On July 3, the DOJ announced the resolution of a multi-agency criminal investigation into the way a large mortgage company administered the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). According to a Restitution and Remediation Agreement released by the company’s parent bank, the company agreed to pay up to $320 million to resolve allegations that it made misrepresentations and omissions about (i) how long it would take to make HAMP qualification decisions; (ii) the duration of HAMP trial periods; and (iii) how borrowers would be treated during those trial periods. In exchange for the monetary payments and other corrective actions by the company, the government agreed not to prosecute the company for crimes related to the alleged conduct. The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, as well as the FHFA Inspector General—which has authority to oversee Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s HAMP programs—and the Special Inspector General for TARP—which has responsibility for the Treasury Department HAMP program and jurisdiction over financial institutions that received TARP funds. This criminal action comes in the wake of a DOJ Inspector General report that was critical of the Justice Department’s mortgage fraud enforcement efforts, and which numerous members of Congress used to push DOJ to more vigorously pursue alleged mortgage-related violations. In announcing the action, the U.S. Attorney acknowledged that other HAMP-related investigations are under way, and that more cases may be coming.
On July 17, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report on risks to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) related to purchasing mortgages from smaller lenders and nonbank mortgage companies. The report states such lenders present elevated risk in the following areas: (i) counterparty credit risk—smaller lenders and nonbank lenders may have relatively limited financial capacity, and the latter are not subject to federal safety and soundness oversight; (ii) operational risk—smaller or nonbank lenders may lack the sophisticated systems and expertise necessary to manage high volumes of mortgage sales to the Enterprises; and (iii) reputational risk—the report cites as an example an institution that was sanctioned by state regulators for engaging in allegedly abusive lending practices. The report notes that in 2014 the FHFA’s Division of Enterprise Regulation’s plans to focus on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s controls for smaller and nonbank sellers, which will include assessments of the Enterprise’s mortgage loan delivery limits and lender eligibility standards and assessment of the counterparty approval process and counterparty credit risk resulting from cash window originations. The report also notes FHFA guidance to the Enterprises last year on contingency planning for high-risk or high-volume counterparties, and states that the FHFA plans to issue additional guidance on counterparty risk management. Specifically, the Division of Supervision Policy and Support plans to issue an advisory bulletin focusing on risk management and the approval process for seller counterparties. The OIG did not make any recommendations to supplement the FHFA’s planned activities.
On July 1, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that a large bank agreed to pay $10 million to resolve allegations that prior to 2011 it violated the False Claims Act and FIRREA by failing to oversee the reasonableness of foreclosure-related charges it submitted to the FHA and Fannie Mae for reimbursement, contrary to program requirements and the bank’s certifications that it had done so. The government intervened in a whistleblower suit claiming that, notwithstanding FHA program requirements and the bank’s annual FHA certifications, prior to 2011, the bank failed to create or maintain an adequate FHA quality control program to review the fees and charges submitted by outside counsel and other third-party providers to the bank, which the bank then submitted to FHA for reimbursement. The government also claimed that the bank failed to create or maintain Fannie Mae audit and control systems sufficient to ensure that the fees and expenses submitted by outside counsel and other third-party providers to the bank, which the bank then submitted to Fannie Mae for reimbursement, were reasonable, customary, or necessary. In addition to the monetary settlement, the bank was required to admit to the allegations and agreed to remain compliant with all rules applicable to servicers of mortgage loans insured by FHA and to servicers of loans held or securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
On July 1, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report containing its assessment of FHFA controls to ensure that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac monitor nonbank special servicer performance and mitigate related risks. The report concluded that the FHFA has not established a risk management process to handle risks resulting from specialty servicers’ (i) use of short-term financing to buy servicing rights for troubled mortgage loans that may only begin to pay out after long-term work to resolve their difficulties; and (ii) obtaining large volumes of mortgage loans that may be beyond what their infrastructures can handle. The OIG asserted that such risks “are amplified by nonbank special servicers operating without the same standards and regulation as banks that service mortgage loans,” including capital requirements, which the OIG believes makes nonbank servicers “more susceptible to economic downturns” that could “substantially increase nonperforming loans that require servicer loss mitigation while at the same time impact[ing] the ability of the servicer to perform.” The OIG recommended that the FHFA (i) issue guidance on a risk management process for nonbank special servicers and (ii) develop a comprehensive, formal oversight framework to examine and mitigate the risks these nonbank special servicers pose. The report highlighted recent FHFA guidance that the OIG believes is sufficient to resolve the second recommendation—a June 11, 2014 FHFA Advisory Bulletin outlining supervisory expectations for risk management practices in conjunction with the sale and transfer of mortgage servicing rights or the transfer of the operational responsibilities of servicing mortgage loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Bulletin requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to consider servicer capacity, including staffing, facilities, information technology systems, and any sub-servicing arrangements, as part of the analysis of mortgage servicing transfers. The FHFA agreed to also develop supervisory guidance on how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac manage risks associated with servicing troubled loans.
On July 10, the FHFA sought input on a proposal to establish new eligibility requirements for private mortgage insurers seeking to insure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) mortgages. As described in an overview document, the FHFA proposes to revise business requirements to identify, measure, and manage exposure to counterparty risk. The FHFA also proposes new financial requirements and minimum quality control program requirements, which it states are intended to (i) facilitate an insurer’s monitoring of adherence to its underwriting and eligibility guidelines; (ii) ensure data accuracy; and (iii) prevent the insuring of fraudulent mortgages or mortgages with other defects. An insurer would be required to submit to each Enterprise a copy of its quality control program annually, with changes noted from the prior year’s version. The proposal also describes numerous potential remedies available to the Enterprises should an insurer fail to meet its requirements, ranging from more frequent dialogue or visits with an insurer to suspension or termination. All components of the requirements would become effective 180 days after the publication date of the finalized requirements. During the input period, and until the requirements are finalized, any insurer already approved to do business with the Enterprises that does not fully meet each Enterprise’s existing eligibility requirements would continue to operate in its current status and would be given a transition period of up to two years from the publication date to fully comply. Comments on the proposal are due by September 8, 2014.
On June 25, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report that urges the FHFA to consider whether to pursue servicers and insurers for alleged lender-placed insurance (LPI) losses. The OIG cited prior determinations by state insurance regulators that LPI rates in their respective jurisdictions allegedly were excessive and that those rates may have been driven up by profit-sharing arrangements under which servicers allegedly were paid to steer business to LPI providers. The OIG believes that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “have suffered considerable financial harm in the LPI market.” The OIG explained that using a methodology similar to that utilized by a state insurance regulator, it estimates that for 2012 alone the combined financial harm due to “excessively priced LPI” amounted to $158 million. The OIG acknowledged that its assessments did not consider compensation already received by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac from repurchase requests. The report also notes that the FHFA has yet to complete an assessment regarding the merits of potential litigation to recover alleged financial damages associated with the LPI market, but recommends that the FHFA do so and take appropriate action in response. In its response to the report, the FHFA concurred and pledged to complete the review in the next 12 months. The FHFA also pointed out that its litigation assessment would differ from the review conducted by the OIG and would consider potential legal arguments and litigation risks, economic assessments, and relevant public policies.
Recently, Fannie Mae (Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-12) and Freddie Mac (Bulletin 2014-11) introduced a temporary modification option targeted to borrowers located in Detroit, Michigan as part of the FHFA-directed Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative. The announcements provide the borrower, property, and mortgage eligibility requirements, borrower documentation requirements, and other program details. The announcements also establish requirements for servicers to process the new modification options, which servicers must implement for all evaluations conducted on or after September 1, 2014.
On June 25, the FHFA announced that it is taking new steps to expand the reach of HARP. As part of that effort, FHFA Director Mel Watt will participate in a series of town hall-style events to discuss the benefits of HARP and encourage eligible borrowers to participate in the program. The FHFA also launched an interactive online map that provides the number of estimated borrowers eligible for HARP in every zip code, county, and metropolitan statistical area in the country.
On June 5, the FHFA issued a request for input regarding its proposed increases to guarantee fees (g-fees) that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge lenders. Earlier this year, FHFA Director Mel Watt halted g-fee changes announced by the agency under Mr. Watt’s predecessor. Those changes would have (i) raised the base g-fee for all mortgages by 10 basis points; (ii) adjusted up-front fees charged to borrowers in different risk categories; and (iii) suspended the up-front 25 basis point adverse market fee in all but four states. The FHFA now poses more than a dozen questions for commenters to consider and respond to as the FHFA assesses future policies regarding g-fees. Comments are due by August 4, 2014.
On June 2, Massachusetts Attorney General (AG) Martha Coakley filed a lawsuit against the FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac for allegedly violating the state’s 2012 foreclosure prevention law, which, among other things, prohibits creditors from blocking home sales to non-profits that intend to resell the property back to the former homeowner. The AG claims that the FHFA has refused to require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to comply with the law, and as a result the companies’ “arm’s length transaction” policies, under which the parties proposing to purchase a property must attest that there are no agreements that the borrower will remain in the property as a tenant or later obtain title or ownership, restrict the sale of properties in violation of the law. In addition to the alleged violation of the foreclosure prevention law, the AG claims that by illegally applying the arm’s length transaction policies, the companies engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The AG seeks an order enjoining the companies from applying policies in violation of the foreclosure law, and penalties of up to $5,000 for each unfair or deceptive act or practice. The AG recently notified the FHFA of the potential suit in a letter that also renewed the AG’s calls for the FHFA to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to include principal reductions as part of their loan modification alternatives.
On May 22, President Obama announced the nomination of Laura Werthheimer, a securities lawyer in private practice, to serve as Inspector General for the FHFA. That position currently is being filled on an acting basis by Michael Stephens following Steve Linick’s departure last year to serve as State Department Inspector General. The President also is expected to announce the nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Castro would replace Secretary Shaun Donovan, who the President is expected to nominate to serve as OMB Director.
On May 13, FHFA Director Mel Watt presented a new strategic plan for the FHFA under his direction, which will focus on fulfilling the FHFA’s obligations under current law, and will shift away from efforts to position the agency—and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—for a potential future role in a reformed secondary market. Mr. Watt discussed the representation and warranty framework changes announced by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (see Byte below), and also announced that (i) for loans with DTI above 43%, the FHFA will continue to permit the use of compensating factors in each company’s underwriting standards; (ii) the FHFA will not alter loan limits, as proposed under prior leadership; (iii) the FHFA will not expand HARP but will “retarget” the program to capture already qualified borrowers; and (iv) the FHFA will launch a new modification pilot program. Mr. Watt’s remarks did not cover principal reduction or servicing rights transfers, but during a question and answer session he indicated both issues are on the FHFA’s agenda for further consideration. Further, Mr. Watt explained that under his leadership the FHFA will not seek to affirmatively reduce Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s footprint, though the FHFA will continue to work to increase the role of private capital, and soon will issue a request for comment on potential guarantee fee changes. The FHFA also will focus on private mortgage insurance counterparties, including by strengthening master policies and eligibility standards for private mortgage insurers. Finally, the FHFA will continue to build a common single-family securitization platform and transition Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to a single common security, but the FHFA is taking steps to “de-risk” the securitization platform project, including by emphasizing that the agency’s top objective for the common platform is to ensure that it works for the benefit of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their current securitization operations.
On May 14, Massachusetts Attorney General (AG) Martha Coakley sent a letter to FHFA Director Mel Watt threatening legal action if the FHFA does not direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when they sell a foreclosed property, to comply with a state law that prohibits a creditor from conditioning that sale on a requirement that the new owner cannot resell or rent the property back to the former homeowner. The letter explains that the law allows non-profits in the state to purchase REO and sell them back to the same borrower with more favorable financing terms and at a lower value. The AG states that her office is “considering all available legal avenues – including litigation – to ensure compliance” with the state law. The letter also reasserts the AG’s view that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should include principal reductions as a loan modification option. Under its former Acting Director Edward DeMarco, the FHFA decided in July 2012 not to direct Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to offer principal reductions.
This week, Fannie Mae (Lender Letter LL-2014-03) and Freddie Mac (Bulletin 2014-7) advised servicers of the memorandum of understanding the FHFA recently entered into to resolve litigation with the City of Chicago over a city ordinance that requires mortgagees to register vacant properties and pay a $500 registration fee per property, and provided guidance for complying with the memorandum. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac direct servicers to comply with the MOU by May 12, 2014, including by (i) voluntarily registering vacant properties with the city; (ii) halting remittance of vacant property registration fees, penalties, or fines to the city; and (iii) no longer completing any maintenance required by the ordinance. The guidance also provides instructions for obtaining reimbursement for fees already submitted to the city. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not reimburse servicers for any fees assessed for failing to comply with the ordinance that are incurred on or after May 12.
On April 3, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved an order of dismissal and memorandum of understanding jointly entered by the FHFA and the City of Chicago to end more than two years of litigation over a city ordinance that requires mortgagees to register vacant properties and pay a $500 registration fee per property. The ordinance also imposes maintenance and other obligations—whether the property has been foreclosed upon or not—with fines for noncompliance. In 2011, the FHFA sued the city, objecting that the ordinance would have improperly covered the activities of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and their agents. In August 2013, the court held that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are exempt from the ordinance, and the FHFA subsequently sought to clarify the scope of the court’s order and asked the court for declaratory and monetary relief. The parties now have agreed to a memorandum of understanding pursuant to which the city will not enforce the ordinance against Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or their agents for as long as the GSEs remain under federal conservatorship. The FHFA agreed that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will voluntarily register their vacant properties with the city, and the FHFA agreed not to try to recover fees and penalties already paid to the city under the ordinance.