On April 22, the American Bankers Association (ABA) sent a letter to the OCC, the Federal Reserve, and the FDIC regarding force-place flood insurance (also known as lender-placed insurance). The ABA probed the question of whether or not the advancement of a lender-placed flood insurance premium constitutes an “increase” to the designated loan – a statutory “tripwire” under the Flood Disaster Protection Act (FDPA). According to the letter, “increasing reports” from ABA members suggest that examiners are taking the position that “advancing a flood insurance premium in order to force-place flood insurance increases a loan balance and therefore constitutes a MIRE event [(making, increasing, renewing, or extending a designated loan)].” The letter summarizes FDPA requirements, noting that, if examiners are in fact considering the advancement of a premium to force-place flood insurance as an increase to a designated loan, such an “interpretation is new to the industry and is inconsistent with industry practice and contractual obligations under standard mortgage loan agreements.” According to the ABA, this new approach would result in increased borrower confusion and expense: “[i]ndeed, if adding the flood insurance premium to the loan is considered to increase the loan amount, following that logic through, the payment of a force-placed hazard insurance premium, taxes, or even a late fee would also ‘increase’ the loan—and result in a MIRE event as it is wholly inconsistent to treat these protective advances differently. Accordingly, a delinquent borrower could experience a ‘MIRE event’ as frequently as monthly with each late payment. Clearly, this was not Congress’s intent.” The ABA urged the banking agencies to release interagency guidance to address concerns related to the advancement of flood insurance premiums as a potential MIRE event.
Last week, the NYDFS appointed Scott Fischer Executive Deputy Superintendent for Insurance and Laura E. Evangelista Deputy Superintendent for Insurance. Fischer joins the NYDFS from the New York Liquidation Bureau where he served as Special Deputy Superintendent. Previously, Fischer worked at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, served as Senior Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the New York Insurance Department, and as Assistant AG at the New York State Attorney General’s Office. Evangelista most recently served as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at an international insurance brokerage firm; previously, she was a commercial litigator in private practice.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Hears Oral Arguments Regarding CFPB’s Interpretation of RESPA
On April 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held oral arguments in the case PHH Corporation v. CFPB. The primary issue in the case is whether the CFPB is constitutionally and statutorily authorized to assess a $109 million penalty against the petitioner, a nonbank mortgage lender (Lender), for allegedly violating Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) by referring customers to certain mortgage insurance companies that purchased mortgage reinsurance at fair market value from an affiliate of the Lender. According to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, this practice was a violation of Section 8’s prohibition on kickbacks for referrals, because the mortgage insurers allegedly only purchased mortgage reinsurance in order to receive customer referrals from the Lender.
In appealing the CFPB’s action, counsel for the Lender argued that the CFPB is attempting to effectively rewrite Section 8 to prohibit activities expressly permitted by the statute’s implementing regulation, Regulation X, as well as prior agency guidance and the plain language of the statute itself. According to the Lender, its mortgage reinsurance practices had long been understood to be legal, were widespread throughout the country, and aligned with existing HUD guidance. The Lender further argued that Section 8(c)(2) permits entities to refer business so long as the referrals are not compensated, and any payments are equal to the market value cost of services actually provided. In the Lender’s case, counsel argued that the mortgage reinsurance premiums could not have been compensation for referrals, because mortgage reinsurance premiums received by the Lender’s affiliate were equal to the fair market value of mortgage reinsurance services actually rendered. The Lender further argued that the CFPB improperly ignored RESPA’s statutorily-prescribed statute of limitations (SOL) of three years when, under Section 15, RESPA clearly applies the SOL to “any action” – which, in the Lender’s view, would include an administrative action. Finally, the Lender argued that the CFPB’s structure and funding under the Dodd-Frank Act was unconstitutional in that it violated the requirement for separation of powers by, among other things, (i) restricting the President’s removal power to “for cause” removal; (ii) concentrating power in one individual; and (iii) funding the CFPB outside of the Congressional appropriations process. Read more…
On April 8, the DOJ announced a $1.2 billion settlement with a San Francisco-based bank and the bank’s Vice President of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance to resolve allegations that the bank submitted false claims for FHA insurance in connection with loans that did not meet FHA underwriting standards. According to DOJ, “[d]uring the period May 1, 2001 through on or about December 31, 2008, [the bank] (or its predecessor) submitted to HUD certifications stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not.” The settlement agreement further explains that when certain of these loans defaulted, HUD paid for the insurance claims out of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. In addition, the settlement agreement states that from January 2002 through December 2010, the bank failed to inform HUD that the bank’s quality assurance personnel had determined that some of the FHA-insured loans contained a material finding. In response to this failure to self-report, the DOJ also asserted claims against the bank’s VP of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance, as the individual responsible for overseeing the bank’s self-reporting policy and procedures. Both the bank and the individual officer acknowledged responsibility for the alleged violations as part of the settlement agreement.
Massachusetts AG Healey Continues Subprime Auto Loan Review; Lenders to Pay $7.4 Million in Consumer Relief
On March 16, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey announced that two national auto lenders, based in South Carolina and California respectively, agreed to collectively pay $7.4 million in relief to more than two thousand Massachusetts consumers to resolve allegations that they charged excessive interest rates on subprime auto loans. Under the terms of the assurance of discontinuance, the companies will eliminate the alleged excessive interest on certain loans resulting from add-on GAP insurance coverage, forgive outstanding interest on the loans, and reimburse consumers that already paid interest. The South Carolina-based lender will pay approximately $1.7 million in relief to consumers, while the California-based lender will pay the remaining $5.7 million. The settlement agreements further require the lenders to pay $225,000 for implementation of the agreements and to undergo additional auditing to determine if other loans are subject to refunds.
These settlements are part of AG Healey’s subprime loan review initiative. In November 2015, as part of this initiative, AG Healey announced a $5.4 million settlement with a national auto lender to resolve allegations similarly related to the practice of charging inflated interest rates because of add-on GAP insurance coverage.