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 Updates Modification Policies

On March 28, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-05, which provides, as recently promised, updated guidance regarding standard and streamlined modification programs. The announcement informs servicers that, by July 1, 2014, for mortgage loans with a pre-modified mark-to-market loan-to-value ratio less than 80%, servicers must ensure that borrowers satisfy all eligibility requirements for a Fannie Mae standard or streamlined modification. The announcement details the specific steps servicers must take to calculate the terms of the trial period plan. It also provides information for servicers to use in determining the appropriate information to include in an evaluation notice or solicitation letter, and informs servicers that if a borrower is eligible for a trial period plan with more than one amortization term, the borrower may choose an amortization term but the trial period plan notice must inform the borrower that he or she will not be able to change the amortization term after the first payment is received. The announcement states that if a mortgage loan becomes 60 or more days delinquent within 12 months of the modification effective date, the servicer must not approve another modification. Finally, Fannie Mae states that if the first trial period plan payment submitted by a borrower does not correspond to an amortization term payment offered in the plan, the servicer must use the shortest amortization term provided in the plan that is covered by the borrower’s actual payment to determine the amortization term and monthly payment obligation.

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Fannie Mae To Begin Assessing Fees For Late, Inaccurate Reporting

On March 28, Fannie Mae notified servicers that, effective May 1, 2014, it will begin issuing warning letters and assessing compensatory fees to servicers that fail to submit Fannie Mae investor reporting system reports on a timely basis or that fail to use the correct data and formats. Alternatively, Fannie Mae reserves the right to issue an indemnification demand to any servicer that breaches these servicing requirements. Currently, Fannie Mae sends a Failed Business Rules report to servicers who fail to meet these requirements. After May 1, a servicer may be assessed: (i) greater of $250 or $50 per mortgage loan, up to a maximum of $5,000, for the first instance of late or inaccurate reporting; (ii) greater of $500 or $50 per mortgage loan, up to a maximum of $10,000, for the second instance of late or inaccurate reporting, if it occurs within one year of the first instance; and (iii) greater of $1000 or $50 per mortgage loan, up to a maximum of $15,000, for each subsequent instance of late or inaccurate reporting within one year of the most recent previous instance.

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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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S.D. Fla. Court Holds TILA Assignee Liability Limited To Violations Apparent At Time Of Assignment

On March 10, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida held that a mortgage assignee “may only be held liable for violations that are apparent on the face of disclosure documents that exist at the time of the assignment.” Alaimo v. HSBC Mortg. Servs., Inc., No. 13-62437-CIV, 2014 WL 930787 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 10, 2014). In this case, a borrower sued his current servicer alleging that the servicer violated Section 1641 of TILA by failing to disclose, upon the borrower’s request, the identity of the owner and master servicer of the loan, as well as the total outstanding balance that would be required to satisfy the mortgage loan in full as of a specified date. The court determined that TILA’s plain language demonstrates that “Congress intended assignees to be responsible only for violations within documents that existed prior to assignment.” While acknowledging the potential policy implication of its decision that could allow assignees to avoid liability for certain TILA violations, the court declined to go beyond congressional intent. The court rejected the borrower’s argument that TILA’s requirement that an assignee provide written notice to the borrower upon acquiring the loan includes an exception to the prerequisites for a suit against an assignee. The court dismissed the borrower’s suit.

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New York Financial Services Regulator Urges More Enforcement Against Individuals, Reaffirms Focus On Nonbank Mortgage Servicers

On March 19, New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky called on banking regulators to assess whether they are doing enough, particularly with regard to enforcement, to deter or prevent financial crime. In remarks delivered to the Exchequer Club, Mr. Lawsky asserted that true deterrence means focusing not only on corporate liability, but individual accountability. He called on banking regulators to “publicly expose – in great detail – the actual, specific misconduct that individual employees engaged in,” and, where appropriate, ensure individuals face “real, serious penalties and sanctions when they break the law.” Mr. Lawsky is the most recent of several regulators and policymakers to advocate for more individual accountability. Federal enforcement officials, including CFPB Director Richard Cordray and SEC Chair Mary Jo White, have similarly threatened an enhanced enforcement focus on individuals. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff wrote critically of financial fraud enforcement, and suggested “that the future deterrent value of successfully prosecuting individuals far outweighs the prophylactic benefits of imposing internal compliance measures that are often little more than window-dressing.” In addition to his prepared statement on individual enforcement, Superintendent Lawsky devoted a substantial amount of his remarks and Q&A responses to his concerns about nonbank mortgage servicers. He specifically raised concerns about nonbank servicers’ staffing, especially in the context of the single point of contact requirements of the CFPB’s new servicing rules and the agreements certain servicers entered into with the DFS in 2011 and 2012.

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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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Fifth Circuit Dismisses RICO Claims Against MERS; Texas District Court Dismisses Similar Claims

On March 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed on different grounds the dismissals of two cases filed against MERS, the electronic mortgage registry, and its member banks, holding that the complaints failed to adequately plead a RICO injury to the plaintiffs’ “business or property.” Welborn v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon Corp., No, 13-30103, 2014 WL 843262 (5th Cir. Mar. 5, 2014). The cases consolidated for appeal were filed separately by parish and county land recorders in Louisiana and Texas who claimed that fraudulent statements about the legal effect of MERS caused fewer filings in their offices, which decreased fee revenues and undermined the accuracy of records. The district courts in both cases dismissed the complaints, holding that the land recorders were improperly seeking to enforce through the RICO statute the Trust Indenture Act of 1939 (TIA). Without resolving the dispute over whether the complaints sought to enforce the TIA, or whether doing so through civil RICO would be permitted, the court instead dismissed the complaints because they failed to allege an “injury to business or property” under RICO and therefore did not state legally cognizable claim sufficient to survive Rule 12(b)(6). The court explained that under RICO, recovery by a government is only authorized for “injuries suffered in its capacity as a consumer of goods and services,” and that alleged injury to the general economy or the government’s ability to carry out its functions is insufficient. Here, the court held, the alleged injuries did not arise from commercial activity, but rather from a governmental function. A day earlier, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas dismissed a similar case filed by other Texas counties, alleging violations of a Texas recording statute. The court held that the statute at issue contains no remedy provision, and nothing stating or suggesting that a county may seek relief under the statute, and that the statute does not require the recordation of interim instruments, such as assignments of deeds of trusts. Dallas County v. Merscorp, Inc., No. 11-2733, 2014 WL 840016 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 4, 2014). The court granted summary judgment in favor of MERS and related defendants and dismissed the case.

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More CFPB Senior Staff Changes Announced

On March 12, the CFPB announced several new senior officials, as described below.  We also have learned that Peter Carroll, the CFPB’s Assistant Director for Mortgage Markets, will be leaving the Bureau later this month.

  • Jeffrey Langer has joined the CFPB as the Assistant Director of Installment and Liquidity Lending Markets in the Bureau’s Research, Markets, and Regulations Division. Mr. Langer most recently served as senior counsel at Macy’s, Inc., prior to which he was a lawyer in private practice. Mr. Langer is a founding fellow and treasurer of the American College of Consumer Financial Services Lawyers and is a former chair of the Consumer Financial Services Committee of the American Bar Association Business Law Section.

    Mr. Langer will fill a position vacated by Rick Hackett last year.  At the time of Mr. Hackett’s departure, Corey Stone, Assistant Director, Credit Information, Collections, and Deposit Markets, took over smaller dollar loan markets on a permanent basis. Rohit Chopra, the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman, took responsibility for auto and student loans on an acting basis. Although Mr. Stone will continue to oversee smaller dollar loan markets, including payday and auto title loans, the addition of Mr. Langer allows Mr. Chopra to focus only on his Ombudsman duties.

  • Christopher D. Carroll has joined the CFPB as the Assistant Director and Chief Economist for the Office of Research in the Bureau’s Research, Markets, and Regulations Division, as the CFPB announced last year. Dr. Carroll is a professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, from which he has taken a leave of absence to serve at the Bureau. He also is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the co-chair of the NBER Research Group on Consumption. Dr. Carroll has served as a senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisors on two separate occasions, and as an economist for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Ron Borzekowski, who joined the CFPB at its inception from the Federal Reserve Board, has been serving as the acting head of the Office of Research.
  • Daniel Dodd-Ramirez has joined the CFPB as the Assistant Director of Financial Empowerment in the Bureau’s Consumer Education and Engagement Division. Mr. Dodd-Ramirez previously served as the executive director of Step Up Savannah Inc. in Savannah, Ga., from 2005 to 2014. Prior to Step Up, he served as education project director and community organizer for People Acting for Community Together (PACT) in Miami, Florida, and before that was the human resources director for Families First, a social services agency in southern Vermont.
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FDIC Releases Interagency Mortgage Examination Procedures

On February 25, the FDIC issued FIL-9-2014 to notify supervised institutions of new consumer compliance examination procedures for the mortgage rules issued pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act, that took effect nearly two months ago.  FDIC examiners will use the revised interagency procedures to evaluate institutions’ compliance with the new mortgage rules. The FDIC states that during initial compliance examinations, FDIC examiners will expect institutions to be familiar with the mortgage rules’ requirements and have a plan for implementing the requirements. Those plans should contain “clear timeframes and benchmarks” for updating compliance management systems and relevant compliance programs. “FDIC examiners will consider the overall compliance efforts of an institution and take into account progress the institution has made in implementing its plan.”

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Fannie Mae Updates Servicing Policies

On February 26, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-04, which states that a servicer must retain in the mortgage loan servicing file all supporting documentation for all expense reimbursement claims, in addition to other servicing and liquidation information. A servicer must document its compliance with all Fannie Mae policies and procedures, including but not limited to, timelines that are required in the Servicing Guide, and must maintain in the individual mortgage loan file all documents and system records that preserve Fannie Mae’s ownership interest in the individual mortgage loan. The Announcement also (i) clarifies that when Fannie Mae requests a mortgage loan servicing file for a quality control review, the servicer must include supporting documents for all expense reimbursement claims it has submitted or intends to submit to Fannie Mae; (ii) states that a servicer must submit the final Cash Disbursement Request (Form 571) within 30 days after completion of a loss mitigation alternative, filing a mortgage insurance claim for a property that will be conveyed to the insurer or guarantor, acquisition of a property by a third party at a foreclosure sale, or disposition of an acquired property; (iii) provides examples of information sufficient to support a servicer’s attorney expense reimbursement request; and (iv) clarifies that when a servicer transfers its contractual right to service some or all of its Fannie Mae single-family servicing to another Fannie Mae-approved servicer, any variance or waiver granted to a transferor servicer does not automatically transfer to the transferee servicer, and the transferor and transferee servicers must ensure that all existing special servicing obligations associated with the transferred mortgage loan are disclosed. Finally, in a separate notice, Fannie Mae announced that it may adjust the Fannie Mae Standard Modification Interest rate for Fannie Mae Standard or Streamlined Modifications on a monthly basis, beginning July 1, 2014.

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Class Action Alleging Servicers Engaged in Loan Modification Fraud Dismissed With Prejudice

On February 20, the U.S. District Court for Central District of California dismissed with prejudice a putative class action against several large mortgage servicers because the named borrowers failed to properly plead their allegations that the servicers stonewalled loan modification applications in order to continue earning servicing fees. Casault v. Federal National Mortgage Association, No. 11-10520, 2014 WL 689884 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2014). In their third amended complaint, the borrowers alleged three causes of action against the servicers: (i) fraud; (ii) violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL); and (iii) violation of the Rosenthal Act, California’s version of the FDCPA. The court granted the servicers’ motion to dismiss the fraud allegation because they failed to allege any causal connection between the scheme and the borrowers’ foreclosure. The borrowers alleged only that the foreclosures were the result of their inability to make their mortgage payments, even after receiving loan modifications. The court dismissed the UCL claim because the borrowers could not demonstrate a right to a loan modification—through contract, promissory estoppel, or some other theory—and, as a result, could not prove injury in fact. Finally, the court dismissed the borrowers’ claims under the Rosenthal Act because they failed to allege facts demonstrating that their loans defaulted prior to the debt being assigned to the servicers.

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House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Seeks Scrutiny Of Servicing Rights Transfers

On February 19, House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter asking Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry and National Mortgage Settlement Monitor Joseph Smith to “carefully scrutinize the sale of mortgage servicing rights from banks to nonbanks” to ensure nonbank servicers have the capacity to handle increased loan volume and that borrowers are not harmed. Representative Waters explained that consumer advocates are concerned that when a bank subject to the National Mortgage Settlement transfers MSRs to a nonbank not subject to the National Mortgage Settlement, the transferred loans are not afforded the same protections as they would be under that agreement. Ms. Waters is concerned that the CFPB rules that would apply to such transferred loans offer fewer protections than those in the National Mortgage Settlement. She also requested that the Comptroller and/or the Monitor examine the extent to which servicing transfers are potentially being used to “evade the modification of loans for borrowers who would benefit most from the terms of the Settlement.” Ms. Waters joins other policymakers, including the CFPB’s Deputy Director and New York’s banking regulator, who recently raised concerns about the impact on borrowers from the transfer of mortgage servicing rights.

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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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New Mexico Supreme Court Analyzes State’s Foreclosure Standing Requirements, Ability To Repay Standard

On February 13, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that a borrower’s ability to repay a home mortgage loan is one of the “borrower’s circumstances” that lenders and courts must consider in determining compliance with the New Mexico Home Loan Protection Act (HLPA). Bank of New York v. Romero, No. 33,224, 2014 WL 576151 (N.M. S. Ct. February 13, 2014). In this case, after two borrowers became delinquent on a cash-out refinance mortgage loan, a bank initiated a foreclosure action in state court. The trial court and appellate court rejected the borrowers’ arguments that the bank failed to establish that it was the holder of the note and that the loan violated the “anti-flipping provision” of the HLPA, which prohibits creditors from knowingly and intentionally making a refinance loan when the new loan does not have reasonable, tangible net benefit to the borrower considering all of the circumstances—i.e. “flipping” a home loan. The Supreme Court reviewed the state’s stringent standing requirements and held that possession of the note alone is insufficient to establish standing and that the bank failed to provide other evidence sufficient to demonstrate transfer of the note. Although its decision on standing mooted the issue of the alleged HLPA violation, the court decided to address the issue given some party may eventually establish standing to foreclose. The court, in what might be considered dicta, stated that although the “anti-flipping provision” of the HLPA did not specifically include ability to repay as a factor to be considered in assessing the “borrower’s circumstances,” it could find “no conceivable reason why the Legislature in 2003 would consciously exclude consideration of a borrower’s ability to repay the loan as a factor of the borrower’s circumstances.” As such, the court stated that the HLPA’s “reasonable, tangible net benefit” requirement must include as a factor “the ability of a homeowner to have a reasonable chance of repaying a mortgage loan,” and that here the lender failed to do so when it claimed to rely solely on the borrowers’ assertions about their income and failed to review tax returns or other documents to confirm those assertions. Finally, the court also stated that (i) the National Bank Act does not expressly preempt the HLPA; (ii) the bank failed to prove that conforming to the dictates of the HLPA prevents or significantly interferes with its operations; and (iii) the HLPA does not create a discriminatory effect. The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions and remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate its foreclosure judgment and to dismiss the bank’s foreclosure action for lack of standing.

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