uniform emissions measurement, compliance with local mandates is “exceedingly difficult, impracticable, and in some cases, impossible,” the letter states.
“We value greatly our longstanding collaboration with the US-EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. It is the gold standard of resources which help our industry report on energy efficiency and the financial impacts from the increase of renewable energy supplies,” said Roundtable Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee Chair, Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust), below.
Malkin added, “Non-binding federal guidelines from the EPA’s strong and best-in-class analytical frameworks are the North Star through which local governments can inform their law-making, and this helps to bring some sense and order to the otherwise conflicting patchwork of climate laws and frameworks developed by states, cities, and NGOs. The future is hard facts and data, and our industry is fortunate to have a constructive and productive relationship with the EPA that focuses on points on the board, the how to address the what.”
The American Hotel & Lodging Association; Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International; CRE Finance Council; ICSC; Mortgage Bankers Association; NAIOP, Commercial Real Estate Development Association; and Nareit® joined The Roundtable on the coalition letter.
Anticipated SEC Climate Rules
The Roundtable’s call for uniform methods to calculate and report emissions anticipates overdue rules this fall from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC’s rules are expected to compel registered companies to disclose in investor filings material financial impacts related to climate change. (See Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022 and RER comments).
The Biden administration’s emphasis on climate policy will continue this fall, when it is expected to propose a uniform federal definition on the long-term concept of “zero emissions buildings.” The Roundtable’s SPAC will convene a working group to analyze the definition upon its release for public comments.
The Real Estate Roundtable and Nareit raised concerns to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about their proposed rules related to cybersecurity risk management, strategy, governance, and incident disclosure. (Comment Letter, May 9)
The letter states that The Roundtable and Nareit generally support the SEC’s efforts to ensure that investors receive accurate and comparable material information regarding company cyber risk management and incidents. (SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet)
However, the two industry groups expressed a number of concerns arising from the detailed, granular reporting that would be required by the SEC proposal and its rigid incident reporting deadlines, which may unintentionally exacerbate cybersecurity risks for issuers and impose unjustified burdens. Those concerns include:
It is vital to harmonize SEC reporting requirements with other federal and state cyber incident reporting requirements.
The Commission’s proposed 72-hour reporting window should incorporate flexibility for a reporting delay to accommodate other law enforcement and other contingencies.
Registrants should not be required to report detailed descriptions of their internal cybersecurity gameplans, which could compromise them in any number of ways.
The prescriptive requirements for disclosing risk management, strategy, and governance regarding cybersecurity risk are burdensome and unjustified.
The letter also raises concerns about the highly prescriptive nature of the requirements set forth in the Proposal and the “one size fits all” presumption that the prescriptive requirements will be appropriate for all industry sectors.
SEC Climate Disclosure Proposal
A separate SEC proposal on climate disclosure rules has drawn the ire of House Republicans, who have criticized the proposal and called for a hearing with the full commission. (E&E News, May 10)
In a May 4 letter to SEC Chair Gary Gensler, a group of House Republicans led by Oversight and Reform ranking member James Comer (R-KY) stated, “The Climate Disclosure Rule would represent the largest expansion of SEC authority without a clear legislative mandate from Congress.”
A regulatory push on multiple fronts by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prompted The Real Estate Roundtable and 24 other national business organizations to submit comments to Gensler about the need for more time to assemble meaningful stakeholder analysis as part of the rulemaking process. (Coalition letter, April 5 and Roundtable Weekly, April 8)
The proposed SEC climate disclosure rule hasno immediate effect. If it is finalized, the action could have a significant impact on the real estate industry, requiring all SEC registered companies to report on climate-related risks through annual 10-Ks and additional filings. (SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet, March 22)
The Roundtable submitted comments this week to address the potential negative consequences of recently proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations affecting real estate private equity investment fund advisers. (SEC comment letter, April 25)
The Roundtable’s April 25 comments detail how the proposal could have a negative impact on real estate private fund disclosures, reporting, fees and expenses, and operations—with significant results for the $18-trillion private fund adviser marketplace.
The letter also explains how the Commission’s extensive reporting requirements proposed under the new rules would increase compliance costs, decrease returns for all private fund investors and drive smaller fund sponsors away from the market. (SEC Feb. 9 News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet)
The Roundtable letter raises concerns that the SEC proposal, if finalized, could hinder real estate capital formation; harm development and improvement of real properties; and curtail essential economic activity that encourages job creation.
Interrelated, Multiple Rulemakings
The SEC, above, has proposed a number of other complex rules with potentially wide-ranging, significant consequences—all at the same time—and given the public abnormally short, 30-day comment windows to participate in these interrelated rulemakings. (Roundtable Weekly, April 8)
The Commission’s private fund adviser proposal is one of many of these rulemakings. This rulemaking alone seeks open-ended and extensive information from stakeholders and the public, including more than 800 individual questions and more than 60 specific questions on the cost-benefit analysis portion.
The Real Estate Roundtable and 24 other national business organizations recently submitted comments to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler regarding the need for more time to assemble meaningful stakeholder analysis as part of the rulemaking process. (Coalition letter, April 5)
The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) will continue to engage the SEC on its various rulemakings and address individual proposals in more detail at its next meeting on June 16 during The Roundtable’s all-member June 16-17 Annual Meeting.
A regulatory push on multiple fronts by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prompted The Real Estate Roundtable and 24 other national business organizations this week to submit comments to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler, above, about the need for more time to assemble meaningful stakeholder analysis as part of the rulemaking process. (Coalition letter, April 5)
SEC Proposals & CRE
A long list of recent, overlapping SEC proposals affecting business are cited in the coalition letter, including four rulemakings that could significantly impact the real estate industry:
1.) Jan. 26 – the SEC issued a proposal that would impose new reporting requirements on real estate investment and private equity advisers, including a mandate to file reports (Form PF) within one business day of certain events. (SEC News Release | Fact Sheet | Proposed Rule)
TheRoundtable’s March 21 response stated the SEC proposal “presents significant compliance and operational challenges for private real estate fund sponsors, with no added benefit to investors and no relation to the intent of Form PF in monitoring systemic risk.” (Roundtable Weekly, March 25)
The Roundtable plans to submit comments by April 25 to the SEC, which stated it is aiming to increase transparency and efficiency in the $18-trillion private fund adviser marketplace. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 11)
3.) March 9 – the SEC issued another proposal that would require publicly traded companies to disclose a cybersecurity incident within four days of determining a breach is “material,” or important to the average investor. (SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet)
The Roundtable is working on comments due by May 9 regarding the reporting requirement proposal addressing material cybersecurity incidents. (Roundtable Weekly, March 18)
Stakeholder input on the proposed climate disclosure rule is due to the SEC around May 20. The Roundtable is working on a comprehensive response that will includeinformation from a Roundtable member survey due this Monday, April 11. (see related Roundtable Weekly story on the survey, above)
This week’s coalition letter to the SEC noted, “The hundreds-upon-hundreds of questions, and numerous catch-all requests for comment, posed in these rulemakings reflect the Commission’s recognition that it needs input from the public to properly craft the proposed rules, yet the Commission is refusing to allow the public the time it needs to answer the Commission’s questions satisfactorily.”
The business coalition requested that the SEC should not reflexively assign a 30-day or 60-day comment period to multiple rule proposals. The coalition commented, “Exceedingly short comment periods associated with numerous concurrent potentially inter-connected rule proposals … could result in rules that hurt investors, damage the financial system, and implicate the Commission’s obligations.” (Coalition letter, April 5)
The SEC’s various rulemaking proposals affecting CRE will be discussed during The Roundtable’s April 25-26 Spring Meeting (Roundtable-level members only) in Washington, DC.
The Real Estate Roundtable on March 21 submitted comments to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opposing a proposal that would impose new reporting requirements on real estate investment and private equity advisers, including a mandate to file reports within one business day of certain events. The proposal “presents significant compliance and operational challenges for private real estate fund sponsors, with no added benefit to investors and no relation to the intent of Form PF in monitoring systemic risk,” according to The Roundtable’s letter.
Cost and Timing Burdens
The SEC’s proposal would imposenew requirements on Form PF, the confidential reporting form for certain SEC-registered private fund advisers. The proposal reflects the SEC’s experiences with recent market turmoil, including the COVID-19 crisis and the January 2021 market volatility impacting certain stocks. (SEC, Jan. 26 News Release | Fact Sheet | Proposed Rule)
New disclosure obligations in the Commission’s proposal include:
Additional reporting requirements for large hedge fund advisers and advisers to private equity funds, obligating such advisers to report a number of specified events to the SEC within one business day of their occurrence;
A lowered threshold for large private equity adviser reporting;
Certain revised reporting questions for private equity funds; and
Enhanced reporting requirements for large liquidity fund adviser.
The Roundtable’s Response
The Roundtable’s March 21 comment letter details why the proposed reporting requirements for Form PF should not be adopted. While the letter acknowledges the SEC’s intention to enhance the monitoring of systemic risk, it also outlines how the proposed reporting requirements present significant compliance and operational challenges for private real estate fund sponsors. Some of the key points made against the proposed new requirements include:
A one-day reporting requirement imposed on private equity advisers for any reason is unprecedented, and a requirement to report the specific transactions and events deemed by the SEC to be systemically important is wholly unsupported.
The proposed amendments to Section 4 of Form PF impose onerous new reporting requirements that force “large private fund advisers” to report sensitive information unrelated to monitoring for systemic risk.
The significant added cost and timing burdens of the proposed amendments are unreasonable and do not provide investors with commensurate benefits or protections or enhance systemic risk monitoring.
The reduced threshold for reporting private equity advisers is arbitrary. The SEC’s rationale for choosing 75% of committed capital as a meaningful threshold for purposes of FSOC’s systemic risk-monitoring function is unclear.
A March 16 analysis of the proposed SEC amendments on Form PF is available from Dechert LLP. The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) will continue to respond to the SEC’s various proposed regulatory initiatives with its industry and coalition partners.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on March 9 issued a proposed rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose a cybersecurity incident within four days of determining a breach is “material,” or important to the average investor. (BGov, March 11 and SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet)
Proposed SEC Requirements
SEC Chair Gary Gensler, above, said, “Today, cybersecurity is an emerging risk with which public issuers increasingly must contend. I am pleased to support this proposal because, if adopted, it would strengthen investors’ ability to evaluate public companies’ cybersecurity practices and incident reporting.” (Bloomberg, March 9)
An SEC spokesperson noted that the crisis in Ukraine gave these proposals “special relevance.” (CNBC, March 9 and see story below on The Roundtable’s upcoming March 25 discussion on the Ukraine conflict)
The proposed SEC amendments would include requirements around reporting material cybersecurity incidents – and providing periodic updates for previously reported cybersecurity incidents. (Wall Street Journal, March 9)
The proposal also would require periodic reporting related to:
a registrant’s policies and procedures to identify and manage cybersecurity risks;
the registrant’s board of directors’ oversight of cybersecurity risk; and
management’s role and expertise in assessing and managing cybersecurity risk and implementing cybersecurity policies and procedures.
The Real Estate Roundtable is planning to provide comments on the SEC proposal in advance of the May 9, 2022 submission deadline and looks forward to Roundtable members’ input. The proposed four-day reporting timeframe for companies to provide cyber disclosures may not provide enough time for companies to discover the full extent of an incident. (BGov, March 11)
An Audit Analytics report released last year showed the number of cybersecurity intrusions reported by public companies increased from 28 breaches in 2011 to 117 in 2020.
The average cost of a corporate data breach was $4.24 million in 2021, according to an annual IBM Security report.
Separately, the $1.5 trillion omnibus bill spending bill enacted on March 11 included the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical InfrastructureAct. The legislation establishes a narrower 72-hour window for critical infrastructure owners and operators to disclose a cyberattack to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Certain businesses are also required to report any ransom payments to the federal government within 24 hours, among other changes. (Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, March 14)