DOJ Settles with New Jersey Mortgage Lender Over False Claims Act Violations

On April 15, the DOJ announced a $113 million settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company to resolve allegations that the mortgage lender violated the False Claims Act. According to the DOJ, the mortgage company – acting as a direct endorsement lender in HUD’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program – knowingly originated and accepted FHA-insured mortgage loans that did not properly comply with HUD origination, underwriting, and quality control requirements. As part of the settlement agreement, the mortgage company agreed that it failed to (i) meet HUD underwriting requirements from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2011; (ii) adhere to FHA’s quality control requirements between 2006 and 2008 by not sharing with production and underwriting management its early payment default quality control review; (iii) perform timely quality control reviews or perform audits of early payment defaults between 2008 and 2010; and (iv) report improperly originated loans between 2006 and 2011. The DOJ’s investigation further found that, after conducting a review of FHA loans underwritten between 2007 and 2012, the mortgage company self-reported to HUD only one of hundreds of loans that the company identified as not meeting FHA mortgage insurance requirements. Per the settlement agreement, the mortgage company must make an initial payment of $26 million by May 2, 2016.


DOJ Settles with National Bank Over Underwriting Practices

On April 8, the DOJ announced a $1.2 billion settlement with a San Francisco-based bank and the bank’s Vice President of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance to resolve allegations that the bank submitted false claims for FHA insurance in connection with loans that did not meet FHA underwriting standards. According to DOJ, “[d]uring the period May 1, 2001 through on or about December 31, 2008, [the bank] (or its predecessor) submitted to HUD certifications stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not.” The settlement agreement further explains that when certain of these loans defaulted, HUD paid for the insurance claims out of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. In addition, the settlement agreement states that from January 2002 through December 2010, the bank failed to inform HUD that the bank’s quality assurance personnel had determined that some of the FHA-insured loans contained a material finding. In response to this failure to self-report, the DOJ also asserted claims against the bank’s VP of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance, as the individual responsible for overseeing the bank’s self-reporting policy and procedures. Both the bank and the individual officer acknowledged responsibility for the alleged violations as part of the settlement agreement.


HUD Issues Guidance Regarding the Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records

On April 4, HUD issued guidance deploying a disparate impact analysis with respect to the Fair Housing Act’s application to the use of criminal history by those who come under the Fair Housing Act, and in particular by providers or operators of housing and real-estate related transactions. The guidance indicates that, because African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population, criminal records-based barriers to housing are likely to have a disproportionate impact on minority home seekers. HUD then walks through the three step burden-shifting disparate impact analysis to support its argument. To determine whether the use of criminal history has, on its face, a discriminatory effect, HUD looks at national statistics to demonstrate that incarceration rates are disproportionate for African Americans and Hispanics. HUD also notes that, while state or local statistics should be presented when available, national statistics may be used where state or local statistics are not readily available and there is no reason to believe they would differ markedly from the national statistics. Read more…


HUD Releases Final Loan-Level Certification: Lenders Should Not Be Penalized for Minor Mistakes

On March 15, HUD announced the completion of FHA’s loan-level certification, Form 92900-A. Significantly, the final certification clarifies FHA’s “longstanding position” that “minor mistakes that do not affect the decision to approve a loan are not the focus of [FHA’s] compliance efforts” and that “lenders will be held accountable for only those mistakes that would have altered the decision to approve the loan.” The certification also clarifies that lenders are required to certify only “to what they know to be true to the best of their knowledge” and that they are not responsible for “mistakes or fraud committed by a third party that the lender did not or could not have had reason to know of.” Finally, the certification removes references to the pre-endorsement review requirement. HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2016-16 to advise mortgagees of the revised certification, which is effective August 1, 2016.

On March 15, HUD’s proposed revisions to the FHA annual lender certification were published in the Federal Register. According to HUD’s announcement, the primary revision to the annual lender certification form is the “addition of language requiring lenders to certify that they have not been involved in fraud or other serious criminal or civil violations that would call into question their ability to carry out the responsibilities of the program.” Previously, this language was included in the loan-level certification. In addition, the proposal also amends the lender-level certification statement regarding compliance with all FHA regulations and requirements by (i) adding guidebooks to cover certain FHA policy; (ii) revising the language to clarify the intent and scope of the statement; (iii) removing timeframes and revising the qualifier so that it matches the similar qualifier in other statements; and (iv) detailing reporting requirements in HUD Handbook 4000.1. Comments on the proposal are due April 14, 2016.

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HUD Reaches $2.8 Million Settlement Over Redlining Allegations

On February 29, HUD announced an agreement with a Kansas City-based bank over its alleged redlining practices against African-American mortgage applicants. Two fair housing organizations (Complainants) filed separate complaints with HUD in October 2015 alleging that the bank engaged in discriminatory acts and violated the Fair Housing Act. According to Complainants, the bank’s “lack of market penetration in African-American communities made residential real estate products less available to persons based on race.” Complainants further alleged that the bank “designated their service area, or assessment area, in a way that excluded areas of high African-American concentration, which resulted in making residential real estate products less available to persons based on race” – a practice generally referred to as redlining. The agreement requires that the bank must, during the three-year agreement period: (i) allocate $75,000 in subsidy funds to provide discounts on home purchase loans to majority African-American census tracts in the Kansas City area; and (ii) originate $2.5 million in mortgage loans in African-American neighborhoods. Read more…