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.
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.
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 26, 2015, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) sent a letter to HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Zadareky seeking clarification, guidance, and answers to outstanding questions raised by HUD’s early drafts of its new comprehensive Federal Housing Administration Single-Family Housing Policy Handbook. The MBA raises five particular concerns and requests a possible delay for the scheduled implementation date of June 15, 2015 for the following reasons in order to give the industry time to adapt including (i) some of the policy changes in the Handbook are expected to mean changes for the TOTAL Scorecard, and lenders will need access to a revised Developers Guide in order to align their systems with HUD’s systems; (ii) lenders are adapting to a large number of new legal and regulatory requirements. The TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule alone constitutes a major shift for lenders; (iii) it is currently not clear where a lender would go to find out if a borrower’s federal debt has been referred to the US Treasury for collection in order to comply with the Handbook’s requirement that delinquent Federal debt be resolved in accordance with the Debt Collection Improvement Act; (iv) the new required treatment of excluded parties puts an impossible burden on lenders because the lender must now guarantee that an employee of another company with which the lender is working does not have an employee who has been suspended or debarred by HUD; and (iv) the Handbook’s new definition of satisfactory credit is unclear and conflicts with payment history requirements in other sections of the Handbook.
On March 5, 2015, the USDA-RHS released a proposed rule to amend the regulations for the Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program (SFHGLP) to provide that a loan guaranteed by USDA-RHS is a QM if it meets certain requirements set forth by the CFPB. In addition, USDA-RHS proposed to add the definition of “Qualified Mortgage” to its regulations. The proposal follows the adoption of separate QM definitions for FHA and VA loans last year.
The proposed rule also seeks to: (i) expand USDA-RHS’ lender indemnification authority for loss claims in certain instances, such as fraud , misrepresentation, and noncompliance with loan origination requirements, (ii) add a new special loan servicing option, (iii) revise the interest rate reduction requirement for refinances, and (iv) add a streamlined-assist refinance option. Comments to the proposed rule must be received on or before May 4, 2015.
Questions regarding the proposed rule may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.
On February 12, the CFPB announced a civil suit against a Maryland-based mortgage company and consent orders with two additional mortgage companies headquartered in Utah and California for allegedly misleading consumers with advertisements implying U.S. government approval of their products in violation of the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (MAP Rule or Regulation N) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA). In its complaint against the Maryland-based mortgage company, the CFPB alleges that the company’s reverse mortgage advertisements appeared as if they were U.S. government notices. Further, the CFPB claims that the company misrepresented whether monthly payments or repayments could be required and that there was a scheduled expiration date or deadline for the FHA-insured reverse mortgage program. The CFPB is seeking a civil fine and permanent injunction to prevent future violations with respect to the Maryland company. Similarly, the CFPB alleges that the Utah-based mortgage company disseminated direct-mail mortgage loan advertisements that improperly suggested that the lender was, or was affiliated with the FHA or VA, including that the company was “HUD approved” when it was not. The Utah company was ordered to pay a $225,000 civil penalty. In the separate consent order with the California-based mortgage company, the CFPB alleges that the lender’s mailings contained an FHA-approved lending institution logo and a website address that implied the advertisements were from, or affiliated with, the U.S. government, and were therefore deceptive and in violation of the CFPA. The company was ordered to pay an $85,000 civil penalty. In addition to civil penalties, each consent order requires the mortgage companies to submit a compliance plan to the CFPB and comply with specified record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
On February 11, HUD Secretary Julián Castro delivered remarks at the U.S. House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) hearing, “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Federal Housing Administration.” In his testimony, Castro stressed that FHA did not cause the housing crisis, but actually saved the market stating, “FHA stepped in and stepped up to fill the void created when private capital retreated – work that independent economists say prevented a further collapse in home prices.” Looking forward, Castro noted that FHA’s challenge will be to make homeownership more affordable, and he emphasized the importance of improving underwriting standards and strengthening the agency’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund.
On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which Texas challenged the disparate impact theory of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In their questions to counsel, the Justices focused on (i) whether the phrase “making unavailable” in the FHA provides a textual basis for disparate impact, (ii) whether three provisions of the 1988 amendments to the FHA demonstrate congressional acknowledgement that the FHA permits disparate impact claims, and (iii) whether the Court should defer to HUD’s disparate impact rule. The Court is expected to issue its ruling by the end of June. For more information on the oral argument, please refer to our previously issued Special Alert.
This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, in which Texas challenged the disparate impact theory of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Twice before, the Court granted certiorari on this issue, but in both cases the parties reached a settlement prior to oral arguments.
As described further below, in their questions to counsel, the Justices focused on (i) whether the phrase “making unavailable” in the FHA provides a textual basis for disparate impact, (ii) whether three provisions within the 1988 amendments to the FHA demonstrate congressional acknowledgement that the FHA permits disparate impact claims, and (iii) whether they should defer to HUD’s disparate impact rule.
On January 8, HUD announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will reduce the annual insurance premiums new borrowers pay by 50 basis points. This policy initiative is intended to boost FHA lending, and FHA projects that, as a result of the policy change, 250,000 new homebuyers will purchase their first home over the next three years.
Recently, a federal district court held that a homeowners association (HOA) foreclosure sale is not valid against HUD-insured loans. The District Court noted that the Ninth Circuit has held that federal rather than state law applies in cases involving FHA-insured mortgages to assure the protection of the federal program against loss, state law notwithstanding. The court reasoned, therefore, that in situations where a mortgage is insured by a federal agency under the FHA insurance program, state laws cannot operate to undermine the federal agency’s ability to obtain title after foreclosure and resell the property. Because an HOA foreclosure on property insured under the FHA insurance program would have the effect of limiting the effectiveness of the remedies available to the United States, the District Court held that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars such foreclosure sales and renders them invalid. Washington & Sandhill Homeowners Association v. Bank of America and HUD, U.S. Dist. Ct., District of Nevada, No. 2:13-cv-01845-GMN-GWF (Sept. 25, 2014).
On November 3, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The court, in American Insurance Association v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, held that “the FHA prohibits disparate treatment only,” and therefore HUD, in promulgating the Disparate Impact Rule, “exceeded [its] authority under the [Administrative Procedures Act].” (Emphasis in original.)
In the Disparate Impact Rule, HUD provided that “[l]iability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect . . . even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent.” 24 C.F.R. § 100.500. It then articulated a burden shifting framework for such claims. Id. § 100.500(c)(1)-(3). In vacating HUD’s Disparate Impact Rule, the court reviewed the text of the FHA and concluded that “the FHA unambiguously prohibits only intentional discrimination.” (Emphasis in original.) The court explained that the FHA lacks the “effects-based language” that makes disparate impact claims cognizable under other anti-discrimination statutes. The court reasoned that this lack of effects-based language created “an insurmountable obstacle to [HUD’s] position regarding the plain meaning of the Fair Housing Act.” The court further reasoned that this textual reading is consistent with the FHA’s statutory scheme and, in the case of insurance products, required by the McCarran-Ferguson Act.
On October 15, HUD announced the award of more than $38 million to fair housing and non-profit organizations in 43 states and the District of Columbia to address discrimination in the housing industry. Through HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program, grants are funded with the intent that they will “help enforce the Fair Housing Act through investigations and testing of alleged discriminatory practices.” Additionally, the grants are meant to help provide education on rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act to housing providers, local governments, and potential victims of housing discrimination. HUD’s most recent categories of grants included: (i) Private Enforcement Initiative Grants; (ii) Education and Outreach Initiative Grants; and (iii) Fair Housing Organizations Initiative.
On September 30, the FHA published updates to several sections of its Single Family Housing Policy Handbook. The updates only apply to loans originated on or after June 15, 2015 and are a result of FHA’s attempt to create a consolidated Handbook that is intended to be a single authoritative source of relevant FHA policy. The updates relate to a variety of policies including origination/processing of loan applications, underwriting, and mortgage closing requirements. They also relate to several specific programs and products including refinances, ARM loans, new construction, weatherization, and solar and wind technologies. Future updates are anticipated regarding (i) doing business with FHA; (ii) servicing and loss mitigation; (iii) claims and disposition; and (iv) quality control, oversight, and compliance issues.
On October 2, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, et al. v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., No. 13-1371, a case in which the Fifth Circuit became the first federal Circuit Court of Appeals to apply the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) “effects test” rule (see The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., v. Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, et al., Nos. 12-11211, 13-10306 (747 F.3d 275, March 24, 2014)), which authorizes so-called “disparate impact” or “effects test” claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In granting cert., the Supreme Court accepted one of the two questions presented by the petitioners, which was, “Are disparate-impact claims cognizable under the [FHA]?” It did not accept the second question: “If disparate-impact claims are cognizable under the [FHA], what are the standards and burdens of proof that should apply?” The Supreme Court’s partial grant of the petition represents the third recent matter in which the Court has taken up the issue of whether disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA. The first opportunity ended in February, 2012 when petitioners in Magner, et al. v Gallagher, et al., No. 10-1032, stipulated to dismissal due to concerns that “a victory could substantially undermine important civil rights enforcement throughout the nation.” The Court’s second opportunity, Township of Mount Holly, New Jersey, et al., v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al., No. 11-1507, was dismissed in November 2013, just prior to oral argument after a settlement was reached by the parties.