On April 17, the FHFA announced that Fannie and Freddie have revised the requirements for private mortgage insurance companies insuring mortgage loans that Fannie and Freddie either own or guarantee. By setting financial and operational standards for the mortgage insurers seeking approval with Fannie and Freddie, the new requirements are designed to reduce risk to the GSEs. The new requirements are effective immediately for new applicants and will become effective December 31, 2015 for existing insurers already approved by Fannie and Freddie.
On April 21, the CFPB and the FTC announced a joint enforcement action against a national mortgage servicing company, ordering the company to pay roughly $63 million in relief and penalties for allegedly mishandling home loans for borrowers who were trying to avoid foreclosure. Both regulators allege that from 2010 to 2014, the servicing company failed to honor modifications made to loans it acquired from other firms. According to the complaint, the company allegedly insisted that homeowners make the higher monthly payments and also make payments before providing loss mitigation options. Moreover, the CFPB and FTC claim the company illegally harassed borrowers who fell behind, made false threats, and revealed debts to the borrowers’ employers. The servicing company will pay $48 million in relief to eligible homeowners and a $15 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.
U.S. Files Complaint Against Leading Non-Bank Mortgage Lender For Alleged Improper Underwriting Practices on FHA-Insured Loans After Lender Files Suit Against U.S. Alleging Arbitrary and Capricous Investigation Practices
On April 17, Quicken Loans filed a preemptive lawsuit against the DOJ and HUD in the Eastern District of Michigan against HUD, the HUD-IG, and DOJ, asserting that it “appears to be one of the targets (due to its large size) of a political agenda under which the DOJ is “investigating” and pressuring large, high-profile lenders into paying nine- and ten-figure sums and publicly ‘admitting’ wrongdoing, including conceding that the lenders had made ‘false claims’ and violated the False Claims Act.” Specifically, the complaint alleged that HUD, the HUD-IG, and DOJ retroactively changed the process for evaluating FHA loans, from an individual assessment of a loan’s compliance, taking into account a borrower’s individual situation, the unique nature of each property, and the specific underwriting guidelines in effect, to a sampling method which extrapolates any defects found in a small subset of loans across the entire loan population, contrary to HUD’s prior guidance and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The complaint further alleged that the sampling method used by the government was flawed, and asked for declaratory and injunctive relief against the government’s use of sampling. Quicken also asked the court to rule that the FHA loans it made between 2007-2011 in fact were “originated properly in accordance with the applicable FHA guidelines and program requirements, and pose no undue risk to the FHA insurance fund,” asserting that “HUD reviewed a number of these loans and, except in a few rare instances, either concluded the loans met all FHA guidelines or that any issues were immaterial or had been cured.” Read more…
On April 15, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule clarifying requirements for providing a list of housing counselors to mortgage borrowers, as required under the Bureau’s 2013 Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act final rule. Among other things, the interpretive rule expounds upon how to provide applicants living abroad with homeownership counseling lists, permissible geolocation tools, conditions under which the homeownership counseling list may be combined with other disclosures, and determining which of the borrower’s addresses (e.g. current address, mailing address, or the address of the property securing the mortgage) should serve as the loan applicant’s location for purposes of generating the list. In addition to clarifying counselor qualifications for high-cost mortgage counseling and parameters, the interpretive rule also provides guidance regarding lender participation during the borrower’s housing counseling sessions to ensure that counselor independence and impartiality is preserved and to prevent violation of anti-steering provisions.
On April 14, the OCC issued the “Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act” booklet as part of the Comptroller’s Handbook, which is prepared for use by OCC examiners in connection with their examination and supervision of national banks and federal savings associations (collectively, “banks”). The revised booklet, which replaces a similarly titled booklet issued in October 2011, reflects updated guidance relating to mortgage servicing and loss mitigation procedures resulting from the multiple amendments made to Regulation X over the past several years. Notable revisions reflected in the revised booklet include: (i) the transfer of rulemaking authority for Regulation X from HUD to the CFPB; (ii) new requirements relating to mortgage servicing; (iii) new loss mitigation procedures; (iv) prohibitions against certain acts and practices by servicers of federally related mortgage loans with regard to responding to borrower assertions of error and requests for information; and (v) updated examination procedures for determining compliance with the new servicing and loss mitigation rules. The OCC notified its applicable supervised financial institutions of the changes affecting all banks that engage in residential mortgage lending activities by distributing OCC Bulletin 2015-25.
On April 13, the DOJ released its 2014 Annual Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) Report highlighting its activities to address credit discrimination. The twenty-page report highlights discrimination lawsuits and settlements in the automobile lending and credit card industry, as well as a consent order resulting from alleged discrimination on the basis of disability and the receipt of public assistance. It also includes information on the DOJ’s work under other federal fair lending laws including the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant AG for the Civil Rights Division, in the five years since the Fair Lending Unit was established, the Civil Rights Division has filed or resolved 37 lending matters under the ECOA, FHA, and SCRA. Total settlements in these matters, including enforcement actions from 2014, have resulted in over $1.2 billion in monetary relief for affected borrowers and communities.
GA Department of Banking and Finance Orders Florida Mortgage Lender to Shut Down for Unlicensed Lending Activities
On April 8, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance issued an Order to Cease and Desist (Order) to a Florida-based mortgage lender. The lender allegedly engaged in residential mortgage origination, brokering, and/or lending activities without having a valid license or the appropriate exemption from the state’s licensing requirements in violation the Georgia Residential Mortgage Act. The Order is final 30 days from the issuance date, but the Department can rescind the Order if, within that 30 day period, the company provides adequate documentation showing that it is either properly licensed or qualifies for exemption.
On April 13, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (Department) entered into a Consent Order (Order) with a Pennsylvania-based mortgage lender and its owners for failing to file a timely application with the state regulator. Specifically, the Order was entered into with the lender to resolve a Notice of Intent to Revoke and proposed Orders to Cease and Desist for allegedly, among other things, allowing the acquisition of 10 percent or more of the ownership of a Georgia licensed entity without first filing an application with the Department, conducting business with an unlicensed person who is not exempt from licensing, employing a felon, and making false statements or misrepresenting material facts in mortgage loan documents. Under terms of the Order: (i) the lender must surrender its mortgage license and pay a $5,000 fine; (ii) one of its owners must surrender his MLO license, must pay two fines of $1,000 each to both the Department and the State Regulatory Registry, and is prohibited from being employed by a licensed Georgia mortgage broker or lender for five years; and (iii) another owner must contribute $1,000 to the State Regulatory Registry and is prohibited for five years from acquiring more than 10% voting shares of a Georgia licensed company. The Order also prohibits both aforementioned owners from: (i) applying for mortgage loan originator, mortgage broker, or mortgage lender licenses; (ii) serving as a director, officer or any other equivalent role for a Georgia licensee; and (iii) acting as a branch manager for a Georgia branch of a Georgia licensed mortgage broker or lender.
On April 9, the CFPB announced a consent order with a California-based mortgage lender, requiring the lender to pay a $250,000 civil money penalty for advertising that allegedly led customers to believe the company was affiliated with the U.S. government. According to the consent order, the advertisements used the names and logos of the VA and FHA, described loan products as part of a “distinctive program offered by the U.S. government,” and instructed consumers to call the “VA Interest Rate Reduction Department” at a phone number belonging to the mortgage lender, thus implying that the mailings were sent by government agencies. The CFPB further alleged that the advertisements misrepresented interest rates and estimated monthly payments, including whether the interest rate was fixed or variable, and that consumers who called the company were sometimes told that the lender was endorsed by the VA or FHA. The CFPB determined that the advertisements were deceptive and misleading in violation of the CFPA and the Mortgage Acts and Practices Rule (MAP Rule or Regulation N). The CFPB also alleged violations of TILA and Regulation Z for failing to include certain disclosures in the advertisements. In addition to the civil money penalty, the consent order requires the lender to submit a compliance plan to the CFPB and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
Northern District of California Denies Motion to Dismiss Claims of Negligent Oversight of Loan Origination Employee
On March 31, the Northern District of California denied a Michigan-based mortgage company’s motion to dismiss a Louisiana resident’s amended complaint alleging that the company was negligent in hiring and supervising a branch manager later indicted for wire and mail fraud. Theime v. Cobb, et al., No. 13-cv-03827, 2013 WL 1477718 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2015). According to the amended complaint, a California branch manager for the mortgage company separately originated and arranged residential bridge loans under a fictitious business name and solicited money from investors, including the plaintiff, to fund the loans. The Plaintiff alleged that the activities of selling second mortgage bridge loans took place in the Defendant’s California offices using some of Defendant’s resources and that the Defendant ultimately condoned the employee’s bridge loan activities. In denying the mortgage company’s motion to dismiss, the court relied on allegations that the company was aware of and encouraged the branch manager’s separate bridge loan activity and that the manager paid her staff to work in the company’s offices and commingled offices and services.
On March 31, the CFPB announced a new toolkit as part of its “Know Before You Owe” mortgage initiative. Designed to “help customers understand the nature and costs of real estate settlement services,” the step-by-step guide includes worksheets, checklists, and research tips for consumers. The new toolkit replaces an existing HUD booklet that creditors provide to mortgage applicants. The release of the toolkit precedes the August 1 effective date for the TILA/RESPA integrated disclosure rule, giving the industry “time to order and receive or print the new toolkit and integrate electronic versions into their mortgage origination systems.”
On April 1, HUD held a special Fair Housing event and announced a national media campaign to help ensure that all Americans – regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status, and disability – receive equal access to housing, as per the FHA. Through various media channels, the new campaign will (i) increase the public’s awareness of housing discrimination; and (ii) explain how to report violations of the FHA. The new campaign is designed to further the agency’s enforcement efforts when FHA violations occur. At the same event, DOJ Acting Assistant AG Gupta delivered remarks regarding recent actions taken in response to alleged housing discrimination. Specifically, Gupta noted that while racial discrimination remains prevalent, familial status discrimination has recently become a significant concern and that the DOJ and HUD “continue to see the scourge of sexual harassment in housing.” Finally, Gupta emphasized that HUD’s proposed rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing is “an important way to ensure that the promises of the Fair Housing Act will continue to be fulfilled.”
On March 31, the office of Massachusetts AG Maura Healey launched a new webpage designed to help eligible homeowners clear property titles in order to refinance or sell their properties. The webpage follows a $2.7 million settlement with four national banks that allegedly foreclosed on Massachusetts property without having the legal authority to do so. Because the alleged unlawful foreclosures affected thousands of Massachusetts titles, the new webpage is intended to “[enable] consumers to file online complaints and have their title issues reviewed by the banks in a single process.”
On March 31, 2015, the Second Circuit in Truman Capital Advisors LP v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, No. 14-cv-3533 (2d Cir. Mar. 31, 2015), affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit involving the auction sale of hundreds of non-performing residential mortgage loan notes. Truman Capital is an investment manager that was the winning bidder in an auction of non-performing mortgage notes that were being sold by Nationstar Mortgage, a mortgage servicing company. After the auction, the mortgage servicing company exercised its contractual right not to complete the sale of the notes for the high bid price. The investment manager then sued the mortgage servicing company in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the auction terms gave the winning bidder the right to purchase the notes. The mortgage servicer defended on the grounds that the auction terms permitted the seller to refuse to enter into a contract for the sale of the notes even after a high bidder was recognized. The district court and the Second Circuit agreed, holding that no obligation would be binding on the seller unless and until the seller executed a loan sale agreement, which never occurred. BuckleySandler LLP represented Nationstar in this matter.
On March 31, U.S. Court of Appeals in the 11th Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s FDCPA complaint, using the concept of judicial estoppel. Ward v. AMS Servicing, LLC, 2015 WL 1432982 (11th Cir. Mar.31, 2015). In this case, the court addressed whether the Defendant was incorrect in charging the Plaintiff a monthly mortgage amount agreed to in a consent order, rather than the amount stipulated in the Note. In November 2013, the Plaintiff filed suit in the district court, alleging that Defendant violated the FDCPA by falsely representing the amount of her monthly mortgage payments. In June 2009, the Plaintiff and the original servicer of her loan entered into a loan modification for her home where she agreed that her monthly payment would be $1,182.89. Thereafter, the loan was sold with the Defendant acting as the new servicer. Subsequently, the Plaintiff fell behind on her loan and sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. Read more…