Texas Federal Court Upholds HUD’s Suspension Of Mortgagee

On August 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that HUD’s decisions to immediately suspend a HUD mortgagee and its CEO were not “arbitrary and capricious” and did not violate due process. Allied Home Mortg. Corp. v. Donovan, No. H-11-3864, 2014 WL 3843561 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 5, 2014). In October 2011, a U.S. Attorney’s Office sued the mortgagee, its CEO, and related parties under the False Claims Act and FIRREA for allegedly making false statements and false claims to HUD in connection with FHA-insured mortgage loans. Shortly thereafter, based on information obtained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HUD immediately suspended the mortgagee’s HUD/FHA origination and underwriting approvals and suspended the CEO from participation in procurement and nonprocurement transactions as a participant or principal. The mortgagee plaintiffs argued that such suspensions were “arbitrary and capricious” (and thus violated the Administrative Procedure Act) given the age of the evidence against the CEO and the limited evidence directly attributable to the mortgagee. Specifically, the mortgagee plaintiffs argued that HUD failed to follow its own standards for issuing immediate suspensions because it did not have adequate evidence of any present or imminent threat to the financial interests of the public or HUD that would warrant an immediate suspension. The court, however, held that the evidence uncovered in the investigation was sufficient to support HUD’s action, and that HUD “drew rational inferences based on the severity, persistence, and length of the [alleged] misconduct.” The court also denied the mortgagee plaintiffs’ due process claim, reasoning that the initial suspensions were temporary and could have been administratively appealed. The court denied the mortgagee plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case with prejudice.

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HUD Announces Disability Income Fair Housing Conciliation Agreement

On August 13, HUD announced that a nonbank mortgage lender agreed to pay $104,000 to resolve allegations that the lender’s underwriting practices resulted in discrimination against mortgage applicants who rely on disability income. HUD filed a complaint claiming the lender required loan applicants to submit medical and other documentation related to an applicant’s disability income that it did not require from non-disabled applicants, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Working with HUD, the lender identified 69 applicants whose loan files contained evidence of a request for additional disability documentation or evidence that a loan may have been denied on the failure or inability of the applicant to provide such documentation. The lender agreed to compensate those applicants using a tiered system, under which each applicant will receive $1,000, $2,000, or $5,000 in damages. The lender did not admit to any fault, guilt, or liability, and denied that it discriminated against any loan applicant on the basis of disability. The lender also submitted to a monitoring requirement and implemented a modified fair lending training program for its employees.

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HUD Requires Electronic Retention Of Foreclosure-Related Documents

On July 23, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-16, which requires FHA mortgagees to retain electronic copies of certain foreclosure-related documents and extends the record retention period to seven years after the life of an FHA-insured mortgage. HUD advises that, in addition to any requirements for retaining hard copies or original foreclosure-related documents, loss-mitigation review documents also must be retained in electronic format. Those documents include: (i) evidence of the servicer’s foreclosure committee recommendation; (ii) the servicer’s Referral Notice to a foreclosure attorney, if applicable; and (iii) a copy of the document evidencing the first legal action necessary to initiate foreclosure and all supporting documentation, if applicable. The letter adds that mortgagees also must retain in electronic format a copy of the mortgage, the mortgage note, or the deed of trust. If a note has been lost, mortgagees must retain both an electronic and hard copy of a Lost Note Affidavit. The letter is effective for all foreclosures occurring on or after October 1, 2014.

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HUD Updates Requirements For Pre-Foreclosure Sales And Deeds-In-Lieu Of Foreclosure

On July 10, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-15, which updates requirements for pre-foreclosure sales (PFS) and deeds-in-lieu (DIL) of foreclosure for all mortgagees servicing FHA single-family mortgages. The letter explains that if none of FHA’s loss mitigation home retention options are available or appropriate, the mortgagee must evaluate the borrower for a non-home retention option, with mortgagors in default or at imminent risk of default being evaluated first for a PFS transaction before being evaluated for a DIL transaction. The letter details eligibility and documentation requirements for standard PFS, streamlined PFS, and DILs, as well as rules for calculating cash reserve contributions for standard PFS transactions. Further, the letter advises mortgagees that they may, under certain conditions, approve a servicemember for a streamlined PFS or DIL without verifying hardship or obtaining a complete mortgagor workout packet. The letter also addresses numerous other topics, including: (i) requirements for real estate agents and brokers participating in PFS transactions; (ii) an initial listing period requirement for PFS transactions; (iii) updated sample language for the PFS Addendum; (iv) validation requirements for appraisals; (v) the criteria under which the HUD will permit non-arms-length PFS transactions; and (vi) minimum marketing period for all PFS transactions.

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S.D.N.Y. U.S. Attorney Obtains FHA, GSE False Claims Settlement

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.

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HUD Announces Two Maternity Leave Fair Housing Agreements

On July 1, HUD announced a conciliation agreement with a California mortgage lender, pursuant to which the lender will pay $48,000 to resolve allegations that it violated the Fair Housing Act when it denied or delayed mortgage loans to women because they were on maternity leave. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges associated with the sale of a dwelling on the basis of sex, including denying a mortgage loan or mortgage insurance because a woman is pregnant or on family leave. After a married couple complained to HUD that the lender denied their refinancing application because the wife was on maternity leave, HUD commenced an investigation that revealed the lender also allegedly denied four other applicants who were on maternity leave, or delayed their applications until after the women returned to work. The agreement requires the company to pay $20,000 to the couple that filed the complaint, and $7,000 to each of the other four applicants identified by HUD. The company no longer originates mortgages, but agreed to provide annual fair lending training to employees and management staff should it resume its mortgage operation. In a similar action last month, HUD required a Utah credit union to pay $25,000 to resolve allegations that the credit union discriminated against prospective borrowers on maternity leave. The HUD investigation was initiated after a married couple claimed their mortgage loan application was wrongly denied because the wife was on maternity leave. The credit union asserted that its mortgage insurer’s guidelines for calculating income for women on maternity leave allowed regular pay to be considered only if the women returned to work before the loan closed. Although the complainants previously resolved their claims, the credit union agreed to pay $10,000 to an allegedly affected borrower identified during HUD’s investigation, and $15,000 to a qualified organization to help educate the public about fair lending requirements and obligations, including the rights of borrowers on maternity, paternity, pregnancy, or parental leave at the time of an application for a home mortgage loan. The credit union also agreed to adopt an FHA-compliant policy with regard to calculation and treatment of maternity, paternity, and pregnancy leave income, and to identify when employment income may be used based upon the timing of a scheduled return to work date.

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Senate Confirms HUD Secretary

On July 9, the Senate voted 71-26 to confirm Julian Castro to serve as HUD Secretary. The former San Antonio, Texas mayor will replace Shaun Donovan, who the Senate subsequently confirmed to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

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FHA Releases New Draft Handbook Sections

Recently, the FHA released for comment two additional draft sections of its new Single Family Policy Handbook. The first, Doing Business with FHA, outlines the requirements associated with FHA mortgagee approval, including eligibility requirements, application processes, operating requirements, post-approval changes, the recertification process, and processes for applying for supplemental mortgagee authorities. The second, Quality Control, Oversight and Compliance, outlines the ongoing lender and mortgagee responsibility to perform institution and loan-level quality control, and details the repercussions for failing to act in accordance with FHA requirements, including explanations of possible administrative actions and sanctions. Comments on both sections are due by July 29, 2014.

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HUD Seeks Comments On Limits Of Insurability Of Fixed Interest HECM Products, Announces Other HECM Program Changes

On July 10, HUD published a request for comment on its recent amendments to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) reverse mortgage program to limit the insurability of fixed interest rate reverse mortgages. Although those changes already took effect under the emergency action taken by HUD, it now seeks public comment on those changes. HUD also recently took two other actions related to the HECM program. In Mortgagee Letter 2014-10, HUD reminded mortgagees of the FHA’s requirements prohibiting misleading or deceptive advertising, described those prohibitions, and clarified that they extend to misleading or deceptive descriptions of the HECM program. On June 27, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-12, which announced new HECM principal limit factors. HUD’s new principal limit factor tables now include principal limit factors where the borrower has a non-borrowing spouse younger than 62.

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HUD Adds Requirement For Voluntary Termination Of FHA Mortgage Insurance

On July 3, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-13, which requires mortgagees seeking voluntary termination of FHA mortgage insurance to obtain a signed borrower consent form from each borrower on the mortgage. HUD states that in order to ensure that voluntary terminations of mortgage insurance are processed in accordance with the National Housing Act and HUD regulations, HUD now requires mortgagees requesting such termination to inform borrowers in writing that electing to terminate the mortgage insurance means that the mortgage will no longer be governed by FHA insurance program rules and regulations, including FHA’s loss mitigation requirements. Effective October 1, 2014, mortgagees must obtain a signed Borrower’s Consent to Voluntary Termination of FHA Mortgage Insurance, which must be on the mortgagee’s letterhead and must include the language in the sample form provided by HUD. HUD will require each borrower on the mortgage to sign the consent form in order for the request for voluntary termination to be considered valid by FHA. Mortgagees must retain copies of the consent form(s) in the servicing file in accordance with HUD’s record retention policies.

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CFPB Issues Guidance On Ensuring Equal Treatment For Married Same-Sex Couples

On July 8, the CFPB released guidance designed to ensure equal treatment for legally married same-sex couples in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013).  Windsor held unconstitutional section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined the word “marriage” as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and the word “spouse” as referring “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The CFPB’s guidance, which took the form of a memorandum to CFPB staff, states that regardless of a person’s state of residency, the CFPB will consider a person who is married under the laws of any jurisdiction to be married nationwide for purposes of enforcing, administering, or interpreting the statutes, regulations, and policies under the Bureau’s jurisdiction.  The Bureau adds that it “will not regard a person to be married by virtue of being in a domestic partnership, civil union, or other relationship not denominated by law as a marriage.”

The guidance adds that the Bureau will use and interpret the terms “spouse,” “marriage,” “married,” “husband,” “wife,” and any other similar terms related to family or marital status in all statutes, regulations, and policies administered, enforced or interpreted by the Bureau (including ECOA and Regulation B, FDCPA, TILA, RESPA) to include same-sex marriages and married same-sex spouses.  The Bureau’s stated policy on same-sex marriage follows HUD’s Equal Access Rule, which became effective March 5, 2012, which ensures access to HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing for LGBT persons.

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Treasury Aims To Expand Assistance For Borrowers, Renters

On June 26, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced (i) a new financing partnership between Treasury and HUD designed to support the FHA’s multifamily mortgage risk-sharing program; (ii) an extension of the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program for at least one year; and (iii) a new effort to help jumpstart the private label securities market. Under the Treasury-HUD partnership, the Federal Financing Bank (FFB) will finance FHA-insured mortgages that support the construction and preservation of rental housing. The extended MHA program is aimed at allowing the Administration to continue assisting borrowers facing foreclosure and with underwater homes. Finally, the Treasury Department will publish a Request for Comment and plans to host a series of meetings with investors and securitizers to explore ways to increase private lending.

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HUD Policy Revisions Address Emerging HECM Risks

On June 18, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-11, which amends the HECM reverse mortgage program to limit the insurability of fixed interest rate reverse mortgages. The letter explains that HUD has identified new emerging risks in connection with certain fixed interest rate HECM strategies that are being introduced in the market. Specifically, HUD is concerned about (i) a new option that “strongly encourages the mortgagor to take the maximum amount available during the first twelve-month disbursement period and to take the remaining amount shortly after the expiration of the first twelve-month disbursement period whether they need it or not;” and (ii) a second option that “emphasizes mortgagor options for future draws at the fixed interest rate set at origination.” As a result, under the new policy, FHA will only insure fixed interest rate reverse mortgages where the mortgage limits the mortgagor to: (i) a single, full draw to be made at loan closing; and (ii) does not provide for future draws by the mortgagor under any circumstances. In addition, FHA will only insure adjustable interest rate reverse mortgages where the payment plan option is either: (i) tenure; (ii) term; (iii) line of credit; (iv) modified tenure; or (v) modified term. The letter details numerous additional related policy changes, describes changes to HECM loan document forms required to implement the policy changes, and updates instructions for entering in FHA Connection a fixed interest rate HECM with a single disbursement lump sum payment option.

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Latest CFPB RESPA Enforcement Action Targets Employee Referrals

Last week, the CFPB announced its latest RESPA enforcement action, adding to one of the CFPB’s most active areas of enforcement. In this case, the CFPB required a New Jersey title company to pay $30,000 for allegedly paying commissions to more than twenty independent salespeople who referred title insurance business to the company. The matter was referred to the CFPB by HUD.

The CFPB asserts that from at least 2008 to 2013, the title company offered commissions of up to 40% of the title insurance premiums the company received. The CFPB explained that paying commissions for referrals is allowed under RESPA if the recipient of the payment is an employee of the company that is paying the referral, but claimed in this case that the individuals involved were actually independent contractors and not bona fide employees. The CFPB determined that although the individuals received W-2 forms from the title company, the company “did not have the right or power to control the manner and means by which the individuals performed their duties.”

In determining the penalty amount, the CFPB took into consideration the company’s ability to pay and remain a viable business. Notably, the consent order removes the “employer-employee” exception for this company on a going forward basis, including under existing employment contracts.  The order prohibits the company from paying any employee “any fee, kickback, or thing of value that is contingent on the referral of title insurance business or other settlement services, notwithstanding the ‘employee exception’ contained in 12 C.F.R. §1024.14(g)(vii).” The order also establishes certain compliance, record keeping, and reporting requirements.

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President Obama Nominates New FHFA Inspector General, HUD Secretary

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.

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