CFPB Takes Action Against Former Loan Officer for “Fee-Shifting” Practices, Alleges RESPA Violations

On May 26, the CFPB announced a consent order against a former mortgage loan originator of a San Francisco-based bank for allegedly violating Section 8(a) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The CFPB alleges that, from at least November 2013 through February 2015, the loan officer and an escrow company in California “engaged in a scheme in which they manipulated escrow fees, at [the loan officer’s] direction, by shifting them among loans in order to structure no-cost mortgage transactions.” The CFPB further contends that the loan officer referred settlement-services business for federally related mortgages to the escrow company in exchange for allowing him to dictate the escrow fees. According to the CFPB, the arrangement between the loan officer and the escrow company constituted providing a “thing of value” – prohibited under RESPA – because it allowed the officer to consistently deliver “no closing cost” loans to his clients, which “ultimately increased the number of loans he was able to close and, as a result, the commissions he earned.” The CFPB’s consent order imposes an $85,000 civil penalty and prohibits the loan officer from participating in the mortgage industry for one year.

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HUD Determines Down Payment Assistance Programs Eligible for FHA Insurance

This week, FHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing and Head of FHA, Edward Golding, issued a letter informing stakeholders that “HUD has determined that housing finance agency down payment assistance programs are legal and consistent with the National Housing Act.” We note that the letter was not a Mortgagee Letter nor was it published in the Federal Register and may be considered informal guidance.

In the letter, Golding advised that:

  • Government entities may provide borrowers with funds for down payments on FHA loans; and
  • Loans that include down payment assistance (DPA) provided by state and local housing finance agencies (HFA) continue to be eligible for FHA insurance.

Golding’s letter emphasized the benefits of DPA programs, commenting that such programs facilitate access to homeownership for low- and moderate-income families. Still, Golding noted that FHA will continue to monitor and mitigate any potential risk associated with DPA programs: “[w]e will work diligently to reduce the impact of these risks on our portfolio. We know it is possible to accomplish this as the research shows carefully designed programs perform better.”

Golding’s letter purports to resolve a matter of dispute regarding DPA between FHA and the HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG). Last year, HUD OIG audited an Arizona-based mortgage lender and issued a report concluding that the lender originated FHA loans that included gift DPA that did not comply with FHA rules and regulations. Specifically, the audit found that, among other things:

  • The lender inappropriately allowed premium pricing to be used as a source for the borrowers’ down payments, which were not true gifts and were indirectly repaid by the borrowers through a higher premium rate;
  • The lender used programs that had a circular funding mechanism (i.e., the program was structured to generate revenues through the sale of mortgage-backed securities); and
  • The lender did not perform due diligence to ensure DPA was eligible.

Read more…

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U.S. House Passes SAFE Transitional Licensing Act to Give Greater Job Mobility to Mortgage Loan Originators

On May 23, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed by voice vote H.R. 2121, the SAFE Transitional Licensing Act of 2015. Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced H.R. 2121 in April 2015 with the purpose of “providing regulatory relief for loan originators in an effort to make a smooth employment transition between bank and non-bank entities.” As passed, H.R. 2121 would amend the SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008 to give eligible mortgage loan originators (MLOs) the ability to continue originating loans while awaiting a decision on their application for a state originator license. This temporary authority would apply when MLOs switch jobs (i) from a depository institution, where a state originator license is not required, to a state-licensed non-bank lender, where such a license is required; or (ii) from a state-licensed lender in one state to a state-licensed lender in another state, where a new state originator license is required. In both cases, this temporary authority would expire upon the grant, denial, or withdrawal of the license application, or, if an application is deemed incomplete, 120 days after the application was submitted.

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FHA Proposes Revisions to Reverse Mortgage Program

On May 18, HUD announced that the FHA proposed a new rule that is intended to “strengthen” its Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) Program by reinforcing reforms that have taken place in the past two years, and by adding new consumer protections. New revisions to the HECM program outlined in the proposed rule include, but are not limited to, (i) ensuring that required HECM counseling occurs before a mortgage contract is signed; (ii) amending the definition of “property charges” to include utilities as a borrower responsibility; (iii) capping lifetime interest rate adjustments for adjustable interest rate products at 5%; (iv) requiring as a condition of eligibility for loan assignment that the HECM mortgage be in lien status prior to homeowners association and condo association liens; and (v) creating a “cash for keys” program to “incentivize parties with legal authority to dispose of a property that serves as the security for a HECM to complete a deed in lieu of foreclosure more quickly.” Comments on the proposal are due by Monday, July 18, 2016.

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Special Alert: Second Circuit Reverses SDNY Judgment; Rules Fraud Claim Based on Contractual Promise Cannot Support FIRREA Violation Without Proof of Fraudulent Intent at the Time of Contract Execution

On May 23, in an opinion delivered by Circuit Judge Richard Wesley, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court for the Southern District of New York’s (SDNY) July 30, 2014 judgment ordering a bank and its lender subsidiary to pay penalties in excess of $1.2 billion for alleged violations of section 951 of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA), 12 U.S.C. § 1833a. U.S. v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., Nos. 15-469, 15-499 (2d Cir. May 23, 2016). In relevant part, FIRREA imposes civil penalties for violations of the federal mail and wire fraud statutes that affect a federally insured financial institution. The Government had alleged in the case that the lender subsidiary had defrauded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, the GSEs), by originating mortgage loans through its High Speed Swim Lane (HSSL) loan origination process that it allegedly knew to be of poor quality, and subsequently selling those loans to the GSEs despite representations in the contracts between the GSEs and lender subsidiary that the loans were of investment quality. At trial, the Government presented evidence that high-level employees of the lender subsidiary “knew of the pre-existing contractual representations, knew that the loans originated through HSSL were not consistent with those representations, and nonetheless sold HSSL Loans to the GSEs pursuant to those contracts.” The defendants argued on appeal that, under common-law principles of fraud the Government’s trial evidence proved, at most, a series of intentional breaches of contract which did not suffice as a matter of law to establish fraud.

The Second Circuit agreed with defendants and reversed the judgment of the district court. The court held that:

a contractual promise can only support a claim for fraud upon proof of fraudulent intent not to perform the promise at the time of contract execution. Absent such proof, a subsequent breach of that promise—even where willful and intentional—cannot in itself transform the promise into a fraud.

Thus, the Second Circuit concluded that under common law principles, which were incorporated into the mail and wire fraud statutes, “the proper time for identifying fraudulent intent is contemporaneous with the making of the promise, not when a victim relies on the promise or is injured by it.” The Second Circuit further held that “where allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations are promises made in a contract, a party claiming fraud must prove fraudulent intent at the time of contract execution; evidence of a subsequent, willful breach cannot sustain the claim.”

Click here to view the full Special Alert.

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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.

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