On September 28, HUD, the FDIC, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York filed suit against a non-profit housing counseling corporation and certain mortgage lenders for allegedly running a scheme to defraud the United States and various banks out of over $5,000,000 in false claims. Filed in the Eastern District of New York, the complaint alleges that, in order to remain in HUD’s Direct Endorsement Program, a federal program that insures mortgage loans through the FHA, the mortgage lenders sought to fraudulently conceal the high default rates of their loans by funneling money through the corporation to pay their borrowers’ payments, in direct violation of FHA regulations. The mortgage lenders would then sell the federally-insured loans to FDIC-insured banks. Once either a bank’s indemnification or repurchase rights, or the period during which HUD monitored loans for early payment defaults, lapsed, the mortgage lenders would stop making payments, resulting in the ultimate default of the borrowers. The complaint seeks treble damages under the FCA, the FIRREA, and under common law theories of gross negligence, breach of fiduciary trust, and unjust enrichment.
On September 28, the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and the OCC announced that the latest outreach meeting under the Economic Growth and Regulatory Paperwork Reduction Act (EGRPRA) will be held on October 10 in Chicago, Illinois. The meeting will feature panel presentations from industry insiders and consumer advocates. Senior officials from the Federal Reserve, OCC, and FDIC are also scheduled to attend. This meeting will be the fifth of six outreach meetings focused on identifying outdated or burdensome regulatory requirements imposed on financial institutions. The sixth and final meeting is expected to take place on December 2 in Washington, D.C. Previous InfoBytes coverage on EGRPRA can be found here.
Owner of Mortgage Company Sentenced to Serve More Than 11 Years for Role in $64 Million Mortgage Fraud Operation
On September 24, the DOJ released a statement regarding the sentencing of the owner of a Florida mortgage company for allegedly organizing a mortgage fraud scheme. In July 2015, the owner, along with his business partner and a senior underwriter for the mortgage company, pleaded guilty to the mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in $64 million in losses to the FHA. The August 2014 indictment stated that the three individuals edited borrowers’ loan applications, altering important information so that they appeared to be qualified for FHA loans when, in fact, they were not. As a result of the September sentencing, the owner of the company will pay more than $64 million in restitution and forfeit $8 million in illegal profits. The owner’s business partner was sentenced to serve 41 months in prison; in addition, he will pay more than $7 million in restitution and forfeit $400,000 in illegal profits. The company’s underwriter will pay more than $24 million in restitution and serve 51 months in prison. A total of 24 defendants were charged in the case, which was jointly investigated by the HUD-OIG and the DOJ.
On September 24, the CFPB and DOJ announced a joint enforcement action against a federally-chartered savings association, alleging that the lender excluded predominantly minority neighborhoods from its mortgage lending business. The consent order, subject to court approval, would require the lender to, among other things, (i) pay $25 million in various subsidies to assist minority borrowers; (ii) provide a total of $2.25 million, over a five-year period, to local initiatives providing assistance and consumer education to residents in the excluded neighborhoods; and (iii) pay a $5.5 million civil money penalty.
On September 22, the CFPB published the third volume of its monthly consumer complaints report, examining mortgage complaints received through its complaint database. In its latest snapshot report, the CFPB revealed that it has received more than 190,000 mortgage complaints as of September 1, 2015, making mortgage the most-complained-about financial product. Specifically, the report finds that ongoing questions persist with respect to (i) how consumers can prevent foreclosure; (ii) how and when to make payments when mortgage loans are transferred to a different servicer; and (iii) how to ensure accurate payment on mortgage loans. According to the CFPB, as of September 1, 2015, over 700,000 complaints have been handled since the consumer complaint database’s inception.
On September 21, the CFPB issued a final rule, amending certain mortgage rules and comments relating to lending activities by small creditors in rural and underserved areas. Initially proposed in January 2015, the final rule, among other things (i) increases the loan origination limit for determining eligibility for small-creditor status from 500 loans to 2,000 non-portfolio loans; (ii) includes the assets of the creditor’s affiliates, which regularly make covered transactions, in calculation of the creditor’s assets to determine whether the creditor is within the $2 billion threshold for small-creditor status; (iii) restores the one-year look back period in place of the three-year look back period for the time period that determines whether a creditor is operating predominantly in rural or underserved areas; (iv) revises escrow exemptions to prevent creditors from losing eligibility for the escrow exemptions as a result of escrow accounts before the effective date of the rule; (v) broadens the definition of “rural” to include (a) counties that meet the current definition of rural county, and (b) census blocks that are not in an urban area (as defined by the Census Bureau); (vi) adds safe harbor provisions to facilitate the determination of “rural” by permitting automated address search tools provided by the CFPB and the Census Bureau; and (vii) extends the temporary two-year transition period, which permits certain small creditors to make balloon-payment qualified mortgages and balloon-payment high-cost mortgages (whether or not they operate predominantly in rural or underserved areas), to include applications received by April 1, 2016.
The final rule will take effect on January 1, 2016.
On September 10, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement with a New York-based community bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices by excluding potential borrowers who resided in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the Buffalo area. Under terms of the agreement, the bank agreed to revise its consumer and commercial lending policies to eliminate minimum mortgage amount requirements, provide fair lending training, to expand its lending footprint into previously excluded areas, and to establish an $825,000 fund to promote new homeownership and affordable housing opportunities.
On September 4, the DOJ announced a settlement of more than $29 million with a Florida-based mortgage banking firm in connection with violations of the False Claims Act. The firm’s subsidiaries participated in HUD’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM) program, which insures reverse mortgage loans by reimbursing lenders that are unable to recoup the full amount of a reverse mortgage loan once the loan becomes due and payable. HUD will reimburse sales commissions paid to real estate agents in connection with the liquidation of foreclosed properties, but will not reimburse fees paid to real estate agents for referrals of loans to be liquidated. According to the DOJ, from July 2010 to October 2014, the firm used straw companies to split commissions with real estate agents, and then later submitted claims to HUD for reimbursement of the full commission amount. Additionally, from August 2009 to March 2015, the firm encouraged its subsidiaries to submit false debenture interest claims to HUD. Specifically, the subsidiaries neglected to disclose that they had failed to meet certain required regulatory deadlines and were therefore not entitled to interest payments. The DOJ stated that the settlement “represents a significant milestone in [the DOJ’s] long standing campaign against mortgage fraud.”
On September 2, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch delivered remarks at HUD’s Fair Housing Policy Conference. In her remarks, Lynch stressed the importance of fair housing as being a primary driver “to access to employment, to education, to credit, to transportation, to safety and to a whole range of institutions and opportunities.” Lynch stated that she is “more determined than ever to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act (FHA).” Among other things, Lynch provided an overview on how the DOJ is implementing new programs, technology, and research to conduct electronic testing, allowing the DOJ to expand the reach of its Fair Housing Testing Program. The Attorney General also expressed her support of HUD’s recently issued “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” rule, and signaled that the DOJ intends to “vigorously enforce” the FHA using every available tool, including the disparate impact theory, which the Supreme Court ruled recently as a valid enforcement tool to challenge unfair mortgage lending practices.
On August 25, Fannie Mae announced that it will begin offering HomeReady, a mortgage loan product featuring new flexibilities for lower to moderate income borrowers. For the first time, income from a non-borrower household member can be considered as a means to qualify for a Fannie loan. In addition, borrowers can include funds received from other sources, such as income from non-occupant parents or rental income from a basement apartment, to satisfy income requirements. Both first-time and repeat homebuyers can qualify for a HomeReady mortgage with a down payment as low as 3 percent. The new product requires borrowers to complete an online housing-counseling course. Fannie Mae is expecting to begin accepting deliveries under the HomeReady guidelines towards the end of 2015, and will soon issue additional details to assist lenders through a Selling Guide announcement.
On August 11, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire rejected the addition of a potential RESPA claim to plaintiff’s complaint due to lack of standing, and the court dismissed the remaining counts for failure to state a claim. Sharp v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, As Trustee For Morgan Stanley ABS Capital Inc. Trust 2006-HE3, No. 14-cv-369 (D.N.H. Aug. 11, 2015). Although plaintiff and his father were both mortgagors on the mortgage document, the promissory note identified plaintiff’s father as the sole borrower for the loan. After plaintiff’s father died and plaintiff defaulted on the mortgage, plaintiff sought to enjoin the bank’s subsequent foreclosure proceedings. Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to add a RESPA claim based on the bank’s allegedly inadequate responses to his requests for information pursuant to 12 C.F.R. § 1024.35 and 12 C.F.R. § 1024.36. The court determined that plaintiff lacked standing to assert his RESPA claim because the RESPA provisions at issue only applied to borrowers, not mortgagors like plaintiff. The court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that his status as the successor-in-interest to his father under 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38 established standing to bring the RESPA claim. The court confirmed that plaintiff was protected by 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38, but the court relied on the CFPB’s official interpretation of 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38 to determine that no private right of action existed to enforce the rule. Read more…
On August 10, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 1440, the Reverse Mortgage Act which provides new consumer protections for borrowers with respect to reverse mortgage loan transactions. Among other things, the legislation establishes a regulatory framework to govern reverse mortgage loan transactions made within the state including provisions that (i) require lenders to provide certain mortgage disclosures to potential borrowers; and (ii) implement a three-day “cooling off” period in which a potential borrower can rescind the loan. The Act also grants the Illinois Attorney General sole enforcement authority to pursue any violations of the Reverse Mortgage Act, which would constitute as an unlawful practice under the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The law becomes effective January 1, 2016.
CFPB Issues Guidance Reminding Servicers of Requirements for Cancellation and Termination of Private Mortgage Insurance
On August 4, the CFPB issued Compliance Bulletin 2015-03 to provide guidance to mortgage servicers on their compliance obligations related to the private mortgage insurance (PMI) cancellation and termination provisions under the Homeowners Protection Act (HPA). The bulletin summarizes HPA requirements regarding annual disclosures, PMI refunds, borrower-requested cancellation, automatic termination, and final termination of PMI. The bulletin also cautions servicers to implement investor guidelines in a manner that does not violate the HPA. In a statement released by the Bureau, CFPB Director Richard Cordray advised, “We will continue to supervise mortgage servicers to ensure they are treating borrowers fairly, and [the Bureau’s] guidance should help servicers come into compliance with the [HPA].”
In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) initiated an eClosing pilot program. The eClosing pilot was intended to assist the CFPB in evaluating the use of electronic records and signatures in the residential mortgage closing process. The pilot program has now been completed and on August 5, 2015 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) released a report detailing its findings (“Report”). In the Report, the CFPB indicates that eClosings present a significant opportunity to enhance the closing process for both consumers and the mortgage industry.
The pilot program focused on the mortgage closing process and measured borrowers’ (i) understanding (both perceived and actual) of the process, (ii) perception of efficiency, and (iii) feelings of empowerment. The program also sought to quantify objective measures of process efficiency. The program was conducted over four months in 2014 with seven lenders, four technology companies, settlement agents, and real estate professionals. About 3000 borrowers participated in the study – roughly 1200 completed the CFPB’s survey.
The CFPB sought to determine if an electronic closing process improved the borrowers’ (i) understanding of the transaction, (ii) perception of efficiency, and (iii) feeling of empowerment. These three criteria were measured in multiple ways. To gauge understanding, the borrower was asked about their perceived understanding of the terms and fees, costs, and their rights and responsibilities. To determine the borrower’s actual understanding of their mortgage, they were given an eight question quiz. Five questions were about mortgages generally and three about their mortgage, specifically. To evaluate the efficiency of the transaction, the CFPB measured the difference between eClosings and paper closings in terms of delays, errors in documents, and the time required between steps in the process. Borrowers were also asked about their perceptions concerning efficiency. Finally, in order to gauge the borrower’s feeling of empowerment, the CFPB asked about the borrower’s feelings of control, his or her role, and the role(s) of others in the process. Read more…
CSBS Announcement: Arizona Department of Financial Institutions Becomes Latest State Agency to Adopt National SAFE MLO Test
On July 29, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions began using the National SAFE Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO) Test, making it the 47th state banking agency to adopt the SAFE MLO Test containing Uniform State Content. Combining both the national and state testing requirements of the SAFE Act and the CSBS/AARMR model state law, the test with Uniform State Content was first made available to state banking agencies on April 1, 2013 to help streamline the application process for MLOs seeking to obtain licensure in more than one state. Since April 1, 2013, according to the CSBS, over 58,000 MLOs have taken the National SAFE MLO Test with Uniform State Content. Notably, applicants who take the test on or after October 3, 2015, will be expected to understand requirements of the TRID Rule as promulgated by the CFPB.