FHFA Takes Initiative on Idled Housing Finance Reform

On February 21, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) submitted a strategic plan outlining the next phase of its conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises). FHFA’s plan is in part a response to requests from lawmakers, including requests made during a December 2011 hearing. FHFA states that it will seek to build a new infrastructure for the secondary mortgage market, contract the Enterprises’ current market dominance, and maintain the Enterprises’ roles in foreclosure prevention activities and refinance initiatives. FHFA also outlines the legal authority under which it plans to act.

Until Congress can enact broader housing finance reform, FHFA envisions moving the Enterprises into a single open-architecture securitization platform that could become a type of public utility that would outlast the Enterprises. This move would also be accompanied by uniform standards for underwriting, disclosures, and servicing, and a robust and standard pooling and servicing agreement. FHFA will also contract Enterprise operations by (i) working to shift mortgage credit risk to private investors through some combination of increasing the g-fee, establishing loss sharing arrangements, and/or expanding reliance on mortgage insurance; (ii) directing the Enterprises to conduct a market analysis of the viability of their multifamily operations without government guarantees; and (iii) considering whether to retain each Enterprise’s capital markets expertise to manage portfolios, or to hire a third-party investment firm to manage the portfolios. Read more…

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CFPB Turns Attention to Bank Overdraft Practices

On February 22, the CFPB launched an inquiry into overdraft practices with a coordinated release of information. The official announcement came during a CFPB Roundtable discussion at Hunter College in New York City. At that event, CFPB Director Richard Cordray drew similarities between overdraft practices and payday lending, which was the subject of a prior CFPB field event. Mr. Cordray expressed his “concern[] that overdraft practices employed by some banks unnecessarily increase consumer costs by making it difficult to anticipate and avoid fees.” He also identified some practices the CFPB views as problematic, including those related to (i) ordering of transactions, (ii) missing or confusing information, and (iii) misleading marketing. To address those and other practices, the CFPB issued a request for information from consumers, third party processors, and financial institutions, regarding overdraft programs and their costs, benefits and risks to consumers. The CFPB also released and is seeking comment on a prototype “penalty fee box” that would appear on checking account statements to highlight overdraft activity and fees. Finally, the CFPB is collecting data from several large banks to inform a study of the effects of prior federal regulations and guidance regarding overdraft fees. While conducting these initiatives, Director Cordray promised to employ the CFPB’s supervisory and enforcement authorities to take action against financial institutions engaged in deceptive marketing related to overdrafts.

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POSTED IN: Banking, Federal Issues

California Class Action Suits Allege Mislabeled Privacy Policy Links

In the last three months, five class action cases filed in California under the state’s “Shine a Light” statute have alleged that online businesses, including Microsoft Corp., CBS Interactive Inc., and Time Inc., failed to properly label links to their privacy policies. The five suits, all filed by a single firm, claim $3,000 per violation plus additional damages (Boorstein v. CBS Interactive Inc., Cal. Super. Ct., No. 476015, complaint filed 12/28/11; Boorstein v. Men’s Journal LLC, Cal. Super. Ct., No. 475697, complaint filed 12/22/11; Miller v. Hearst Communications, C.D. Cal., No. 12-733, complaint filed 1/27/12; Murray v. Time Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 12–431, notice of removal filed 1/26/12; Smith v. Microsoft Corp., Cal. Super. Ct., No. 476413, complaint filed 1/9/12). The “Shine a Light” statute, in effect since 2005, requires businesses that collect California residents’ personal data and then share that data for marketing purposes to disclose or allow consumers to opt out of that sharing. Each defendant company allegedly mislabeled links to their online privacy policies or otherwise failed to meet the statute’s requirements.

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Colorado State Court Rules Payday Lending Firms Affiliated with Native American Tribes are Immune from State Investigation and Prosecution

On February 13, the District Court for the City and County of Denver ruled that online payday lending businesses affiliated with two Native American tribes are protected from state investigation and enforcement. Colorado v. Cash Advance, No. 05-1143 (Col. Dist. Ct. Feb. 13, 2012). For several years the state had been trying to investigate and regulate the payday lending practices of the firms and brought suit to enforce subpoenas and cease and desist orders issued with regard to the firms’ operations. The state claimed that, among other things, the businesses were in violation of state laws that require firms doing business with Colorado consumers over the internet to have a valid state license. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the firms are immune from those subpoenas and enforcement orders under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. The defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied. On appeal, the state supreme court held that tribal sovereign immunity applies to state investigative subpoena enforcement actions and remanded the case to the trial court for additional inquiry into the immunity status of the tribes’ affiliated businesses. On remand, the state claimed that sovereign immunity did not apply because the firms engaged non-tribal members in some of their operations and designed their affiliation with two online payday lending firms to avoid state regulation and oversight, a practice sometimes referred to as “rent-a-tribe.” After discovery, the court disagreed and ruled for the defendant tribes and their businesses, holding that the companies are extensions of the tribes and therefore immune from state investigatory actions and judicial enforcement.

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New York State Appeals Panel Reinstates Foreclosure Action, Reversing Justice Known for Tossing Out Foreclosure Motions

On February 14, a panel of judges in the Appellate Division, Second Department of the New York State Supreme Court reinstated the foreclosure action at issue in Aurora Loan Services, LLC v. Sookoo, 2012 WL 503663 (N.Y. App. Div. Feb. 14, 2012). The borrower defaulted on her mortgage loan and did not later appear in the foreclosure action or answer the complaint. The plaintiff, the holder of the mortgage and note, moved for an order of reference appointing a referee to compute the amount due. Brooklyn New York State Supreme Court Justice Aaron Schack, sua sponte, directed the dismissal of the complaint with prejudice and cancelled the notice of pendency based upon the plaintiff’s failure to provide the loan origination documents as required by the judge’s earlier order dated March 31, 2009. Reversing the decision, the unanimous panel wrote that Justice Schack “erred in, sua sponte, directing the dismissal of the complaint with prejudice and the cancellation of the notice of pendency.”  The panel remitted the matter for proceedings before a different justice, deeming it “appropriate” “under the circumstances of this case.” Justice Schack is known for his staunch stance against banks pursuing foreclosure actions and this is not the first instance in which he has been reversed in a foreclosure action (see, for example, US Bank, N.A. v. Guichardo, 90 A.D.3d 1032 (N.Y. App. Div. 2011)).

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POSTED IN: Courts, Mortgages, State Issues