On June 4, CFPB Director Richard Cordray issued a decision on a mortgage lender’s appeal of an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order concerning alleged RESPA violations with respect to the lender’s mortgage reinsurance business. In his decision, Cordray largely affirmed the ALJ decision and ordered the lender to pay $109 million in disgorgement. Notably, because most of the conduct alleged occurred prior to the CFPB assuming jurisdiction over enforcement of RESPA, Cordray declined to impose a civil money penalty. In addition, Cordray agreed with the ALJ that no statute of limitations applies when the CFPB challenges a RESPA violation in an administrative proceeding, declaring that the statute of limitations applies only to judicial proceedings. Cordray also held that the lender committed a separate violation of RESPA every time it accepted a reinsurance payment from a mortgage insurer, even if the loan with which the payment was associated had already been consummated. This was the first appeal of an administrative enforcement proceeding before the CFPB.
Special Alert: CFPB Consent Order Applies Loan Originator Compensation Rule to Marketing Services Agreements
On June 5, the CFPB announced a consent order against Guarantee Mortgage Corporation, resolving allegations that the company paid loan originators based on the terms of their mortgage loans in violation of the Loan Originator Compensation Rule (the “LO Comp Rule”). Since inheriting responsibility for the LO Comp Rule in 2011, the CFPB has devoted substantial resources to revising the rule and enforcing its provisions. During that same period, the CFPB brought several actions enforcing the prohibition on referral fees in the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), including an action against Lighthouse Title, Inc. that created considerable uncertainty about the Bureau’s view of marketing services agreements (“MSAs”).
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Questions regarding the matters discussed in this Alert may be directed to any of our lawyers listed below, or to any other BuckleySandler attorney with whom you have consulted in the past.
On April 29, the CFPB and the Maryland Attorney General announced a joint enforcement action against a Maryland title company and six individuals for participation in a mortgage-kickback scheme in violation of RESPA and state law. According to the complaint, between 2009 and 2014, the title company allegedly provided kickbacks and marketing services to loan officers in exchange for referrals of business. Under a proposed consent order, the title company will be prohibited from committing further violations of RESPA. In addition, five of the six individuals will be banned from the mortgage industry and ordered to pay a total of $662,500 in redress and penalties, while the regulators are proceeding in litigation against the sixth individual. The enforcement action follows a January enforcement action, where the CFPB and the Maryland Attorney General announced a joint enforcement action against two banks for their participation in this particular mortgage-kickback scheme.
On April 14, the OCC issued the “Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act” booklet as part of the Comptroller’s Handbook, which is prepared for use by OCC examiners in connection with their examination and supervision of national banks and federal savings associations (collectively, “banks”). The revised booklet, which replaces a similarly titled booklet issued in October 2011, reflects updated guidance relating to mortgage servicing and loss mitigation procedures resulting from the multiple amendments made to Regulation X over the past several years. Notable revisions reflected in the revised booklet include: (i) the transfer of rulemaking authority for Regulation X from HUD to the CFPB; (ii) new requirements relating to mortgage servicing; (iii) new loss mitigation procedures; (iv) prohibitions against certain acts and practices by servicers of federally related mortgage loans with regard to responding to borrower assertions of error and requests for information; and (v) updated examination procedures for determining compliance with the new servicing and loss mitigation rules. The OCC notified its applicable supervised financial institutions of the changes affecting all banks that engage in residential mortgage lending activities by distributing OCC Bulletin 2015-25.
On March 31, the CFPB announced a new toolkit as part of its “Know Before You Owe” mortgage initiative. Designed to “help customers understand the nature and costs of real estate settlement services,” the step-by-step guide includes worksheets, checklists, and research tips for consumers. The new toolkit replaces an existing HUD booklet that creditors provide to mortgage applicants. The release of the toolkit precedes the August 1 effective date for the TILA/RESPA integrated disclosure rule, giving the industry “time to order and receive or print the new toolkit and integrate electronic versions into their mortgage origination systems.”
On March 26, 2015, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) sent a letter to HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Zadareky seeking clarification, guidance, and answers to outstanding questions raised by HUD’s early drafts of its new comprehensive Federal Housing Administration Single-Family Housing Policy Handbook. The MBA raises five particular concerns and requests a possible delay for the scheduled implementation date of June 15, 2015 for the following reasons in order to give the industry time to adapt including (i) some of the policy changes in the Handbook are expected to mean changes for the TOTAL Scorecard, and lenders will need access to a revised Developers Guide in order to align their systems with HUD’s systems; (ii) lenders are adapting to a large number of new legal and regulatory requirements. The TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule alone constitutes a major shift for lenders; (iii) it is currently not clear where a lender would go to find out if a borrower’s federal debt has been referred to the US Treasury for collection in order to comply with the Handbook’s requirement that delinquent Federal debt be resolved in accordance with the Debt Collection Improvement Act; (iv) the new required treatment of excluded parties puts an impossible burden on lenders because the lender must now guarantee that an employee of another company with which the lender is working does not have an employee who has been suspended or debarred by HUD; and (iv) the Handbook’s new definition of satisfactory credit is unclear and conflicts with payment history requirements in other sections of the Handbook.
On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed a homeowner’s claim that a title company violated RESPA fee-splitting bans during a refinanced mortgage closing by holding that if any real estate settlement service is rendered during a closing, fee charges for these services do not violate RESPA—regardless of whether such service is appropriate. A homeowner asserted that under state law, all real estate closing services are to be provided by a licensed attorney. Here, the title company performed all closing services and merely contracted with a law firm to provide an attorney to witness the closing, arguably not satisfying the law. The homeowner also claimed the title company unlawfully marked-up the recording fee and split it with the recording office. While holding that the homeowner satisfied standing requirements by alleging an unpaid refund as injury, the court declined to find that the title company violated RESPA. The court opined that even if it is illegal under state law to charge a settlement fee for services performed by a non-lawyer, services by both the title company and a law firm were performed nonetheless. Determining whether the fees were appropriate is not within the purview of the court or RESPA’s requirements. The marking-up of the recording fee also did not violate RESPA because both the title company and the recording office actually performed a service. The court subsequently dismissed the homeowner’s federal claims and remanded her state claims to the district court.
On February 12, 2015 the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky held that claims presented by the CFPB regarding a Kentucky-based law firm’s alleged violations of Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) were legally plausible and denied the Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings. The CFPB’s complaint—filed in October 2013 (as reported in InfoBytes Blog)—purported that principals of the law firm received illegal kickbacks for client referrals paid in the form of “profit distributions” from a network of affiliated title insurance companies. Additionally, it was asserted that the affiliated companies did not provide settlement services, thereby failing to comply with RESPA’s safe harbor for affiliated business agreements. 12 U.S.C. § 2607(c)(4). The Court stated that there was enough “factual detail” presented within the complaint for it to plausibly conclude that the firm had “committed the alleged misconduct,” that the Defendant failed to meet the first safe harbor element, and that the notice of the claim in the case had been “more than sufficient.” The memorandum also stated that the statute of limitations, which Defendants attempted to leverage, offered no guidance as to whether the firm was “entitled to judgment” on the pleadings, leading the Court to render its decision for the CFPB. CFPB v. Borders & Borders, PLLC, et al., No. 3:13-cv-1047-jgh (W.D. KY. February 12, 2015).
CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks
On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty, in part for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating refinance mortgage loans guaranteed by the VA, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil penalty, the consent order requires the lender to end any deceptive marketing, cease deceptive endorsement relationships, submit a compliance plan to the CFPB, and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
CFPB Orders Nonbank Mortgage Lender to Pay $2 Million Penalty for Deceptive Advertising and Kickbacks
On February 10, the CFPB announced a consent order with a Maryland-based nonbank mortgage lender, ordering the lender to pay a $2 million civil money penalty for allegedly failing to disclose its financial relationship with a veteran’s organization to consumers. According to the consent order, the CFPB alleged that the lender, whose primary business is originating VA loans, paid a veteran’s organization a fee to be named the “exclusive lender” of the organization and that failing to disclose this relationship in marketing materials targeted to the organization’s members constituted a deceptive act or practice under the Dodd-Frank Act. The CFPB further alleged that, because the veteran’s organization urged its members to use the lender’s products in direct mailings from the lender, call center referrals, and through the organization’s website, the monthly “licensing fee” and “lead generation fees” paid to the veteran’s organization and a third party broker company as part of marketing and referral arrangements constituted illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA. In addition to the civil money penalty, the consent order requires the lender to submit a compliance plan to the CFPB and comply with additional record keeping, reporting, and compliance monitoring requirements.
As previously reported in our Special Alert on January 20, the CFPB finalized certain amendments to its TRID rule, which combines the mortgage disclosures consumers receive under the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. Significant amendments include: (i) allowing three business days for providing a revised Loan Estimate after an interest rate is locked (instead of the current same day requirement and the original proposal’s one business day requirement); and (ii) permitting the inclusion of certain information about construction loans on the Loan Estimate. The final rule, as amended, takes effect August 1. For more information, please visit our TRID Resource Center.
On January 22, the CFPB and Maryland Attorney General announced an enforcement action against two banks, as well as a former loan officer and his wife, for alleged violations of RESPA and state law. The complaint filed in the District of Maryland alleges that loan officers at the banks accepted leads and marketing assistance from a title company in exchange for the referral of settlement service business to the title company. The parties filed Stipulated Final Judgments and Orders, under which one bank will pay approximately $10.8 million to consumers and $24 million in penalties, and the other bank will pay $300,000 to consumers and $600,000 in penalties. The individual loan officer and his wife will pay a combined $30,000 penalty.
On January 20, 2015, the CFPB finalized amendments to the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (“TRID”) rule that make a number of amendments, clarifications, and corrections, including:
- Relaxing the redisclosure requirements after a rate lock. The final rule permits creditors to provide a revised Loan Estimate within three business days after an interest rate is locked, instead of the current requirement to provide the revised Loan Estimate on the date the rate is locked (and instead of the proposed rule that would have allowed only one business day)
- Creating room on the Loan Estimate for the disclosure that must be provided on the initial Loan Estimate as a condition of issuing a revised estimate for construction loans where the creditor reasonably expects settlement to occur more than 60 days after the initial estimate is provided
- Adding the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure to the list of loan documents that must disclose the name and NMLSR ID number of the loan originator organization and individual loan originator under 12 C.F.R. § 1026.36(g)
- Providing additional guidance related to the disclosure of escrow accounts, such as when an escrow account is established but escrow payments are not required with a particular periodic payment or range of payments
- Clarifying that, consistent with the requirement for the Loan Estimate, the addresses for all properties securing the loan must be provided on the Closing Disclosure, although an addendum may be used for this purpose
On November 20, the CFPB announced the issuance of a proposed rule to amend RESPA (Reg. X) and TILA (Reg.Z). The proposed rule changes primarily focus on clarifying, revising or amending (i) Regulation X’s servicing provisions regarding force-placed insurance, early intervention, and loss mitigation requirements; and (ii) periodic statement requirements under Regulation Z’s servicing provisions. In addition, the proposed amendments also revise certain servicing requirements that apply when a consumer is a potential or confirmed successor in interest, is in bankruptcy, or sends a cease communication request under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Further, the proposed rule makes technical corrections to several provisions of Regulations X and Z. The public comment period will be open for 90 days upon publication in the Federal Register.
Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a class action lawsuit against a large financial institution for allegedly violating Section 8 of RESPA. Riddle v. Bank of America Corp., No. 13-4543 (3rd Cir. Oct. 15, 2014).The complaint, originally filed in 2012, alleged that, between 2005 and 2007, the defendant profited hundreds of millions of dollars from illegal referrals from private insurance companies. The plaintiffs failed to prove that the defendant engaged in fraudulent concealment that the plaintiffs relied upon. As a result, the Third Circuit dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim, citing the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. The court noted, “the clock has run on the plaintiffs’ RESPA claims, and despite ample opportunity, they are unable to create a triable fact that they are entitled to equitable tolling.”