The CFPB’s Mortgage Originations Agenda in 2016

John Kromer captionMichelle Rogers captionBen-Olson-captionNow more than ever, financial services firms need to proactively focus on issues of concern identified by the CFPB and ensure that they are engaged in industry best practices that are clearly identified and carefully monitored. In the mortgage originations sphere, the new TRID/ KBYO rule, MSAs, LO compensation, UDAAP, and fair lending are all issues for companies to focus on in the coming year.

TRID/KBYO

Compliance with the new TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure/Know Before You Owe (TRID/KBYO) rule will likely be an area of Bureau concern in 2016. The rule took effect on October 3, 2015 and does not include a “hold harmless” period for errors as lenders implement the new disclosure requirements, although letters from the OCC, FDIC, and CFPB have clarified that regulators will focus in the beginning on institutions’ implementation plans, training, and handling of early technical problems. It is likely that the CFPB will require remediation back to the rule’s compliance date when it identifies tangible consumer harm, but it is unlikely that the Bureau will bring enforcement actions initially based on technical issues where there is no tangible consumer harm.

GSEs have also issued letters stating they will not perform TRID/KBYO compliance file reviews at the beginning of the implementation period. The GSEs further stated that it will not exercise its repurchase and other remedies unless (1) a required form is not used or (2) a practice would impair its enforcement of its rights against borrowers.  In contrast, the FHA has stated that it expects lenders to comply with “all federal, state, and local laws, rules, and requirements applicable to the mortgage transaction as outlined in [the] FHA Handbook….” Read more…

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FHA Loan Limits for Forward Mortgages to Increase in 2016

On December 9, FHA announced new maximum loan limits for forward mortgages for 2016 in 188 counties due to changes in housing prices. The new loan limits for forward mortgages are effective for case numbers assigned on or after January 1, 2016 through the end of the year. FHA noted that no areas saw a decrease in the maximum loan limits for forward mortgages and that, as detailed in Mortgagee Letter 2015-30, the national standard loan limits for low cost and high cost areas remain unchanged at $271,050 and $625,500, respectively.

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Mortgage Company Resolves DOJ Allegations of False Claims Act Violations

On December 2, a Tennessee mortgage company agreed to pay the United States $70 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act. According to the DOJ, the company, acting as a direct endorsement lender, knowingly originated and accepted FHA-insured mortgage loans that did not meet applicable HUD underwriting and quality control requirements. As part of the settlement agreement, the company admitted to engaging in the following conduct between January 1, 2006 and March 31, 2012: (i) employing unqualified junior underwriters to complete important underwriting tasks; (ii) setting high quotas for underwriters and disciplining them if the quotas were not met; and (iii) offering underwriters bonuses based in part on the number of loan files reviewed as incentive to increase loan production. Even though deficiencies in the loan underwriting process were identified in post-close audits, the company did not make any self-reports until 2009 and, even then, “[v]ery few of these self-reported loans were reported for containing serious underwriting deficiencies.” As a result of the company’s conduct, the FHA insured loans that were not eligible, purportedly suffering “substantial losses when it later paid insurance claims on those loans.”

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DOJ Announces Mortgage Lending Discrimination Charges Against Massachusetts Bank

On November 30, the DOJ announced the filing of a complaint and proposed consent order against a Massachusetts-based bank alleged to have violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) by charging African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher prices for home loans than similarly situated white borrowers. From 2011 until at least 2014, the bank allegedly used a “target pricing” mortgage origination policy, assigning loan officers with a Minimum Base Price (MBP) they were expected to achieve on each home loan without regard to the borrower’s creditworthiness. According to the DOJ’s complaint, “African-American and Hispanic borrowers were served disproportionately by loan officers with higher MBPs than the loan officers serving white borrowers.” The complaint further alleges that, from April 2011 through December 2013, the bank authorized loan officers to price a loan higher than their assigned MBP, without documenting the reasons for doing so. Pending court approval, the DOJ’s proposed consent order will require the bank to (i) pay $1,175,000 as compensation to borrowers affected by its practices; (ii) establish a new loan pricing policy and a new loan officer compensation policy; (iii) provide fair lending and fair housing training to loan officers and bank employees; and (iv) establish a monitoring program designed to, at a minimum, assess loan pricing disparities.

In May 2013, the FDIC conducted a consumer compliance examination of the bank and found reason to believe that its lending practices violated the FHA and ECOA, prompting the agency to refer the matter to the DOJ on February 7, 2014.

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New York DFS Requires Mortgage Originator to Surrender License for Exam Cheating Scheme

On November 19, the New York DFS announced a consent order with a nonbank mortgage originator to resolve allegations that its employees engaged in a scheme to cheat on state-required continuing education courses and exams. Specifically, the DFS alleged that at least 20 Mortgage Loan Originators (MLOs), including the Chief Executive Officer and former Chief Operating Officer, encouraged compliance staff to take required continuing education courses and exams on their behalf. Furthermore, the MLOs “shared information acquired during licensing exams with . . . senior management, despite the fundamental obligation of test-takers to preserve the confidentiality of all such information.” The DFS’s examination of the mortgage originator revealed additional state banking law violations, including (i) failing to provide mandatory disclosures on more than 100 subprime loans; (ii) misstating applicable late fees on at least three loans; (iii) failing to maintain the minimum line of credit; and (iv) underreporting its total New York revenue in its 2010 and 2011 Volume of Operations Report. The settlement requires the mortgage originator to immediately surrender its mortgage banker’s license and its status as an exempt mortgage servicer in New York, and pay a civil money penalty in the amount of $1 million.

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California DBO Reaches Settlement with Mortgage Lender regarding Affiliate Settlement Service Fees

On November 19, the California DBO announced a settlement with a residential retail mortgage lender to resolve allegations that, from September 30, 2009 through January 21, 2014, it overcharged consumers for a settlement service fee to cover third-party services, and also failed to disclose that the third-party servicer was an affiliated business and that some of its services were performed by the lender’s employees. Additionally, the DBO alleged that the company did not provide examiners with the necessary documentation to account for the full third-party settlement service fee. To resolve Federal and State compliance violations, the company will pay an estimated $2.8 million of combined restitution to more than 70,000 borrowers across the country, and $7.4 million in administrative penalties to participating states where the company is licensed. The settlement requires the company to revise its policies and procedures and, by December 31, 2015, provide adequate training on those revisions to management, mortgage loan originators, and support staff.

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GA Department of Banking and Finance Enters into Consent Order with Mortgage Lender and Owner

On October 21, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (the Department) announced a consent order with a South Carolina-based mortgage lender and its individual owner to resolve a Notice of Intent to Revoke Annual License and an Order to Cease and Desist. The Department alleged that the individual and the company violated the Georgia Residential Mortgage Act by (i) making false statements or misrepresentations to the Department; (ii) making false statements and misrepresenting material facts in mortgage loan documents; (iii) operating an unapproved branch with an unapproved branch manager; (iv) failing to perform the appropriate background checks on covered employees; and (v) transacting business with an unlicensed person who was not exempt from licensing requirements. Under the terms of the Order, the individual is prohibited from (i) applying for a Georgia mortgage loan originator, mortgage broker, or mortgage lender license; (ii) serving as a director, officer, or any other equivalent role for a Georgia mortgage broker or lender; and (iii) acting as a branch manager for a Georgia branch of a Georgia licensed mortgage broker or lender. In addition, the lender must pay $29,000 to the Department and $1,000 to the State Regulatory Registry, LLC to support the NMLS. The lender also must surrender its license from the Department.

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CSBS Announcement: Arizona Department of Financial Institutions Becomes Latest State Agency to Adopt National SAFE MLO Test

On July 29, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS) announced that the Arizona Department of Financial Institutions began using the National SAFE Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO) Test, making it the 47th state banking agency to adopt the SAFE MLO Test containing Uniform State Content. Combining both the national and state testing requirements of the SAFE Act and the CSBS/AARMR model state law, the test with Uniform State Content was first made available to state banking agencies on April 1, 2013 to help streamline the application process for MLOs seeking to obtain licensure in more than one state. Since April 1, 2013, according to the CSBS, over 58,000 MLOs have taken the National SAFE MLO Test with Uniform State Content. Notably, applicants who take the test on or after October 3, 2015, will be expected to understand requirements of the TRID Rule as promulgated by the CFPB.

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Maryland Court of Appeals Rules Borrowers Barred By Three-Year Statute of Limitations in HELOC Decision

On June 23, The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals in Windesheim v. Larocca, 2015 WL 3853500 (MD. 2015), holding that the statute of limitations for a mortgage origination fraud case began to run at origination because the borrowers had inquiry notice of the loan terms. Under the alleged “buy-first-sell-later” scheme, the borrower-plaintiffs contend that the realtor and lender-defendants encouraged the borrowers to open home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) on their current homes while simultaneously selling their current homes. The lenders allegedly forged documents and signatures in order to approve both the HELOCs and the mortgages on new homes. The trial court initially found that the claims were time-barred, as the plaintiffs should have discovered the alleged fraud when the loans were originated. On appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court, the plaintiffs succeeded in reversing the decision of the trial court. The defendants then filed their own appeal, and the Court of Appeals sided with the trial court in holding that the three-year statute of limitations had run. In particular, the Court of Appeals held that the borrowers had inquiry notice at origination because they signed the loan applications and thus were “presumed to have read and understood their contents.” Furthermore, the statute of limitations was not tolled by Maryland law or the fiduciary rule “because there is neither evidence that the Petitioners encouraged Borrowers not to read the Applications nor evidence that the Borrowers and Petitioners were in a fiduciary relationship.” The Court of Appeals further held that the defendants neither engaged in nor conspired to engage in false or misleading indirect advertising regarding secondary mortgage loans.

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CFPB Publishes Eighth Edition of Supervisory Highlights

On June 23, the CFPB published its eighth edition of Supervisory Highlights, covering supervisory activities from January 2015 through April 2015. The latest edition identifies issues with dual-tracking at mortgage servicers and the need for improved quality control measures at consumer reporting agencies. The report also provided supervisory observations related to debt collection, student loan servicing, mortgage origination and servicing, and fair lending. Notably, the report reveals that non-public supervisory actions and self-reported violations at banks and nonbanks in the areas of mortgage origination, fair lending, mortgage servicing, deposits, payday lending, and debt collection resulted in $11.6 million in remediation to more than 80,000 consumers during the first four months of 2015.

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FHA Announces Updated Defect Taxonomy to Clarify its Plan for Classifying Loan Defects Found in its Single-Family Loan Portfolio

On June 18, the FHA released its Single-Family Housing Loan Quality Assessment Methodology (“Defect Taxonomy”), a framework outlining the agency’s plans to identify and capture information related to loan defects found in Single-Family FHA endorsed loans. The new framework is intended to increase the efficacy of FHA’s Quality Assurance efforts and focuses on three core concepts – (i) identifying defects, (ii) capturing the sources and causes of defects, and (iii) assessing the severity of defects. Once implemented, the Defect Taxonomy will reduce the number of codes that the FHA uses to describe loan defects from 99 to nine.  Additionally, the Defect Taxonomy will implement “Basis of Ratings Codes” that will capture both the sources and causes of defects.  Finally, the Defect Taxonomy will refine FHA’s process for communicating the severity of defects by subdividing its current categories of “Unacceptable” and “Deficient” findings into four tiers of findings that will describe defects in greater detail. The FHA anticipates that these changes will provide greater transparency to lenders so that they can mitigate their credit risk when originating FHA loans. FHA further hopes that the Defect Taxonomy will help FHA monitor for deficiency trends and enhance its program policies.  In its announcement, FHA warns that the Defect Taxonomy “is not a comprehensive statement on all compliance monitoring or enforcement efforts by FHA or the Federal Government and does not establish standards for administrative or civil enforcement action….”  FHA also maintains that the Defect Taxonomy does not address how FHA will respond (i) to findings of patterns and practices of loan-level defects in FHA originations or (ii) to findings of fraud or misrepresentation in connection with any FHA-insured loan.  FHA has yet to set a date for the Defect Taxonomy to take effect.

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Nevada Assembly Passes Legislation Relating to Mortgage Lending and Servicing Regulation, Licensing and Fees

On June 9, Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NV) signed into law AB 480, which revises existing law concerning the licensing and regulation of escrow agents and escrow agencies.  The law also authorizes a wholesale lender from outside the state to operate in Nevada as a mortgage broker or mortgage banker, and increase fees related to those roles.  Further, the bill requires the Commissioner of Mortgage Lending to prescribe by regulation the requirements for licensing, regulation and discipline of mortgage servicers.  Specific sections of the bill – 101.3, 101.7, and 103 – are effective immediately, while others become effective January 1, 2016.

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CFPB Reminds Mortgage Lenders to Include Section 8 Income

On May 11, the CFPB issued Bulletin 2015-02, reminding creditors to include income from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Homeownership Program when underwriting mortgage loans. Within the Bulletin, the Bureau noted that it “has become aware of one or more institutions excluding or refusing to consider income derived from the Section 8 HCV Homeownership Program during mortgage loan application and underwriting processes,” further mentioning that “some institutions have restricted the use of Section 8 HCV Homeownership Program vouchers to only certain home mortgage loan products or delivery channels.” The Bulletin warns that disparate treatment prohibited under ECOA and Reg. B may exist when a creditor does not consider Section 8 as a source of income and provides guidance on how lenders can mitigate their fair lending risk. In conjunction with the guidance, the CFPB also published a blog post, providing an overview of the Section 8 HCV Program and detailed how consumers can submit complaints if they believe they have been discriminated against.

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Georgia Banking Regulator Revokes License of Pennsylvania Mortgage Lender

On April 13, the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (Department) entered into a Consent Order (Order) with a Pennsylvania-based mortgage lender and its owners for failing to file a timely application with the state regulator. Specifically, the Order was entered into with the lender to resolve a Notice of Intent to Revoke and proposed Orders to Cease and Desist for allegedly, among other things, allowing the acquisition of 10 percent or more of the ownership of a Georgia licensed entity without first filing an application with the Department, conducting business with an unlicensed person who is not exempt from licensing, employing a felon, and making false statements or misrepresenting material facts in mortgage loan documents. Under terms of the Order: (i) the lender must surrender its mortgage license and pay a $5,000 fine; (ii) one of its owners must surrender his MLO license, must pay two fines of $1,000 each to both the Department and the State Regulatory Registry, and is prohibited from being employed by a licensed Georgia mortgage broker or lender for five years; and (iii) another owner must contribute $1,000 to the State Regulatory Registry and is prohibited for five years from acquiring more than 10% voting shares of a Georgia licensed company. The Order also prohibits both aforementioned owners from: (i) applying for mortgage loan originator, mortgage broker, or mortgage lender licenses; (ii) serving as a director, officer or any other equivalent role for a Georgia licensee; and (iii) acting as a branch manager for a Georgia branch of a Georgia licensed mortgage broker or lender.

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Northern District of California Denies Motion to Dismiss Claims of Negligent Oversight of Loan Origination Employee

On March 31, the Northern District of California denied a Michigan-based mortgage company’s motion to dismiss a Louisiana resident’s amended complaint alleging that the company was negligent in hiring and supervising a branch manager later indicted for wire and mail fraud. Theime v. Cobb, et al., No. 13-cv-03827, 2013 WL 1477718 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2015). According to the amended complaint, a California branch manager for the mortgage company separately originated and arranged residential bridge loans under a fictitious business name and solicited money from investors, including the plaintiff, to fund the loans. The Plaintiff alleged that the activities of selling second mortgage bridge loans took place in the Defendant’s California offices using some of Defendant’s resources and that the Defendant ultimately condoned the employee’s bridge loan activities. In denying the mortgage company’s motion to dismiss, the court relied on allegations that the company was aware of and encouraged the branch manager’s separate bridge loan activity and that the manager paid her staff to work in the company’s offices and commingled offices and services.

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