FHFA, City Of Chicago Resolve Dispute Over Vacant Property Ordinance

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.

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Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Clarify Rural Property Appraisal Requirements

On April 1, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2014-05, and on March 25, Fannie Mae issued Lender Letter LL-2014-02, in response to directives from the FHFA to clarify certain requirements related to appraisals for properties located in rural areas. In the clarifying documents, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac state that they do not require the use of third-party vendors such as appraisal management companies to order appraisals or to comply with requirements that the mortgage production function and the appraisal ordering and quality assurance functions remain separate. In addition, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide a small lender exception to the separation requirement. The guidance documents also state that a residential property in a market that contains properties or land uses that are non-residential in nature, is not necessarily ineligible for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Both entities assert that they will purchase a mortgage secured by a property that is unique or may not conform to its neighborhood, provided an appraiser is able to evaluate and report on how the characteristics of the market area and unique property features affect the value and the marketability of the subject property. The guidance documents also advise sellers that in areas with less real estate activity, such as rural market areas, appraisers may, with documented support, use comparable sales that are older than 12 months, or that are a considerable distance from the subject property or not similar to the subject property.

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Freddie Mac Revises Modification Requirements

On March 28, Freddie Mac announced in Bulletin 2014-4, that with regard to the processing of standard and streamlined modifications for mortgages with pre-modification mark-to-market loan-to-value ratios less than 80%, servicers must provide eligible borrowers the option to select a 480-month, 360-month, or 240-month term for the modification agreement. Servicers must include in the trial period plan notice each amortization term and its trial period payment only when the associated monthly principal and interest (P&I) payment reduction condition is met. For a 480-month amortization term, the estimated modified P&I payment must be less than or equal to the current contractual P&I payment. For a 360-month or 240-month amortization term, the estimated modified P&I payment must be at least 20% less than the current contractual P&I payment. Additionally, Freddie Mac eliminated the options for a borrower to request a term that is different than those provided in the trial period plan offer or to change the amortization term after the first trial period payment is made. The Bulletin also advises servicers that, effective July 8, 2014, Freddie Mac will evaluate market rates on a monthly basis to determine whether a change to the standard modification interest rate is necessary, and, if so, will post the new rate and its mandatory effective date on the Standard Modification Interest Rate web page by the fifth business day of each month.

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House Financial Services Ranking Member Unveils Housing Finance Reform Alternative

On March 27, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, released draft legislation to reform the housing finance market. Congresswoman Waters also released a summary of the proposal and a section-by-section analysis of the bill. The proposed bill, titled the Housing Opportunities Move the Economy (HOME) Forward Act of 2014, offers a counter to a bill already approved by the committee—without any Democratic votes—that would replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with a secondary market funded only by private capital. In certain ways, the HOME Forward Act parallels legislation recently unveiled by the leaders of the Senate Banking Committee. Like its Senate counterpart, Ms. Waters’s bill would establish an insurance fund to provide an explicit government guarantee for certain mortgage-backed securities. Also, similar to the Senate bill, Congresswoman Waters’s proposal would require private backers to take the first 5 percent of any loss (the Senate bill requires private backers to take the first 10 percent of any loss) before the government guarantee is activated. But unlike the Senate bill, which would allow for a variety of issuers to access the mortgage backed security market, the HOME Forward Act would create a co-op of lenders with exclusive authority to issue government-backed MBS. In further contrast to the Senate bill, the HOME Forward Act includes a “waterfall” plan for distribution of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s earnings in conservatorship to (i) Treasury Senior Preferred shares; (ii) any reserve funds needed in connection with wind-down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; (iii) outstanding Affordable Housing Fund payments; and (iv) existing preferred and common shareholders, including Treasury as holder of warrants. The HOME Forward Act also would eliminate rigid affordable housing goals and replace them with a broad based duty to serve requirement.

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Senate Banking Leaders Release Draft Housing Finance Reform Bill

On March 16, Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) released long-awaited draft legislation to end the government’s conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and reform the housing finance system. The Senators also released a summary of the proposal and a section-by-section analysis. The bill adopts many of the principles originally outlined in bipartisan legislation introduced last year by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Bob Corker (R-TN). Like the Warner-Corker bill, the leadership proposal would create a Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC), modeled in part after the FDIC and intended to provide an explicit government backstop for certain MBS. The government backstop would sit behind private investors required to hold at least 10% capital on FMIC-issued securities. FMIC losses in turn would be backed by a reinsurance fund. The FMIC also would (i) oversee a new mortgage securitization platform; (ii) supervise guarantors, aggregators, servicers, and private mortgage insurers; and (iii) collect fees dedicated to support affordable housing and allocated among the Housing Trust Fund, the Capital Magnet Fund, and a new Market Access Fund. Under the bill servicers, aggregators, and others would be subject to capital requirements now only applicable to banks. The bill would establish a 5% down payment requirement for borrowers, 3.5% for first time borrowers. The bill also would create a jointly owned small lender mutual intended to provide small lenders access to the secondary market. The leadership’s small lender mutual would be open to more banks—any depository institution with up to $500 billion in assets—than the Warner-Corker plan would allow. The Committee is expected to markup the legislation in the coming weeks.

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Freddie Mac Requires Lender-Place Insurance Compliance Certification, Updates Foreclosure And Transfer Tax Policies

On March 17, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2014-3, which requires servicers to provide a certification that they are or will be in compliance with new lender-placed insurance requirements announced in Bulletin 2013-27. With regard to alternatives to foreclosure, Bulletin 2014-3 (i) makes optional requirements announced in Bulletin 2013-27 related to the processing of modifications for mortgages with pre-modification mark-to-market loan-to-value ratios less than 80%; (ii) requires servicers to provide notices on behalf of Freddie Mac in certain circumstances when Freddie Mac participated in evaluating a borrower for a workout or relief option and declined to approve the workout or relief request; (iii) reorganizes property valuation requirements for modifications; and (iv) provides additional guidance related to paystub requirements for income documentation submitted with a Borrower Response Package. Finally, Freddie Mac also (i) updated requirements for the reimbursement of transfer taxes; (ii) permitted servicers to instruct foreclosure counsel to conduct a foreclosure in Freddie Mac’s name, without obtaining prior written approval, if doing so would avoid any obligation to pay a transfer tax; and (iii) provided guidance on numerous additional servicing issues.

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Fannie Mae Delays Modification Policy Updates, Substitutes ARM Loan Indices

On March 12, Fannie Mae issued a notice postponing the April 1, 2014 implementation deadline for changes to its standard and streamlined modification programs announced in SVC-2013-28. Those changes expanded the programs to include loans with a pre-modification mark-to-market loan-to-value (MTMLTV) ratio of less than 80%. In the “near future,” Fannie Mae will announce a new effective date and updated requirements for such loans. Until the new requirements become effective, loans with MTMLTVs of less than 80% will continue to be eligible for a standard or streamlined modification if the loan servicer has fully implemented the previously-announced changes. In a separate notice relating to its adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) plans, Fannie Mae announced that it is requiring sellers and servicers to substitute certain LIBOR indices for the discontinued Federal Reserve Board CD index, and as a result it is retiring two standard ARM plans based on the discontinued index.

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Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Publish Uniform Closing Dataset Mapping Document

On March 11, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac published the Uniform Closing Dataset’s (UCD) MISMO-mapping document, Appendix B: Closing Disclosure Mapping to the MISMO v3.3 Reference Model, which provides a common dataset to implement the CFPB’s closing disclosure. While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have not yet determined the method or timeline for collecting UCD from lenders, the release allows lenders and their vendors to begin preparing for the collection.

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FinCEN Finalizes AML Rules For Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

On February 20, FinCEN finalized a rule that will require Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks (the GSEs) to develop AML programs and to file SARs directly with FinCEN. Under the current system, the GSEs file fraud reports with the FHFA, which then files SARs with FinCEN when warranted under FinCEN’s reporting standards. The new regulations are substantially similar to the version proposed in November 2011, and are intended to streamline the reporting process and provide more timely access to data about potential fraud. The AML provisions of the new regulations implement the BSA’s four minimum requirements: (i) the development of internal policies, procedures, and controls; (ii) the designation of a compliance officer; (iii) an ongoing employee training program; and (iv) an independent audit function to test programs. The SAR regulation requires reporting of suspicious activity in accordance with standards and procedures contained in all of FinCEN’s SAR regulations. In addition, under the streamlined system, the GSEs and their directors, officers, and employees will qualify for the BSA’s “safe harbor” provisions, which are intended to encourage covered institutions to report suspicious activities without fear of liability. The final rule does not require the GSEs to comply with any other BSA reporting or recordkeeping regulations, such as currency transaction reporting. The rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and the GSEs will have 180 days from publication to comply.

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Freddie Mac Updates Selling, Servicing Policies

On February 14, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2014-02, which includes numerous selling and servicing policy changes. For example, the Bulletin states that, effective for mortgages with settlement dates on or after June 1, 2014, (i) sellers’ reserves must be based on the full monthly payment amount for the property, not only principal, interest, taxes, and insurance; (ii) sellers no longer have to provide borrowers an additional six months’ reserve when the borrower converts a  two- to four-unit primary residence to an investment property; and (iii) Freddie Mac is removing the requirements that the appraisal must be dated no more than 60 days prior to the note date when used to document the value of a primary residence pending sale or being converted to a second home or an investment property for the purposes of establishing the minimum required reserves. Freddie Mac also is reducing the delivery fee rate to 75 basis points for Home Possible Mortgage purchase transactions with settlement dates on or after March 1, 2014. Also for sellers, the Bulletin (i) introduces a summary of changes made to Guide Exhibit 19, Postsettlement Delivery Fees; (ii) revises resubmission requirements for mortgages submitted to Loan Prospector after the note date or the effective date of Permanent Financing for Construction Conversion and Renovation Mortgages; (iii) updates the Guide to include Phase 2 ULDD data point requirements and clarifications on existing ULDD data points; and (iv) updates and consolidates property eligibility and appraisal requirements in Guide Chapter 44, Property and Appraisal Requirements. For sellers and servicers, the Bulletin announces updates to Guide Form 16SF, Annual Eligibility Certification Report, to enhance its usability and provide additional functionality. Finally, for servicers, the Bulletin revises requirements for reimbursement of condominium, homeowners’ association and Planned Unit Development assessments in states where a lien for such amounts can take priority over Freddie Mac’s lien.

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FHFA OIG Recommends Increased Oversight Of Repurchase Late Fees

On February 12, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the FHFA’s oversight of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s handling of aged repurchase demands. The OIG found that (i) the FHFA’s published guidance for aged repurchase demands essentially let each of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac establish its own model for penalizing seller-servicers; (ii) Freddie Mac continued to employ its existing right to assess late fees on seller-servicers for not resolving repurchase demands timely, which resulted in missed assessments of up to $284 million due in large part to inconsistently waving, enforcing, and excepting late fees; and (iii) Fannie Mae continued without an ability to assess repurchase late fees, claiming a $5.4 million cost to establish the program necessary to do so was prohibitive, but failing to realize the potential benefits from a continuous stream of penalty fees. The OIG recommended that the FHFA (i) promptly quantify the potential benefit of implementing a repurchase late fee program at Fannie Mae, and then determine whether the potential cost outweighs the potential benefit; (ii) direct Freddie Mac to develop an expanded repurchase late fee report that would provide Freddie Mac and FHFA management with needed information to manage and assess Freddie Mac’s repurchase late fee program more effectively; and  (iii) direct Freddie Mac to provide the FHFA with information on any assessed but uncollected late fees associated with the repurchase claims so that such fees can be considered in repurchase settlement negotiations and documented in accordance with the Office of Conservatorship Operations’ Settlement Policy.

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Fourth Circuit Holds Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Exempt From Local Transfer, Recordation Taxes

On January 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court decision and held that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are exempt from state and local real estate transfer taxes. Montgomery County, Md. v. Fed. Nat. Mortg. Ass’n, No.13-1691/1752, 2014 WL 279852 (4th Cir. Jan. 27, 2014). In this case, as in other similar cases around the country, Maryland and South Carolina counties sued to recover state and local real estate transfer taxes from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHFA for property transfers made by those entities. The court held that Congress expressly exempted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from “all taxation,” including all state and local taxation, when it chartered those institutions and, in a footnote, explained that, as conservator stepping into the shoes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the same exemption applies to FHFA. The court rejected the counties’ argument that the state and local taxes imposed on transfer and recordation of real property fell within the real property tax exclusions from the general tax exemption provision of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s respective charters. The court added that Congress specifically carved out real property taxes from the “all taxation” exemption, but that the types of transfer taxes at issue in this case were distinguishable from a real property tax. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHFA.

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Federal Government Seeks Higher Penalties In GSE Fraud Case

On January 29, the DOJ filed a supplemental brief in support of its claim for civil penalties following a jury verdict it obtained last October in the first case alleging violations of FIRREA in connection with loans sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. U.S. v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., No. 12-CV-1422 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 28, 2014). In October, following a four week trial, a jury found a bank liable under FIRREA based on a program operated by a lender that the bank had acquired. The government originally sought damages of $864 million based on alleged losses incurred by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. After the judge requested supplemental briefing from the parties focused on the alleged gain rather than loss, the government submitted a brief arguing that the gain was $2.1 billion, and requesting that the court impose a penalty in that amount. The government asserts that the penalty should be calculated using gross gain, rather than net gain, to accomplish “FIRREA’s central purpose of punishment and deterrence.”

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Freddie Mac Updates Several Servicing Policies

On January 24, Freddie Mac issued Bulletin 2014-01, which updates and revises servicing requirements related to (i) step-rate mortgages; (ii) foreclosures; (iii) third-party use of Workout Prospector and BPOdirect; and (iv) electronic default reporting requirements. Effective April 1, 2014, servicers must provide notification of an initial interest rate adjustment for a step-rate mortgage to the borrower as early as 150 days, but no less than 90 days, prior to the first payment due date at the adjusted interest rate. A second notification of the initial interest rate adjustment must be provided as early as 75 days, but no less than 60 days, prior to the first scheduled payment at the new rate. For mortgages requiring two or more interest rate adjustments to reach the corresponding interest rate cap, servicers must provide borrowers written notification of the upcoming interest rate change for each subsequent rate adjustment as early as 120 days, but no less than 60 days, prior to the first payment due date at the re-adjusted rate. In addition, servicers’ staff must be adequately trained to discuss interest rate adjustments with borrowers. Among the foreclosure-related updates, the Bulletin provides notice to servicers regarding changes in state foreclosure time lines, updates requirements for reimbursement of costs associated with the posting and publication of foreclosure notices, and updates provisions for expediting default legal matters and foreclosure sale bidding. With regard to Workout Prospector and BPOdirect, effective immediately Freddie Mac is allowing authorized third-party service providers to access those tools. Finally, the Bulletin updates certain default action codes, which servicers must use beginning May 1, 2014.

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Bipartisan Group Of House Members Ask FHFA To Allow Use Of Alternative Credit Scores

On January 9, Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA), Jim Himes (D-CT), Spencer Bachus (R-AL), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) petitioned FHFA Director Mel Watt to expeditiously direct Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to revise their seller/servicer guidelines to permit the use of credit scores from alternative credit score providers, so long as the scores are “empirically derived and demonstrably and statistically sound.” The lawmakers argue that a move to permit the use of scores other than those offered by FICO would “remove an unfair barrier to entry in the mortgage market” and “encourage the development of more predictive credit scores.”

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