HUD Releases Recertification Deadline for FHA Mortgagees

On March 26, HUD presented a webinar regarding upcoming changes to the online system used by FHA mortgagees to certify, pay annual fees, and report other information. Specifically, the Lender Electronic Assessment Portal (LEAP) will be replacing LASS, Lender Approval and Cash Flow Account Set Up in FHA Connection. Per Mortgagee Letter 2013-42, due to the online system being unavailable during the transition, the recertification and annual fee requirement for mortgagees with Fiscal Years ending on December 31, 2013, has been extended until June 9, 2014, thirty-days following the LEAP “Go-Live” date of May 9, 2014. All other mortgagees will have 90 days after their fiscal year end to submit recertification. Among other changes to the recertification process, LEAP will require mortgagees to indicate which certifications they cannot complete and submit supporting documents specific to each instance in which the mortgagee cannot recertify. In addition, FHA is consolidating Title I and II ID numbers for all mortgagees that share a common Tax Identification Number. The first phase of the consolidation will take place on Monday, March 31, 2014, and will result in all mortgagee profile information and loan history for existing Title I IDs to be transferred to the new IDs. Additional information, including corporate officers, EFT Account numbers and Historical Approval dates will be consolidated on LEAP’s “Go-Live” date on May 9, 2014. Finally, LASS will not be available after March 31, and any pending recertification or filing in LASS will be inaccessible. However, FHA employees will have access to LASS and can work with mortgagees on an individual basis to complete those filings. During an April 18 to May 9 transition period, mortgagees must request changes to their profiles via hard copy requests to HUD’s Officer of Lender Activities and Program Compliance.

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HUD Proposes To Eliminate Post-Payment Interest On FHA Loans

On March 13, HUD proposed a rule to prohibit mortgagees from charging post-payment interest under FHA’s single family mortgage insurance program. The proposal is responsive to the CFPB’s ATR/QM rule, under which post-payment interest charged in connection with FHA loans closed on or after January 21, 2015 will be considered a prepayment penalty. HUD’s proposal states that while some single-family FHA mortgages would meet the requirements under the ATR/QM rule permitting limited prepayment penalties during the first 36 months of the mortgage, others would not. The proposal seeks to achieve consistency among FHA single-family mortgage products and to provide the same protections for all borrowers. It would remove a provision that currently allows mortgagees to require payment of interest up to the next installment due date, and instead require mortgagees to accept a prepayment at any time and in any amount without charging a post-payment charge, notwithstanding the terms of the loan. Under the proposed rule, monthly interest on the debt would be calculated on the actual unpaid principal balance as of the date prepayment is received. Comments on the proposal are due by May 12, 2014.

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Mortgage Fraud Whistleblower Receives $64 Million Award

On March 7, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a stipulation and order awarding nearly $64 million to the relator in a mortgage fraud case recently settled by the federal government. Pursuant to that settlement, a mortgage lender agreed to pay a total of $614 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by submitting false loan-level certifications that fraudulently induced HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to insure ineligible mortgage loans.

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Eleventh Circuit Holds Lender Can Require Increased Flood Insurance Coverage

For the second time in less than five months, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FHA Model Mortgage sets a floor, not a ceiling, on the amount of flood insurance coverage a borrower must maintain. Feaz v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 13-10230, 2014 WL 503149 (11th Cir. Feb. 10, 2014); see also Kolbe v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, 738 F.3d 432 (1st Cir. Sept. 2013). On February 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a district court’s dismissal of a borrower’s claim for breach of contract and violations of various other state laws, concluding that the FHA Model Mortgage “unambiguously makes the federally required flood-insurance amount the minimum, not the maximum, the borrower must have.” Thus, the court concluded that the lender did not violate the mortgage when it required the borrower to increase her flood insurance coverage from the minimum amount required by federal law to the replacement cost value of her home or the maximum available under the National Flood Insurance Program, whichever was less. In reaching its decision, the court sided with the United States, which filed an amicus brief in this case and in a First Circuit case decided in September 2013, reasoning, in part, that any other interpretation would undermine federal housing policy.

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DOJ Obtains Settlement In FHA False Claims Act Case

On February 4, the DOJ announced the filing and simultaneous settlement of a complaint by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) against a mortgage lender alleged to have violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting false loan-level certifications to HUD that fraudulently induced HUD to insure ineligible mortgage loans. The complaint makes similar claims with respect to loans insured by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This is the first FCA case brought by the SDNY to assert claims based on VA loans. Although the complaint was filed in a whistleblower qui tam case under seal in January 2013, it indicates the U.S. Attorney’s investigation of fraudulent lending practices has been on-going since 2011. In addition to allegations concerning reckless origination practices, the complaint also alleges that the lender’s underwriters manipulated the data entered into the AUS/TOTAL Scorecard system, repeatedly entering hypothetical data that lacked a factual basis with the goal of determining the lowest values that would generate an “accept/approve” recommendation. The U.S. Attorney claims this practice violated HUD guidance and encouraged fraud by both loan officers and borrowers, and also that the lender made false statements in its loan-level certifications when it falsely certified to the “integrity” of the data entered by underwriters into AUS/TOTAL. To resolve the matter, the lender agreed to pay a total of $614 million; $564.6 million to resolve the HUD claims and $49.4 million to resolve the VA claims. Consistent with the SDNY’s recent practice of requiring admissions in civil fraud cases, the settlement stipulation recites that the lender admits responsibility for certain specified allegations. The settlement also requires the lender to implement “an enhanced quality control program,” the terms of which are to be memorialized in a separate agreement still to be negotiated.

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Special Alert: FHA Announces It Will Accept Electronically-Signed Mortgage Documents

On January 30, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-03, announcing that FHA will now treat electronic signatures as equivalent to handwritten signatures for certain mortgage documents. The announcement sets forth FHA’s first authorization of electronic signatures on mortgage documents (other than certain third party documents – see Mortgagee Letter 2010-14) and applies to FHA Single Family Title I and II forward mortgages and Home Equity Conversion Mortgages. The announcement is consistent with other government agency initiatives to promote a more streamlined and efficient mortgage process for consumers, particularly through the use of technology such as electronic signatures. Earlier this month, for example, the CFPB issued a request for information containing a questionnaire focused on improving the home loan closing process. “By extending our acceptance of electronic signatures on the majority of single family documents, we are bringing our requirements into alignment with common industry practices,” said FHA Commissioner Carol Galante. “This extension will not only make it easier for lenders to work with FHA, it also allows for greater efficiency in the home-buying and loss mitigation process.”

The announcement indicates that, effective immediately, FHA will accept electronic signatures on (i) any documents associated with servicing or loss mitigation; (ii) any documents associated with the filing of a claim for FHA insurance benefits; (iii) the HUD Real Estate Owned Sales Contract and related addenda; and (iv) all documents included in the case binder for mortgage insurance except the Note.  FHA will begin accepting electronic signatures on the Note for forward mortgages, but not Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, on December 31, 2014. FHA already allows electronic signatures on documents originated and signed outside of the lender’s control, such as the sales contract.

FHA requires lenders that accept electronic signatures to comply with the ESIGN Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 7001-7006). The ESIGN Act mandates that the signer be presented the document before the electronic signature is obtained, that the document is true and correct at the time it is signed, and that the signature is attached to, or logically associated with, the documents being electronically signed. Lenders must also take steps to confirm the identity of the signer as a party to the transaction and to establish that the signature may be attributed to the purported signer. Lenders must have systems in place to ensure that information generated to confirm the identity of signers is secure and that electronically signed documents cannot be altered without detection.

In addition to citing the requirements of ESIGN, FHA sets some more specific requirements for certain elements of the signing process. These include requirements for establishing attribution of the signature and authentication of the signer.  FHA also sets requirements for maintaining audit logs, computer systems, controls and documentation, and making them available for FHA inspection.

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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this alert may be directed to any of the lawyers in our Electronic Signatures and Records practice, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.

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HUD Implements New Manual Underwriting Standards

On January 21, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-02, which implements new manual underwriting standards announced in December 2013. The new standards and guidance will be effective for all case numbers assigned on or after April 21, 2014, and will apply to (i) loans involving borrowers without a credit score which were not scored against FHA’s TOTAL Scorecard; (ii) loans receiving a “Refer” scoring recommendation from FHA’s TOTAL Scorecard; and (iii) loans receiving an “Accept” scoring recommendation from FHA’s TOTAL Scorecard but which have been downgraded to a “Refer” by the underwriter. In addition, the standards apply when a loan receiving an “Accept” scoring recommendation is downgraded to a “Refer.” The HUD guidance addresses (i) maximum qualifying ratios for all manually underwritten loans based on the minimum decision credit score; (ii) revised compensating factors that must be used in order to exceed FHA’s standard qualifying ratios; and (iii) the requirement for cash reserves equal to one or more total monthly mortgage payments for manually underwritten loans involving one and two unit properties.

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HUD Replaces Delinquent Borrower Publication

On January 10, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 14-01, which notifies mortgagees that within 30 days they must begin using a new brochure for sending notice to delinquent FHA borrowers. HUD regulations require mortgagees to send the notice to FHA borrowers in default between the 32nd and 60th day of delinquency. Notice includes a cover letter and a brochure with foreclosure-related advice for borrowers. The new brochure, “Saving Your Home: Tips to Avoid Foreclosure,” replaces the “How to Avoid Foreclosure” brochure, HUD-PA-426, and includes information on revised loss mitigation tools available to FHA-insured borrowers. The mortgagee letter also reviews the requirements for the cover letter that must accompany the brochure, and provides a link for mortgagees to order the brochure.

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New York Extends Emergency Regulations Regarding Determination of Subprime Home Loans

On December 29, the New York State Department of Financial Services advised supervised institutions that it readopted expiring emergency regulations used to determine if a home loan qualifies as a subprime home loan under Section 6-m of the New York Banking Law. The latest emergency regulations are identical to those initially adopted in September 2013. Without further action, the readopted emergency regulations will expire March 29, 2014.

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SDNY Grants DOJ’s Request To Add Bank Executive To Pending FCA/FIRREA Litigation

On December 12, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the DOJ’s motion to add a bank executive to a civil fraud suit it filed over a year earlier against a mortgage lender alleged to have falsely certified loans under the FHA’s Direct Endorsement Lender Program. U.S. v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 12-7527, slip op. (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2013). The government alleges that the bank’s vice president in charge of quality control purposefully failed to self-report bad loans to HUD, despite having knowledge of HUD’s reporting requirements, and that he signed annual certifications misrepresenting to HUD that the bank complied with those reporting requirements. The court agreed with the government’s contentions that amending the complaint to add the individual defendant was permissible because (i) the bank would not be unduly prejudiced because the allegations were already at issue in the pending suit and the parties had yet to begin discovery; (ii) the claims that the government would assert were not futile, as the court had already ruled on the validity of the government’s theories of liability under the FCA and FIRREA, and the new defendant would have the opportunity to seek dismissal on other grounds; (iii) there had been no undue delay, because the government had not received authority to add the executive until after the bank’s motion to dismiss was fully submitted, and had not made a final determination to bring the proposed action against the executive until the day it informed the bank of its intention to do so; and (iv) the interests of judicial economy supported joinder insofar as a separate suit against the executive for conduct already at issue here would have been inefficient. The court did not address the bank’s argument that the government knew sooner of its authority to add the executive, ultimately and improperly electing to do so because the bank suspended settlement negotiations.

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Special Alert: HUD Adopts Its Own QM Rule

On December 11, 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued a final rule defining what constitutes a “qualified mortgage” (“QM”) for purposes of loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”). With limited clarifications and adjustments, the rule tracks the proposal issued by HUD in September.  This final rule, which applies to all case numbers assigned on or after January 10, 2014, replaces the temporary QM definition for FHA loans established by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) in its Ability-to-Repay/Qualified Mortgage Rule (“ATR/QM Rule”).

Loans that qualify as QMs provide lenders with some legal protection against borrower lawsuits under the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”) alleging the lender did not sufficiently consider the borrower’s ability to repay the loan.  Under HUD’s final rule, most FHA loans will qualify for the QM safe harbor if they have Annual Percentage Rates (“APRs”) that are no more than 2.5 percentage points over the Average Prime Offer Rate (“APOR”) for a comparable transaction (as opposed 1.5 percentage points over APOR in the CFPB’s ATR/QM Rule).

Click here to read our Special Alert.

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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HUD Finalizes QM Rule, Manual Underwriting Standards

On December 11, HUD issued a final rule defining what constitutes a “qualified mortgage” (QM) for purposes of loans insured by the FHA. The final rule largely adopts HUD’s proposal, which was the subject of our October 2013 Special Alert. The final rule clarifies certain aspects of the HUD proposal.  Among other things, it replaces provision in a CFPB’s QM rule that allows consumers to rebut the presumption of compliance based on residual income, with a provision that the consumer show that the creditor failed to underwrite consistent with HUD requirements. With the final rule, HUD also adopted new underwriting standards. The effective date for the underwriting standards will be set by a future Mortgagee Letter, but will be no earlier than March 11, 2014.

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HUD Decreases FHA Maximum Loan Limits

On December 6, HUD announced new loan maximum limits for FHA-insured mortgages. As detailed in Mortgagee Letter 2013-43, effective for all FHA case numbers assigned on or after January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, the current high-cost area “ceiling” of $729,750 will be reduced to $625,500. HUD stated that approximately 650 counties will have lower limits as a result of this change. Mortgages that meet the requirements for streamline refinance transactions without an appraisal are not subject to the new limits. Further, the Mortgagee Letter leaves the current standard loan limit for low cost areas unchanged at $271,050, and the maximum claim amount for FHA-insured reverse mortgages (HECMs) will remain $625,500.

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HUD Extends Renewal Period For Certain Lenders And Mortgagees

On November 27, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-42, granting an extension of time to Title I and II lenders and mortgagees with a December 31, 2013 fiscal year end to submit required materials and fees for annual recertification. The letter notes that FHA-approved lenders and mortgagees with a fiscal year end of December 31, 2013 or later must use the Lender Electronic Assessment Portal (LEAP) to complete the annual certification process. Given that LEAP recertification functionality will not be deployed until after March 31, 2014, lenders and mortgagees with a fiscal year end of December 31, 2013 will be unable to access LEAP within the required timeframe, and instead will have until 30 days after the deployment of LEAP functionality to complete their annual certification.

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HUD Revises Lender Self-Reporting Requirements

On November 13, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-41, which, effective immediately, clarifies self-reporting requirements for all single-family FHA-approved lenders. The letter details lenders’ obligations to report all findings of fraud and material misrepresentations, as well as any material findings concerning origination, servicing, or underwriting of a loan that the lender is unable to mitigate. The letter defines “material finding” and provides a non-exhaustive list of examples, and describes the parameters for mitigating reportable findings. The letter outlines internal and external reporting timeframes: (i) internal reporting to senior management must take place within 30 days of an initial findings report; (ii) findings of fraud or material misrepresentation must be reported immediately to the FHA; and (iii) all other material findings must be reported no later than 30 days after the lender has completed its internal evaluation, or within 60 days of initial disclosure, whichever occurs first. The letter also explains that the FHA may request supporting documentation for use in reviewing a report, and that the FHA requires the reporting contact to have immediate access to: (i) the endorsement case binder; (ii) the quality control report; and (iii) any other documentation necessary to evaluate the finding. The letter further states that failure to comply with these requirements may result in the FHA taking administrative action against the lender.

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