CFPB’s Monthly Complaint Report Focuses on Mortgages

On February 8, the CFPB released its monthly complaint report for December 2016. The report focused on complaints about mortgages. Along with debt collection and credit reporting, the report stated that mortgages are consistently among the three products and services generating the most complaints to the CFPB, and that since July 21, 2011, mortgages have been the second-most-complained-about product, representing 24 percent of all complaints. The most common issues raised by consumers are problems that arise when they are unable to pay their mortgage, such as issues related to loan modifications, collection, and foreclosure. Such issues were raised in 49 percent of complaints about mortgages. Other common issues raised in consumer complaints relating to mortgages include making payments (such as the misapplication of payments (33 percent)), applying for a mortgage (9 percent), signing the agreement (5 percent), and getting an offer of credit (3 percent).

The Report also noted that student loans showed the greatest increase in complaints year-over-year of any product or service—a 109 percent jump. The CFPB believes the increase may be due, at least in part, to the result of a February 2016 update to its student loan intake form allowing the submission of complaints about Federal student loan servicing. During the same period, complaints about prepaid products, payday loans, and mortgages declined by 59 percent, 23 percent, and 5 percent respectively—continuing a trend also observed in the Bureau’s last complaint report.

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7th Circuit Orders District Court to Consider Bank’s Responsibility for Losses Due to Fraud

On February 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion, in which it held that a District Court had erred in failing to consider a bank’s responsibility for nearly $900,000 in losses resulting from a scheme in which defendants persuaded the bank to issue mortgage loans to borrowers who, the defendants knew, were unable to repay the loans. See U.S. v. Litos, et al., Nos. 16-1384, -1385, -2248, -2249, -2330 (7th Cir. Feb. 10, 2017) (Posner, R.). At issue before the appellate court was the propriety of the restitution, in the amount of $893,015. The district judge had ordered the defendants to pay such restitution to the bank, on the ground that they had misled the bank by pretending that the buyers were the source of the down-payment, when it was defendants themselves who had supplied the money.

In remanding the matter with instructions to re-sentence defendants based on the bank’s role in allowing the fraud to occur, the appellate panel determined that the bank’s professed ignorance as to the source of the down payments and the creditworthiness of the loan applicants was “reckless” in light of the information that was available at the time of the transaction. Specifically, the appellate court held that, based on the record, the fraud evident in the loan applications was “transparent,” and that the bank had “ignored clear signs” of problems with the loans. The appellate court held that, as a result, the lower court needed to determine whether the bank’s lack of clean hands rendered it partially responsible for the losses. Among other things, the appellate panel noted statements by the district judge that the loan applications were “a joke on their face” and “laughable,” as well as the fact that the bank had approved multiple loans to the same individuals in short spans of time. Accordingly, the court ordered the district judge to consider whether the bank is entitled to restitution.

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Court Rules that CFPB Must Prove Deceptive Practices at Trial in Mortgage Relief Case

On February 6, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied the CFPB’s motion for summary judgment and held that its “intrinsically factual” deception claims would have to be decided at trial. See CFPB v. Nationwide Biweekly, et. al., [Order Denying Motions for Summary J.] No. 15-cv-2106 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2017). The Bureau alleges that the defendant company—which helps homeowners restructure their mortgage payments to help them pay down their mortgages faster—misrepresented the savings that consumers would gain through its services. Lawyers for the defendants rejected those claims, saying in a court filing last month that consumers were told multiple times about the setup fee and that promises of interest savings are true. Ultimately, Judge Richard Seeborg sided with defendants, disagreeing with the CFPB’s assertion that it had presented “uncontroverted evidence” of deception and that “no reasonable fact finder” could find in defendants’ favor.

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CFPB Fines Mortgage Lender $3.5 Million for Paying Illegal Kickbacks

On January 31, the CFPB issued consent orders against four entities—a mortgage lender, two real estate brokers, and a mortgage servicer—alleged to have participated in an illegal mortgage business referral scheme.  According to the first order (2017-CFPB-0006), the mortgage lender violated RESPA when it, among other things, (i) paid for referrals pursuant to various agreements with real estate brokers and other counterparties; (ii) encouraged brokers to require consumers to “prequalify” with the lender; and (iii) split fees with a mortgage servicer to obtain consumer referrals.  Based on these and other allegations, the CFPB ordered the lender to pay a $3.5 million civil money penalty.  In addition, the Bureau issued consent orders against the two real estate brokers and the mortgage servicer that allegedly participated in the kickback scheme (see 2017-CFPB-0008, 2017-CFPB-0009, and 2017-CFPB-0007).  Notably, the Bureau alleges that the servicer also violated FCRA by ordering “trigger leads” from credit bureaus so that it could market the lender to consumers.  The real estate brokers and servicer were ordered to pay a combined $495,000 in consumer relief, repayment of ill-gotten gains, and penalties.  Read the special alert issued February 1 on InfoBytes.

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Special Alert: CFPB Consent Orders Address Wide Range of Real Estate Referral Practices Under Section 8(a) of RESPA

On January 31, the CFPB announced consent orders against mortgage lender Prospect Mortgage, LCC (“Prospect”), real estate brokers Willamette Legacy, LLC d/b/a Keller Williams Mid-Willamette, and RGC Services, Inc. d/b/a Re/Max Gold Coast Realtors (together, “the Brokers”), and mortgage servicer Planet Home Lending, LCC (“Planet”), based on allegations that a wide range of business arrangements between the parties violated the prohibition on “kickbacks” in Section 8(a) of RESPA.
In a press release accompanying the settlements, CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated that the Bureau “will hold both sides of these improper arrangements accountable for breaking the law, which skews the real estate market to the disadvantage of consumers and honest businesses.”  The consent orders address a number of practices that have long been the source of uncertainty within the industry.  Unfortunately, despite acknowledging in the orders that referrals are an inherent part of real estate transactions, the Bureau provided little constructive guidance as to how lenders, real estate brokers, title agents, servicers, and other industry participants should structure referral arrangements to comply with RESPA.

RESPA Section 8(a)

Section 8(a) of RESPA provides 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 a part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.”

Notably, the CFPB’s consent orders make no reference to Section 8(c)(2), which provides 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.”  In a much discussed decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the CFPB’s $109 million penalty against PHH Corporation in October 2015 based on, among other things, the CFPB’s failure to establish that payments for the service at issue (reinsurance) exceeded the fair market value of the service.  The CFPB is currently seeking rehearing of this decision from the full D.C. Circuit, as discussed in our summaries of the Bureau’s petition for en banc reconsideration, responses from PHH and the Solicitor General, a motion to intervene filed by several State Attorneys General, and, most recently, PHH’s reply to both the Solicitor General and the motions to intervene.

Click here to read full special alert

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If you have questions about the order or other related issues, visit our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau practice for more information, or contact a BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.

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