On July 23, the CFPB, the FTC, and 15 state authorities coordinated to take action against foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals alleged to have employed deceptive marketing tactics to obtain business from distressed borrowers. The CFPB filed three suits, the FTC filed six, and the state authorities collectively initiated 32 actions. For example, the CFPB claims the defendants (i) collected fees before obtaining a loan modification; (ii) inflated success rates and likelihood of obtaining a modification; (iii) led borrowers to believe they would receive legal representation; and (iv) made false promises about loan modifications to consumers. The CFPB and FTC allege that the defendants violated Regulation O, formerly known as the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, and that some of the defendants also violated the Dodd-Frank Act’s UDAAP provisions and Section 5 of the FTC Act, respectively. The state authorities are pursuing similar claims under state law. For example, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he served a notice of intent to bring litigation against two companies and an individual for operating a fraudulent mortgage rescue and loan modification scheme that induced consumers into paying large upfront fees but failed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
On July 24, the CFPB issued a proposed rule to expand the scope of HMDA data reporting requirements. Section 1094 of the Dodd-Frank Act transferred responsibility for HMDA and Regulation C to the CFPB and directed the CFPB to conduct a rulemaking to expand the collection of mortgage origination data to include, among other things: (i) the length of the loan; (ii) total points and fees; (iii) the length of any teaser or introductory interest rates; (iv) the applicant or borrower’s age and credit score; and (v) the channel through which the application was made. The Dodd-Frank Act also granted the CFPB discretion to collect additional information as it sees fit. The proposed rule would implement all of the new data points required by the Dodd-Frank Act, and also would utilize the CFPB’s discretionary authority to substantially expand the number of new data points required to be reported. In addition, the CFPB’s proposal would require reporting for all dwelling-secured loans, which would include some loans not currently covered by Regulation C, including reverse mortgages, and all home equity lines of credit irrespective of their purpose. The proposal follows a review initiated by the CFPB earlier this year to assess of the potential impacts of a HMDA rulemaking on small businesses. The CFPB released a summary of that review with the proposed rule. Comments on the proposal are due by October 22, 2014. We are reviewing the proposed rule and plan to provide a more detailed summary in the coming days.
Maryland’s High Court Holds Suits Under Finder’s Fee Law Subject To Three-Year Statute Of Limitations
On July 21, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, the state’s highest court, held in responding to a question certified by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland that alleged violations of Maryland’s Finder’s Fee Act are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. NVR Mortg. Fin. v. Carlsen, Misc. No. 11, 2014 WL 3565472 (Md. Jul. 21, 2014). In this case, a borrower sued a mortgage broker on behalf of a putative class alleging the broker violated the state’s Finder’s Fee Act by failing to make certain disclosures before collecting finder’s fees for brokering mortgages. The borrower filed suit more than three years after the alleged failure to disclose, but asserted that an alleged violation of the Finder’s Fee Act is an “other specialty” under Maryland state law and as such is subject to a 12-year state of limitations. Under state law an alleged violation of a statute is an “other specialty” only if, in relevant part, the duty, obligation, prohibition, or right sought to be enforced is created or imposed solely by the statute, or a related statute, and does not otherwise exist as a matter of common law. The court rejected the borrower’s claim that the Finder’s Fee Act created a statutory duty for mortgage brokers, and held instead that a mortgage broker owes to a borrower a common law duty to disclose all facts or information which may be relevant or material in influencing the judgment or action of the borrower in the matter. The court held, therefore, that in an action for an alleged violation the Finder’s Fee Act the duty sought to be enforced exists as a matter of common law, rather than having been created solely by the statute, and is subject to a three-year, not 12-year, statute of limitations.
On July 24, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to Attorney General Holder raising questions about the DOJ’s “inclination to enter into settlement agreements with respect to mortgage securities fraud” claims. The Chairman notes that large RMBS settlements to date have been predicated on violations of FIRREA, which allows the DOJ to initiate lawsuits seeking civil money penalties. The letter suggests the DOJ’s decision not to litigate or secure a criminal plea diverges from the agency’s strategy in other contexts. Chairman Issa asks the DOJ to produce, by August 14, all documents and communications since January 2011 referring or relating to two recent major RMBS settlements, as well as any policies in effect during that time governing the decision to conclude pre-suit negotiations.
On July 23, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-16, which requires FHA mortgagees to retain electronic copies of certain foreclosure-related documents and extends the record retention period to seven years after the life of an FHA-insured mortgage. HUD advises that, in addition to any requirements for retaining hard copies or original foreclosure-related documents, loss-mitigation review documents also must be retained in electronic format. Those documents include: (i) evidence of the servicer’s foreclosure committee recommendation; (ii) the servicer’s Referral Notice to a foreclosure attorney, if applicable; and (iii) a copy of the document evidencing the first legal action necessary to initiate foreclosure and all supporting documentation, if applicable. The letter adds that mortgagees also must retain in electronic format a copy of the mortgage, the mortgage note, or the deed of trust. If a note has been lost, mortgagees must retain both an electronic and hard copy of a Lost Note Affidavit. The letter is effective for all foreclosures occurring on or after October 1, 2014.
On July 8, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed HB 7997, which extends the state’s licensing requirements to include companies servicing a loan, directly or indirectly, as a third-party loan servicer. Under the existing state statute, the term “loan” means any advance of money or credit, including mortgage loans, educational loans, and other consumer loans. The new law adds new definitions for servicing and third-party loan servicer, establishes for such servicers a $1,100 annual licensing fee, and requires licensed servicers to: (i) maintain at least $100,000 capital; (ii) obtain a bond; (iii) maintain segregated borrower accounts; and (iv) maintain certain records. The law also establishes prohibited acts and practices for third-party servicers, including, among others: (i) knowingly misapplying loan payments to the outstanding balance of a loan or to escrow accounts; (ii) requiring unnecessary forced placement of insurance; (iii) failing to provide loan payoff information as required; (iv) collecting private mortgage insurance beyond the date required; (v) failing to timely respond to consumer complaints; and (vi) charging excessive or unreasonable fees to provide loan payoff information. The law exempts depository institutions and licensed lenders and other licensed entities. The new rules and requirements take effect July 1, 2015.
This week, the CFPB and 25 states filed amicus briefs in Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-684, a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that may resolve a circuit split over whether a borrower seeking to rescind a loan transaction under TILA must file suit within three years of consummating the loan, or if written notice within the three-year rescission period is sufficient to preserve a borrower’s right of rescission. In short, the CFPB argues, as it has in the past, that no TILA provision requires a borrower to bring suit in order to exercise the TILA-granted right to rescind, and that TILA’s history and purpose confirm that a borrower who sends a notice of rescission in the three-year period has exercised the right of rescission. The state AGs similarly argue that TILA’s plain meaning allows borrowers to preserve their rescission right with written notice. In so arguing, the government briefs aim to support the borrower-petitioner seeking to reverse the Eighth Circuit’s holding to the contrary. The majority of the circuit courts that have addressed the issue, including the Eight Circuit, all have held that a borrower must file suit within the three-year rescission period.
Ninth Circuit Holds Plaintiffs Not Required To Plead Tender Or Ability To Tender To Support TILA Rescission Claim
On July 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an allegation of tender or ability to tender is not required to support a TILA rescission claim. Merritt v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., No. 17678, 2014 WL 3451299 (9th Cir. Jul. 16, 2014). In this case, two borrowers filed an action against their mortgage lender more than three years after origination of the loan and a concurrent home equity line of credit, claiming the lender failed to provide completed disclosures. The district court dismissed the borrowers’ claim for rescission under TILA because the borrowers did not tender the value of their HELOC to the lender before filing suit, and dismissed their RESPA Section 8 claims as time-barred.
On appeal, the court criticized the district court’s application of the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Yamamoto v. Bank of New York, 329 F.3d 1167 (9th Cir. 2003) that courts may at the summary judgment stage require an obligor to provide evidence of ability to tender. Instead, the appellate court held that borrowers can state a TILA rescission claim without pleading tender, or that they have the ability to tender the value of their loan. The court further held that a district court may only require tender before rescission at the summary judgment stage, and only on a case-by-case basis once the creditor has established a potentially viable defense. The Ninth Circuit also applied the equitable tolling doctrine to suspend the one-year limitations period applicable to the borrower’s RESPA claims and remanded to the district court the question of whether the borrowers had a reasonable opportunity to discover the violations earlier. The court declined to address two “complex” issues of first impression: (i) whether markups for services provided by a third party are actionable under RESPA § 8(b); and (ii) whether an inflated appraisal qualifies as a “thing of value” under RESPA § 8(a).
On July 14, the DOJ, the FDIC, and state authorities in California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York, announced a $7 billion settlement of federal and state RMBS civil claims against a large financial institution, which was obtained by the RMBS Working Group, a division of the Obama Administration’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Federal and state law enforcement authorities and financial regulators alleged that the institution misled investors in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale, and issuance of certain RMBS. They claimed, among other things, that the institution received information indicating that, for certain loan pools, significant percentages of the loans reviewed as part of the institution’s due diligence did not conform to the representations provided to investors about the pools of loans to be securitized, yet the institution allowed the loans to be securitized and sold without disclosing the alleged failures to investors. The agreement includes a $4 billion civil penalty, described by the DOJ as the largest ever obtained under FIRREA. In addition, the institution will pay a combined $500 million to settle existing and potential claims by the FDIC and the five states. The institution also agreed to provide an additional $2.5 billion in borrower relief through a variety of means, including financing affordable rental housing developments for low-income families in high-cost areas. Finally, the institution was required to acknowledge certain facts related to the alleged activities.
On July 17, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on risks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) related to purchasing mortgages from smaller lenders and nonbank mortgage companies. The report states such lenders present elevated risk in the following areas: (i) counterparty credit risk—smaller lenders and nonbank lenders may have relatively limited financial capacity, and the latter are not subject to federal safety and soundness oversight; (ii) operational risk—smaller or nonbank lenders may lack the sophisticated systems and expertise necessary to manage high volumes of mortgage sales to the Enterprises; and (iii) reputational risk—the report cites as an example an institution that was sanctioned by state regulators for engaging in allegedly abusive lending practices. The report notes that in 2014 the FHFA’s Division of Enterprise Regulation’s plans to focus on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s controls for smaller and nonbank sellers, which will include assessments of the Enterprise’s mortgage loan delivery limits and lender eligibility standards and assessment of the counterparty approval process and counterparty credit risk resulting from cash window originations. The report also notes FHFA guidance to the Enterprises last year on contingency planning for high-risk or high-volume counterparties, and states that the FHFA plans to issue additional guidance on counterparty risk management. Specifically, the Division of Supervision Policy and Support plans to issue an advisory bulletin focusing on risk management and the approval process for seller counterparties. The OIG did not make any recommendations to supplement the FHFA’s planned activities.
On July 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed a relator real estate agent’s suit against a group of lenders the relator alleged submitted claims for FHA insurance benefits to HUD based on false certifications of compliance with the National Housing Act. U.S. ex rel Hastings v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 12-3624, Order (C.D. Cal. Jul. 15, 2014). The relator alleged on behalf of the U.S. government that loans where borrowers received assistance from seller-funded down payment assistance programs, such as the Nehemiah Program, did not satisfy requirements for gift funds, and as a result the lenders had falsely certified compliance with the National Housing Act’s three-percent down payment requirement when seeking FHA insurance for such loans. The government declined to intervene in the case. The court agreed with the lenders and held that the complaint could not survive the False Claims Act’s public disclosure bar—a jurisdictional bar against claims predicated on allegations already in the public domain. The court explained that the public disclosure standard is met if there were either (i) public allegations of fraud “substantially similar” to the one described in the False Claims Act complaint, or (ii) enough information publicly disclosed regarding the allegedly fraudulent transactions to put the government on notice of a potential claim. Here, the court determined that claims related to seller-funded down payment assistance programs were part of a “robust public debate” well prior to the time the complaint was filed in this case, and that the debate was sufficient to put the government on notice of the alleged conduct. The court also determined that the relator was not an “original source” of the public disclosures and as such could not overcome the public disclosure bar. Because the court concluded that amendment would be futile, the court dismissed the suit with prejudice. BuckleySandler represented one of the lenders in this case.
On July 10, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-15, which updates requirements for pre-foreclosure sales (PFS) and deeds-in-lieu (DIL) of foreclosure for all mortgagees servicing FHA single-family mortgages. The letter explains that if none of FHA’s loss mitigation home retention options are available or appropriate, the mortgagee must evaluate the borrower for a non-home retention option, with mortgagors in default or at imminent risk of default being evaluated first for a PFS transaction before being evaluated for a DIL transaction. The letter details eligibility and documentation requirements for standard PFS, streamlined PFS, and DILs, as well as rules for calculating cash reserve contributions for standard PFS transactions. Further, the letter advises mortgagees that they may, under certain conditions, approve a servicemember for a streamlined PFS or DIL without verifying hardship or obtaining a complete mortgagor workout packet. The letter also addresses numerous other topics, including: (i) requirements for real estate agents and brokers participating in PFS transactions; (ii) an initial listing period requirement for PFS transactions; (iii) updated sample language for the PFS Addendum; (iv) validation requirements for appraisals; (v) the criteria under which the HUD will permit non-arms-length PFS transactions; and (vi) minimum marketing period for all PFS transactions.
On July 9, the New York DFS announced that it finalized a rule that allows for shared appreciation mortgage modifications, which permit banks and mortgage servicers to reduce the amount of principal outstanding on a borrower’s mortgage in exchange for a share of the future increase in the value of the home. The option is limited to borrowers who are 60 or more days past due on their loan or whose loan is the subject of an active foreclosure action and who are not eligible for existing federal and private foreclosure prevention programs. The regulations detail the method for calculating a holder’s share of the appreciation, and limit the share to the lesser of: (i) the amount of the reduction in principal, plus interest; or (ii) 50% of the amount of appreciation in market value. In addition, banks and servicers would be required to provide specific disclosures to borrowers about the terms and nature of the shared appreciation mortgage modification. The regulations also: (i) specify allowable fees, charges, and interest rates; (ii) detail the calculation of unpaid principal balance and debt-to-income ratio; and (iii) list certain prohibitions, including, among others, that the holder cannot require the borrower to waive any legal claims or defenses as a condition to obtaining shared appreciation modification. The new regulations took effect immediately.
On July 15, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2014-14, which announced a new automated settlement process for mortgage modification settlements. Effective December 1, 2014, servicers must submit the required settlement data for a modification of a conventional first lien Freddie Mac-owned or guaranteed mortgage via the new “Loan Modification Settlement” screen in Workout Prospector. Servicers may begin doing so on or after August 25, 2014. In addition, the Freddie Mac is amending mortgage modification signature requirements to provide that a servicer and any borrowers can agree to extend, modify, forbear, or make any accommodations with regard to a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Uniform Security Instrument or the Note, as otherwise authorized by Freddie Mac, without obtaining the co-signer’s signature or consent on the condition that the Security Instrument that was signed by the co-signer contained a provision allowing for such action. The bulletin also, among other things, (i) updates transfer of ownership and assumption requirements; (ii) revises certain requirements for mortgages insured by the FHA or guaranteed by the VA or Rural Housing Service; and (iii) adds several new expense codes related to attorney fees and costs and updates certain attorney fees and costs reimbursement requirements.
On July 15, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced the availability of additional documentation to support the mortgage industry with the implementation of the Uniform Closing Dataset (UCD), the common industry dataset that supports the CFPB’s closing disclosure. The documents provide information to supplement the MISMO mapping document released in March 2014. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac intend to collect the UCD from lenders in the future, but have not yet determined the method or timeline for that data collection.