Update Regarding Marketing Services Agreements (“MSAs”)

On Thursday, June 30, 2015, a CFPB spokesman issued a statement to HousingWire in response to the announcement by a large lender that it was terminating its MSAs:

[This] decision to exit all marketing services agreements is an important step for the mortgage industry towards ensuring compliance with [the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”)] and freeing up more choices for consumers.  We are concerned that such agreements can carry significant legal risk for companies and undermine transparency for consumers.  Companies should take note of today’s action and consider carefully whether their own business practices comply with the consumer protections provided under the law, which bars kickbacks for customer referrals.

These announcements come in the wake of the CFPB’s September 2014 consent order against Lighthouse Title, Inc. and CFPB Director Cordray’s June 2015 ruling against PHH Corporation and its affiliates. Both matters involved alleged violation of Section 8 of RESPA, which states that “[n]o person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.” 12 U.S.C. § 2607(a). However, Section 8 also states that “[n]othing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting … the payment to any person of a bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed.” 12 U.S.C. § 2607(c)(2).  Read more…

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CFPB Orders Mortgage Servicer to Pay $1.6 Million over Servicing Practices

On July 30, the CFPB ordered a Texas-based mortgage servicer to pay $1.5 million in restitution and $100,000 in civil money penalties for allegedly engaging in faulty servicing practices, according to a settlement announced by the CFPB. The CFPB alleged that, beginning in 2009, the mortgage servicing firm failed to honor “in-process” modifications—trial modifications that were pending when a loan was transferred to the company—until it determined that the prior servicer should have agreed to the trial modification. In addition, the CFPB alleged that the servicing firm provided inaccurate account statements to borrowers related to their loan balance, interest rates, payment due dates, and the amount available in escrow accounts. The CFPB further contends that, in certain instances, the servicing firm coerced consumers into waiving certain legal protections as a condition to being allowed to pay off delinquent payments in installments. Under the terms of the consent order, the servicing firm agreed to, among other things, (i) provide $1.5 million in restitution to consumers whose loan modifications were not acknowledged; (ii) pay a $100,000 civil money penalty; (iii) mitigate the impact of its allegedly unlawful practices by, for example, converting “in-process” loan modifications to permanent modifications and stopping foreclosure processes for certain borrowers; and (iv) honor loss-mitigation agreements entered into by prior servicers and “in-process” loan modifications and engage in outreach to contact borrowers and offer them loss-mitigation options.

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CFPB Settles with Payment Processor and Mortgage Servicer over Deceptive Mortgage Advertisement Allegations

On July 28, the CFPB announced that a Colorado-based payment processor, along with a Virginia-based mortgage servicer, agreed to pay a total of $38.5 million to resolve allegations that both entities used misleading advertisements related to a mortgage payment program. The CFPB alleged that both entities advertised the “Equity Accelerator Program” as a program that would help consumers save on interest payments by making mortgage payments biweekly rather than monthly. However, according to the CFPB, the program failed to make the biweekly payments, and no more than a “tiny” percentage of consumers enrolled in the program benefitted from the promised savings. Under the terms of the consent orders, the payment processor agreed to provide $33.4 million in restitution to affected consumers and pay a $5 million civil money penalty. The mortgage servicer will pay a $100,000 civil money penalty. Both entities also agreed to ensure that any advertisements concerning the mortgage program’s benefits complied with federal law.

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BuckleySandler Secures Second Circuit Victory in Lender-Placed Insurance Rate Case

On July 22, BuckleySandler secured a substantial victory before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Representing a global insurance company in a nationwide lender-placed insurance (“LPI”) class action brought by mortgage borrowers, the Firm argued on interlocutory appeal that the Second Circuit should reverse the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss on the basis of the “filed-rate” doctrine. Ordinarily, the filed-rate doctrine provides that rates approved by the applicable regulatory agency – including LPI rates – are per se reasonable and unassailable in judicial proceedings brought by ratepayers. The district court, however, held that the plaintiffs’ claims were not barred by the doctrine because, rather than directly billing the plaintiffs for the LPI premiums, the insurance company initially charged the premiums to the plaintiffs’ mortgage servicer who, in turn, charged the borrowers. The Second Circuit reversed the Southern District of New York’s decision, holding that the filed-rate doctrine applied notwithstanding the fact that the mortgage servicer served as an intermediary to pass on the LPI rates to borrowers. Because the plaintiffs’ claims ultimately rested on the premise that the LPI rates approved by the regulators were too high and included impermissible costs, the Second Circuit held that the claims were barred by the filed-rate doctrine.

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NMLS Updates Resource Center: Encourages Public to Submit Comments on Proposed Changes; Responds to Public Comments

On July 21, the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) updated its resource center to encourage the public to submit further comments – via the Conference of State Bank Supervisors – on certain proposed changes to the Uniform NMLS Licensing Forms and the Mortgage Call Report. The proposed changes to the licensing forms include, but are not limited to: (i) adding a Filing Comment section to the Company Form (MU1) and the Branch Form (MU3); (ii) expanding the Business Activities section by adding “Reverse Mortgage Lending,” “Reverse Mortgage Brokering,” and “Reverse Mortgage Servicing” as available selections; (iii) expanding the Contact Employees section by adding “Annual/Call Report” as an available selection under Area(s) of Responsibility; and (iv) updating language in the Disclosure Questions section. If implemented, changes to the Mortgage Call Report (“MCR”) would include: (i) adding fields that allow for more accurate reporting on Qualified Mortgage standards; (ii) adding an upload option within the Loans Serviced section; and (iii) exploring the “development of a dynamic MCR based on a company’s business activities and license authority.” Comments on the proposals are due August 20.

Also on July 21, the NMLS posted to its resource center responses to the public’s comments regarding the Pre-Licensure Education Expiration Policy, Electronic Surety Bond Tracking, and the Uniform NMLS Licensing Forms and Mortgage Call Report. Feedback received on the initial proposed changes to the Licensing Forms and MCR prompted the additional comment period for the more targeted proposed changes described above.

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District Court Applies Supreme Court’s Inclusive Communities Decision in Rejecting Disparate Impact Claim

On July 17, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment for Wells Fargo in a Fair Housing Act (FHA) case brought by the City of Los Angeles. City of Los Angeles v. Wells Fargo & Co., No. 2:13-cv-09007-ODW (RZx) (C.D. Cal. July 17, 2015). The City alleged that the bank engaged in mortgage lending practices that had a disparate impact on minority borrowers. In rejecting the City’s claims, the court’s opinion heavily relied on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which imposed limitations on the disparate impact theory of liability under the FHA, despite holding that the theory remains cognizable. 135 S. Ct. 2507 (2015). Citing Inclusive Communities, the district court warned that disparate impact claims may only seek to “remove policies that are artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers and not valid governmental and private priorities.” The court further held that the City failed to point to a specific defendant policy that caused the disparate impact and failed to show “robust causality” between any of defendant’s policies and the alleged statistical disparity, as Inclusive Communities requires. The court also rejected the notion that disparate impact claims could be used to impose new policies on lenders, and said that the City’s argument that lenders should adopt policies to avoid disproportionate lending was a “roundabout way of arguing for a racial quota,” which Inclusive Communities also warns against. Finally, the court was sharply critical of the City’s argument that Federal Housing Administration loans are harmful to minority borrowers, and that, in any event, any disparate impact from these loans would be a result of the federal government’s policies, not the defendant’s policies.

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Special Alert: CFPB Officially Delays TRID Rule Until October 3

The CFPB finalized a rule today that delays the effective date of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) rule, including all amendments, from August 1 to October 3, 2015. This is consistent with the proposed rule issued last month, which we wrote about here.

The CFPB considered implementing a “dual compliance period” that would have permitted creditors to voluntarily comply with the TRID rule early, but it ultimately declined to do so, citing concerns that “dual compliance could be confusing to consumers and complicated for industry, including vendors, the secondary market, and institutions who act both as correspondent lenders and originators.”

In addition, although the CFPB declined to create a “hold harmless” or “safe harbor” period following the effective date, it stated that it “continues to believe that the approach expressed in Director Cordray’s letter to members of Congress on June 3, 2015,” which we wrote about here, remains fitting:

[O]ur oversight of the implementation of the Rule will be sensitive to the progress made by those entities that have squarely focused on making good-faith efforts to come into compliance with the Rule on time. My statement . . . is consistent with the approach we took to implementation of the Title XIV mortgage rules in the early months after the effective dates in January 2014, which has worked out well. Read more…

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Mortgage Company Owner and Others Plead Guilty to Mortgage Fraud Scheme Involving FHA-Insured Loans

On July 14, the DOJ, in coordination with HUD’s Office of Inspector General and  the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, announced that a Miami-area real estate developer and mortgage company owner, his business partner, and a senior underwriter with the mortgage company each pleaded guilty to a mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in $64 million in losses to the FHA. According to the August 2014 indictment, the three defendants knowingly participated in a scheme to alter important information contained in potential borrowers’ loan applications so that they appeared qualified for FHA-insured loans when, in reality, they were not qualified. According to the DOJ, the developer/owner and his business partner “admitted to pressuring their employees to approve and close loans using earnings statements and verification of employment forms that made it appear as if the borrowers had higher incomes and more favorable work histories than they actually did, and documents falsely improving or explaining borrowers’ credit histories.” The senior underwriter admitted to providing false information to her co-workers and endorsing borrowers’ applications when she knew that they did not qualify for the loans. Eventually, many of the loans went into foreclosure and HUD was obligated to pay the outstanding loan balances to the financial institution investors. To date, 25 individuals have pleaded guilty to offenses related to this mortgage fraud scheme.

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HUD Issues Guidance Based On Equal Access Rule

On July 13, HUD announced guidance regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status.  The guidance on Multifamily Assisted and Insured Housing Programs was intended to clarify the 2012 Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Rule (“Equal Access Rule”). HUD clarified that, in addition to individual program eligibility requirements established by HUD, a determination of eligibility for housing that is assisted by HUD or subject to a mortgage insured by the FHA “will be made available without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.” The guidance also clarifies that owners, administrators, and other recipients and sub-recipients of HUD funds associated with HUD-assisted housing or housing whose financing is insured by HUD may not inquire about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant for, or occupant of, such housing, and notes that the rule is applicable whether such housing is renter or owner occupied.  HUD noted that future Management and Occupancy Reviews may include a review for compliance with the Equal Access Rule.  The guidance was coordinated with the July 13 White House Conference on Aging, with the White House emphasizing that the Equal Access Rule also applies to Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly.

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NY Governor Says Two Additional Mortgage Companies Will Adopt Set of Best Practices to Combat “Zombie Properties”

On July 9, in an ongoing fight to reduce the amount of “zombie properties” within the state, Governor Cuomo announced that two additional mortgage companies will adopt the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) recommended Industry Best Practices, aiming to help combat the economic damage that vacant and abandoned properties cause certain neighborhoods. The Practices ensure that banks and mortgage companies will regularly inspect properties in a delinquent status to determine if they are vacant, and if they are properly maintained and safe. If a property is determined vacant, banks and mortgage companies will report the property to a state registry, ensuring that NYDFS shares the information with local government officials. Local government officials and the NYDFS will then work together to “address and escalate any concerns about maintenance with the bank or mortgage company that is servicing the loan.” Governor Cuomo’s announcement resonates with Superintendent Lawsky’s May 22 remarks concerning NYDFS’s effort to reform the state’s lengthy foreclosure process, which leaves properties in despair and causes economic blight and safety issues. With the two additional companies joining the state’s efforts against zombie properties, lenders representing nearly 70 percent of the New York mortgage lending market have now agreed to adopt the set of best practices.

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DOJ Sentences Real Estate Developers to Prison for Involvement in Alleged Mortgage Fraud Scheme

On July 8, the DOJ announced the prison sentences of three real estate developers for their roles in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in over $27 million dollars in losses. Convicted in November 2014 of wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy, the three individuals “engaged in a scheme in which they facilitated payments to straw buyers as well as the submission of false loan applications on behalf of the straw buyers to secure mortgages to purchase units” in the condominium developments they controlled or managed. Post-sale, the individuals retained profits from the sales and control over the units. According to trial evidence, two of the individuals funneled some of the loan proceeds to shell companies to pay the buyers’ closing cash obligations and mortgage payments. Shell companies were also used to divert over $2 million in fraudulent funds to bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Because the defendants and their co-conspirators were eventually unable to make mortgage payments, dozens of condominium units entered into foreclosure, causing the FHA, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and other private lenders a combined loss of $27.8 million. In addition to the varying prison sentences, U.S. District Judge Seitz ordered each defendant to forfeit over $35 million in fraudulent proceeds and to pay over $21 million in restitution.

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HUD Proposes to Establish Deadline for FHA-Approved Lenders to File Insurance Claims

On July 6, HUD’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) proposed a rule to establish a maximum time period for FHA-approved lenders to file insurance claims for benefits following the foreclosure of FHA-insured mortgages. Currently, HUD does not require mortgagees to file claims by a certain time, but the proposed rule will require lenders to file insurance claims (i) three months from when they obtain marketable title to the property; or (ii) when the property is sold to a third party. Since the housing market collapse, which dramatically increased mortgage defaults, mortgagees have chosen to forgo promptly filing insurance claims with the FHA, instead opting to wait and file multiple claims at once. This uncertainty of when claims will be filed, along with the high number filed at the same time, has strained FHA resources and negatively impacted its ability to project the future state of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF), which it is statutorily obligated to safeguard. In addition to the deadline, the proposed rule would ban from insurance payouts certain expenses incurred by mortgagees that are the result of their failure to timely fulfill the requirements necessary to submit an insurance claim (such as promptly initiating foreclosure). Comments on the proposed rule are due September 4, 2015.

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Federal Banking Agencies Reveal Location For Latest EGRPRA Outreach Meeting Highlighting Rural Banking Issues

On July 6, federal banking agencies – the Board of Governors, FDIC, and OCC – announced the date and location of the latest outreach meeting under the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (EGRPRA). Scheduled for August 4 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas, the upcoming meeting will examine rural banking issues and will feature remarks from agency officials. This is the fourth of six scheduled outreach meetings around the country focused on identifying newly issued, outdated, or burdensome regulatory requirements imposed on financial institutions.

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Maryland Court of Appeals Rules Borrowers Barred By Three-Year Statute of Limitations in HELOC Decision

On June 23, The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals in Windesheim v. Larocca, 2015 WL 3853500 (MD. 2015), holding that the statute of limitations for a mortgage origination fraud case began to run at origination because the borrowers had inquiry notice of the loan terms. Under the alleged “buy-first-sell-later” scheme, the borrower-plaintiffs contend that the realtor and lender-defendants encouraged the borrowers to open home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) on their current homes while simultaneously selling their current homes. The lenders allegedly forged documents and signatures in order to approve both the HELOCs and the mortgages on new homes. The trial court initially found that the claims were time-barred, as the plaintiffs should have discovered the alleged fraud when the loans were originated. On appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, the plaintiffs succeeded in reversing the decision of the trial court. The defendants then filed their own appeal, and the Court of Appeals sided with the trial court in holding that the three-year statute of limitations had run. In particular, the Court of Appeals held that the borrowers had inquiry notice at origination because they signed the loan applications and thus were “presumed to have read and understood their contents.” Furthermore, the statute of limitations was not tolled by Maryland law or the fiduciary rule “because there is neither evidence that the Petitioners encouraged Borrowers not to read the Applications nor evidence that the Borrowers and Petitioners were in a fiduciary relationship.” The Court of Appeals further held that the defendants neither engaged in nor conspired to engage in false or misleading indirect advertising regarding secondary mortgage loans.

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OCC Releases Semiannual Report Highlighting Key Risks Facing National Banks and Federal Savings Associations

Today, the OCC announced the release of its semiannual report, Semiannual Risk Perspective for Spring 2015, highlighting key risk areas affecting national banks and federal savings associations. Based on 2014 year-end data, the report identifies issues that pose a potential threat to the safety and soundness of banks and thrifts.  It also sets forth the OCC’s supervisory priorities for the next 12 months, including, among others, (i) cybersecurity awareness and preventative controls, (ii) Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering compliance, (iii) fair access to credit, and (iv) underwriting practices, particularly with respect to leveraged loans, indirect auto lending, HELOCs, and credit related to the oil and gas sector.  The report also notes declining revenues and profitability overall in OCC-supervised institutions.

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