On February 25, the FDIC issued FIL-9-2014 to notify supervised institutions of new consumer compliance examination procedures for the mortgage rules issued pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, that took effect nearly two months ago. FDIC examiners will use the revised interagency procedures to evaluate institutions’ compliance with the new mortgage rules. The FDIC states that during initial compliance examinations, FDIC examiners will expect institutions to be familiar with the mortgage rules’ requirements and have a plan for implementing the requirements. Those plans should contain “clear timeframes and benchmarks” for updating compliance management systems and relevant compliance programs. “FDIC examiners will consider the overall compliance efforts of an institution and take into account progress the institution has made in implementing its plan.”
On March 5, the Senate voted 47-52 on a procedural motion that would have advanced President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to serve as Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division. Seven Democrats joined all voting Republicans to defeat the nomination. Mr. Adegbile’s participation in the legal representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1981 of killing a Philadelphia police officer, reportedly played a factor in the voting.
On February 26, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-04, which states that a servicer must retain in the mortgage loan servicing file all supporting documentation for all expense reimbursement claims, in addition to other servicing and liquidation information. A servicer must document its compliance with all Fannie Mae policies and procedures, including but not limited to, timelines that are required in the Servicing Guide, and must maintain in the individual mortgage loan file all documents and system records that preserve Fannie Mae’s ownership interest in the individual mortgage loan. The Announcement also (i) clarifies that when Fannie Mae requests a mortgage loan servicing file for a quality control review, the servicer must include supporting documents for all expense reimbursement claims it has submitted or intends to submit to Fannie Mae; (ii) states that a servicer must submit the final Cash Disbursement Request (Form 571) within 30 days after completion of a loss mitigation alternative, filing a mortgage insurance claim for a property that will be conveyed to the insurer or guarantor, acquisition of a property by a third party at a foreclosure sale, or disposition of an acquired property; (iii) provides examples of information sufficient to support a servicer’s attorney expense reimbursement request; and (iv) clarifies that when a servicer transfers its contractual right to service some or all of its Fannie Mae single-family servicing to another Fannie Mae-approved servicer, any variance or waiver granted to a transferor servicer does not automatically transfer to the transferee servicer, and the transferor and transferee servicers must ensure that all existing special servicing obligations associated with the transferred mortgage loan are disclosed. Finally, in a separate notice, Fannie Mae announced that it may adjust the Fannie Mae Standard Modification Interest rate for Fannie Mae Standard or Streamlined Modifications on a monthly basis, beginning July 1, 2014.
On February 27, the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System & Registry (NMLS) announced that Robert S. Niemi, Deputy Superintendent for Consumer Finance at the Ohio Division of Financial Institutions, will serve as NMLS Ombudsman. The NMLS states that the Ombudsman “provide[s] the non-depository financial services industries, and other interested parties, with a neutral venue to discuss issues or concerns regarding NMLS and state licensing” with the objective of fostering “constructive dialogue between NMLS industry users and participating state regulators.”
On February 20, the U.S. District Court for Central District of California dismissed with prejudice a putative class action against several large mortgage servicers because the named borrowers failed to properly plead their allegations that the servicers stonewalled loan modification applications in order to continue earning servicing fees. Casault v. Federal National Mortgage Association, No. 11-10520, 2014 WL 689884 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2014). In their third amended complaint, the borrowers alleged three causes of action against the servicers: (i) fraud; (ii) violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL); and (iii) violation of the Rosenthal Act, California’s version of the FDCPA. The court granted the servicers’ motion to dismiss the fraud allegation because they failed to allege any causal connection between the scheme and the borrowers’ foreclosure. The borrowers alleged only that the foreclosures were the result of their inability to make their mortgage payments, even after receiving loan modifications. The court dismissed the UCL claim because the borrowers could not demonstrate a right to a loan modification—through contract, promissory estoppel, or some other theory—and, as a result, could not prove injury in fact. Finally, the court dismissed the borrowers’ claims under the Rosenthal Act because they failed to allege facts demonstrating that their loans defaulted prior to the debt being assigned to the servicers.
On February 24, the CFPB announced that a nonbank mortgage lender agreed to pay an $83,000 penalty to resolve violations of RESPA’s Section 8. The lender primarily offers loss-mitigation refinance mortgage loans to distressed borrowers. According to the consent order, after the lender ceased obtaining funding for its loans from two subsidiaries of a hedge fund, the lender continued to split loss-mitigation and origination fees with the subsidiaries on 83 additional loans originated over an eight-month period, even though neither subsidiary provided financing or any other service in any of those transactions.
The lender self-reported the violation, admitted liability, and provided information related to the conduct of others, which the CFPB stated has facilitated other enforcement investigations. In addition, the consent order requires the lender make its “officers, employees, representatives, and agents” available for interviews and testimony, and to produce all non-privileged documents requested by the CFPB, “in connection with this action and any related judicial or administrative proceeding or investigation commenced by the Bureau or to which the Bureau is a party.” The company also cannot apply for a tax deduction or credit for the penalty, and cannot seek indemnification from any source. The CFPB indicated that the lender’s self-reporting and cooperation, which were consistent with the Bureau’s Responsible Business Conduct bulletin, played a part in mitigating the penalty.
This consent order is another public action the CFPB has taken under RESPA’s Section 8, although this action appears to be the first under Section 8(b) of RESPA, which prohibits fee-splitting and the payment and receipt of unearned fees. The CFPB has previously enforced Section 8(a), which prohibits referral fees and kickbacks, most recently in the case of a mortgage company that allegedly made inflated rental payments in exchange for mortgage referrals. The Bureau’s Section 8(b) action emphasizes the CFPB’s commitment to enforcing all of the aspects of Section 8, particularly against nonbank lenders.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray summed up the CFPB’s RESPA enforcement stance, stating: “These types of illegal payments can harm consumers by driving up the costs of mortgage settlements. The Bureau will use its enforcement authority to ensure that these types of practices are halted. We will, however, also continue to take into account the self-reporting and cooperation of companies in determining how to resolve such matters.”
On February 19, House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter asking Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and National Mortgage Settlement Monitor Joseph Smith to “carefully scrutinize the sale of mortgage servicing rights from banks to nonbanks” to ensure nonbank servicers have the capacity to handle increased loan volume and that borrowers are not harmed. Representative Waters explained that consumer advocates are concerned that when a bank subject to the National Mortgage Settlement transfers MSRs to a nonbank not subject to the National Mortgage Settlement, the transferred loans are not afforded the same protections as they would be under that agreement. Ms. Waters is concerned that the CFPB rules that would apply to such transferred loans offer fewer protections than those in the National Mortgage Settlement. She also requested that the Comptroller and/or the Monitor examine the extent to which servicing transfers are potentially being used to “evade the modification of loans for borrowers who would benefit most from the terms of the Settlement.” Ms. Waters joins other policymakers, including the CFPB’s Deputy Director and New York’s banking regulator, who recently raised concerns about the impact on borrowers from the transfer of mortgage servicing rights.
On February 20, FinCEN finalized a rule that will require Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks (the GSEs) to develop AML programs and to file SARs directly with FinCEN. Under the current system, the GSEs file fraud reports with the FHFA, which then files SARs with FinCEN when warranted under FinCEN’s reporting standards. The new regulations are substantially similar to the version proposed in November 2011, and are intended to streamline the reporting process and provide more timely access to data about potential fraud. The AML provisions of the new regulations implement the BSA’s four minimum requirements: (i) the development of internal policies, procedures, and controls; (ii) the designation of a compliance officer; (iii) an ongoing employee training program; and (iv) an independent audit function to test programs. The SAR regulation requires reporting of suspicious activity in accordance with standards and procedures contained in all of FinCEN’s SAR regulations. In addition, under the streamlined system, the GSEs and their directors, officers, and employees will qualify for the BSA’s “safe harbor” provisions, which are intended to encourage covered institutions to report suspicious activities without fear of liability. The final rule does not require the GSEs to comply with any other BSA reporting or recordkeeping regulations, such as currency transaction reporting. The rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and the GSEs will have 180 days from publication to comply.
On February 14, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2014-02, which includes numerous selling and servicing policy changes. For example, the Bulletin states that, effective for mortgages with settlement dates on or after June 1, 2014, (i) sellers’ reserves must be based on the full monthly payment amount for the property, not only principal, interest, taxes, and insurance; (ii) sellers no longer have to provide borrowers an additional six months’ reserve when the borrower converts a two- to four-unit primary residence to an investment property; and (iii) Freddie Mac is removing the requirements that the appraisal must be dated no more than 60 days prior to the note date when used to document the value of a primary residence pending sale or being converted to a second home or an investment property for the purposes of establishing the minimum required reserves. Freddie Mac also is reducing the delivery fee rate to 75 basis points for Home Possible Mortgage purchase transactions with settlement dates on or after March 1, 2014. Also for sellers, the Bulletin (i) introduces a summary of changes made to Guide Exhibit 19, Postsettlement Delivery Fees; (ii) revises resubmission requirements for mortgages submitted to Loan Prospector after the note date or the effective date of Permanent Financing for Construction Conversion and Renovation Mortgages; (iii) updates the Guide to include Phase 2 ULDD data point requirements and clarifications on existing ULDD data points; and (iv) updates and consolidates property eligibility and appraisal requirements in Guide Chapter 44, Property and Appraisal Requirements. For sellers and servicers, the Bulletin announces updates to Guide Form 16SF, Annual Eligibility Certification Report, to enhance its usability and provide additional functionality. Finally, for servicers, the Bulletin revises requirements for reimbursement of condominium, homeowners’ association and Planned Unit Development assessments in states where a lien for such amounts can take priority over Freddie Mac’s lien.
New Mexico Supreme Court Analyzes State’s Foreclosure Standing Requirements, Ability To Repay Standard
On February 13, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that a borrower’s ability to repay a home mortgage loan is one of the “borrower’s circumstances” that lenders and courts must consider in determining compliance with the New Mexico Home Loan Protection Act (HLPA). Bank of New York v. Romero, No. 33,224, 2014 WL 576151 (N.M. S. Ct. February 13, 2014). In this case, after two borrowers became delinquent on a cash-out refinance mortgage loan, a bank initiated a foreclosure action in state court. The trial court and appellate court rejected the borrowers’ arguments that the bank failed to establish that it was the holder of the note and that the loan violated the “anti-flipping provision” of the HLPA, which prohibits creditors from knowingly and intentionally making a refinance loan when the new loan does not have reasonable, tangible net benefit to the borrower considering all of the circumstances—i.e. “flipping” a home loan. The Supreme Court reviewed the state’s stringent standing requirements and held that possession of the note alone is insufficient to establish standing and that the bank failed to provide other evidence sufficient to demonstrate transfer of the note. Although its decision on standing mooted the issue of the alleged HLPA violation, the court decided to address the issue given some party may eventually establish standing to foreclose. The court, in what might be considered dicta, stated that although the “anti-flipping provision” of the HLPA did not specifically include ability to repay as a factor to be considered in assessing the “borrower’s circumstances,” it could find “no conceivable reason why the Legislature in 2003 would consciously exclude consideration of a borrower’s ability to repay the loan as a factor of the borrower’s circumstances.” As such, the court stated that the HLPA’s “reasonable, tangible net benefit” requirement must include as a factor “the ability of a homeowner to have a reasonable chance of repaying a mortgage loan,” and that here the lender failed to do so when it claimed to rely solely on the borrowers’ assertions about their income and failed to review tax returns or other documents to confirm those assertions. Finally, the court also stated that (i) the National Bank Act does not expressly preempt the HLPA; (ii) the bank failed to prove that conforming to the dictates of the HLPA prevents or significantly interferes with its operations; and (iii) the HLPA does not create a discriminatory effect. The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions and remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate its foreclosure judgment and to dismiss the bank’s foreclosure action for lack of standing.
Recently, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found that a mortgage company proved that it properly classified an employee as an outside sales person under the Fair Labor Standards Act and therefore was not required to pay the employee overtime. Cougill v. Prospect Mortgage, LLC, No. 13-1433 (E.D.Va. Feb. 5, 2014). The suit is one of many that have been filed across the country involving claims by employees that they were misclassified and were not paid overtime or minimum wage. The verdict came on the same day the court ruled in favor of the mortgage company on summary judgment in a separate, but similar case. Hantz v. Prospect Mortgage, LLC, No. 13-1435, 2014 WL 463019 (E.D.Va. Feb. 5. 2014). In that case, the court held that the loan officer’s claims were time barred under the FLSA’s two-year statute of limitations because the officer failed to demonstrate the alleged misclassification would constitute a willful violation, which would have extended the time limit by a year. Although its holding on the statute of limitations issue was dispositive of the case, the court went on to address the plaintiff’s status as an outside sales person. The court reasoned that in determining FLSA classification, the inquiry is whether the employee performs tasks critical to the sales process away from the office on more than an occasional basis. The fact that the employee may also perform a significant amount of work inside the mortgage company’s office does not limit the exemption. In this case, the court noted that the loan officer’s outside meetings with realtors, time spent distributing flyers, attending open houses, and giving seminars demonstrated that the officer “customarily and regularly” engaged in outside sales activity sufficient to trigger the exemption, notwithstanding the officer’s testimony that he also worked considerable hours inside the office. The court also rejected the officer’s argument that the exemption should not apply because he did not make any sales at a borrower’s home or place of business, noting that where the actual sale occurs is irrelevant.
On February 19, CFPB Deputy Director Steve Antonakes spoke at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual servicing conference and detailed the CFPB’s expectations for servicers as they implement the new servicing rules that took effect last month.
Mr. Antonakes’s remarks about the CFPB’s plans to supervise and enforce compliance with the new rules are the most assertive to date. Until now, the CFPB’s public position has been that “in the early months” after the rules took effect, the CFPB would not look for strict compliance, but rather would assess whether institutions have made “good faith efforts” to come into “substantial compliance.”
Mr. Antonakes clarified this position, stating that “[s]ervicers have had more than a year now to work on implementation” of “basic practices of customer service that should have been implemented long ago” and that “[a] good faith effort . . . does not mean servicers have the freedom to harm consumers.” He went on to state that “[m]ortgage servicing rule compliance is a significant priority for the Bureau. Accordingly, we will be vigilant about overseeing and enforcing these rules.”
Default Servicing and Foreclosures
Specifically, the CFPB expects that, “in these very early days,” servicers will (i) identify and correct “technical issues”; (ii) “conduct outreach to ensure that all consumers in default know their options”; and (iii) “assess loss mitigation applications with care, so that consumers who qualify under [a servicer’s] own standards get the loss mitigation that saves them – and the investor – from foreclosure.” Mr. Antonakes acknowledged that “foreclosures are an important part of the business, but they shouldn’t happen unless they’re necessary and they must be done according to relevant law. We expect the new rules to go a long way to reduce consumer harm for all consumers with mortgages, especially as these rules work in concert with the existing prohibition against unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.”
Mr. Antonakes specifically detailed expectations concerning mortgage servicing rights transfers. He stated that the CFPB expects servicers to “pay exceptionally close attention to servicing transfers and understand [that the CFPB] will as well. . . . Our rules mandate policies and procedures to transfer ‘all information and documents’ in order to ensure that the new servicer has accurate information about the consumer’s account. We’re going to hold you to that. Servicing transfers where the new servicers are not honoring existing permanent or trial loan modifications will not be tolerated. Struggling borrowers being told to pay incorrect higher amounts because of the failure to honor an in-process loan modification – and then being punished with foreclosure for their inability to pay the incorrect amounts – will not be tolerated. There will be no more shell games where the first servicer says the transfer ended all of its responsibility to consumers and the second servicer says it got a data dump missing critical documents.”
On February 12, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the FHFA’s oversight of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s handling of aged repurchase demands. The OIG found that (i) the FHFA’s published guidance for aged repurchase demands essentially let each of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac establish its own model for penalizing seller-servicers; (ii) Freddie Mac continued to employ its existing right to assess late fees on seller-servicers for not resolving repurchase demands timely, which resulted in missed assessments of up to $284 million due in large part to inconsistently waving, enforcing, and excepting late fees; and (iii) Fannie Mae continued without an ability to assess repurchase late fees, claiming a $5.4 million cost to establish the program necessary to do so was prohibitive, but failing to realize the potential benefits from a continuous stream of penalty fees. The OIG recommended that the FHFA (i) promptly quantify the potential benefit of implementing a repurchase late fee program at Fannie Mae, and then determine whether the potential cost outweighs the potential benefit; (ii) direct Freddie Mac to develop an expanded repurchase late fee report that would provide Freddie Mac and FHFA management with needed information to manage and assess Freddie Mac’s repurchase late fee program more effectively; and (iii) direct Freddie Mac to provide the FHFA with information on any assessed but uncollected late fees associated with the repurchase claims so that such fees can be considered in repurchase settlement negotiations and documented in accordance with the Office of Conservatorship Operations’ Settlement Policy.
Democratic Lawmakers Urge Federal Reserve Board To Increase Direct Role In Supervision And Enforcement
On February 11, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to newly appointed Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen, asking that she reconsider the Board’s policy of delegating supervisory and enforcement powers to staff. The lawmakers cite a recent letter from former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in which he explained that in the last 10 years, the Board of Governors voted on only 11 of nearly 1,000 enforcement actions, and that under current application of the Federal Reserve’s enforcement delegation policy, the Federal Reserve can enter into consent orders without ever receiving formal approval of senior staff. The letter asks for a change in policy that would require the Board to retain greater authority over the Federal Reserve’s enforcement and supervisory activities. Specifically, the lawmakers recommend that (i) the Board vote on any consent order that involves $1 million or more or that requires a bank officer to be removed and/or new management installed; (ii) staff formally notify the Board before entering into a consent order under delegated authority; (iii) each Board member be provided with the necessary staffing capacity to review and analyze pending enforcement actions; and (iv) all Board members receive a copy of all letters sent to the Chairman or another Board member by a committee or member of Congress.
On February 7, the OCC issued an updated Mortgage Banking booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook. The revised booklet (i) provides updated guidance to examiners and bankers on assessing the quantity of risk associated with mortgage banking and the quality of mortgage banking risk management; (ii) makes wholesale changes to the functional areas of production, secondary marketing, servicing, and mortgage servicing rights; and (iii) addresses recent CFPB amendments to Regulation X and Regulation Z, as well as other Dodd-Frank related statutory and regulatory changes. The updated booklet replaces a similarly titled booklet issued in March 1996, as well as Section 750 (Mortgage Banking) issued in November 2008 as part of the former OTS Examination Handbook. On February 12, the OCC issued a revised Retirement Plan Products and Services booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook that (i) updates examination procedures and groups them by risk; (ii) updates references and adds a list of abbreviations; (iii) adds references to recent significant U.S. Department of Labor regulations and policy issuances; (iv) adds a discussion of Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering and Regulation R; and (v) adds a discussion of board and senior management responsibilities regarding oversight of risk management.