District Court Concludes Mortgage Servicer’s Actions Violated RESPA

On January 28, the U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Washington, having determined that a mortgage loan servicer violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and committed the tort of outrage, ordered the servicer to pay more than $200,000 in economic and emotional distress damages to a borrower. Lucero v. Cenlar FSB, No. 13-0602 (W.D. Wash. Jan. 28, 2016). The borrower and servicer had agreed to a loan modification in early 2013. However, the borrower believed that the servicer was misreporting her loan as delinquent, in spite of the modification. In April 2013, the borrower filed a lawsuit against the mortgage servicer alleging “that [it] violated its credit reporting obligations” and “seeking damages related to the way in which [the mortgage servicer] (and others) had sought to foreclose on her mortgage.” The servicer then began charging the plaintiff for attorney’s fees and costs that it was incurring in defending the ongoing litigation. The plaintiff requested additional information regarding the charges on numerous occasions, but it was not until June 2014 that the servicer’s counsel said “that the fees that were charged to her account had incurred in this litigation, that they are recoverable under the Deed of Trust, and that the notifications were required by a federal regulation.” The court found that the servicer “failed to timely and fully respond to [the plaintiff’s] March 25, 2014 requests for information regarding the nature of and jurisdiction for the fees that were appearing on her monthly statements,” a violation RESPA, which requires “servicers to respond to a qualified written request…for information within specified time frames.” It also held that the charging of attorney’s fees to the borrower was not permitted under the Deed of Trust under the circumstances. In awarding emotional distress damages, the court stated that the servicer’s message to the plaintiff – “continue this litigation and we will take your home” – was “beyond the bounds of decency and [] utterly intolerable.”

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CFPB Responds to MBA Letter, Clarifies TRID Implementation Expectations

On December 29, the CFPB responded to a December 21, 2015 letter from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) regarding “lingering misperceptions and technical ambiguities” in TRID regulations that went into effect on October 3. The CFPB’s letter notes that, given inevitable yet unintentional errors in the early stages of the mortgage industry’s implementation of the regulations, regulators’ initial examinations will focus on industry members’ good faith efforts to ensure compliance with the rule. The CFPB further emphasized that examinations will be “corrective and diagnostic, rather than punitive.” Regarding cure provisions for violations of the rule, the letter states that TRID allows for corrections of specific post-closing errors, such as correcting non-numerical clerical errors and curing violations of monetary tolerance limits, if they exist. Moreover, TILA provisions regarding the corrections of errors will continue to apply to integrated disclosures: “TILA has long permitted creditors to cure violations, provided the creditor notifies the borrower of the error and makes appropriate adjustments to the account before the creditor receives notice of the violation from the borrower. 15 U.S.C. 1640(b).” The CFPB’s letter further advises the MBA that while TRID integrates disclosure requirements under RESPA and TILA, it does not “change the prior, fundamental principles of liability under either TILA or RESPA.”

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Fannie Mae Updates Servicing Guide; GSEs Update the Uniform Closing Dataset

On November 25, Fannie Mae issued Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2015-14 to reveal recent updates to the Servicing Guide. Specifically, Fannie Mae updated guidance relating to 10 areas, including but not limited to: (i) the Remittance of Property (Hazard) Insurance Loss Proceeds for Short Sales; (ii) Pledge of Servicing Rights and Transfers of Interest in Servicing Compensation; (iii) Timeline Requirements for HAMP Expanded “Pay for Performance” Incentive Notices; (iv) Early Delinquency Counseling Requirements; and (v) the removal of the Borrower Notification Sample Letter Exhibit.

In separate November 17 announcements, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively the GSEs) revealed updates to the Uniform Closing Dataset, developed as part of the Uniform Mortgage Data Program to facilitate lender submission of the Closing Disclosure Form under the new TILA/RESPA regulations. The updates revise Appendix A: Closing Disclosure Mapping to the MISMO and Appendix H: UCD Delivery Specification and include: (i) newly added data points; (ii) changes to conditionality for several data points; (iii) changes/additions to the enumerated values; and (iv) updates to conditionality details.

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Special Alert: CFPB Issues Guidance Regarding Marketing Services Agreements

On October 8, 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) published a compliance bulletin providing guidance to mortgage industry participants regarding the permissibility of marketing services agreements (“MSAs”) under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”).The bulletin summarizes the CFPB’s “grave concerns” that settlement service providers have been improperly using MSAs to circumvent RESPA’s restrictions on the payment of kickbacks and referral fees in exchange for real estate settlement services.

According to the bulletin, while MSAs are purportedly designed to permit individuals or entities to pay service providers bona fide compensation for goods, facilities, or services actually provided—which is expressly permitted under RESPA—in some cases, MSAs are actually used as a cover for illegal referral fee arrangements. The bulletin further notes that even facially-compliant MSAs can be implemented in a manner that ultimately results in the impermissible exchange of compensation for referrals of settlement service business, often as a result of the significant financial pressures that exist for participants in the mortgage and settlement service markets. The CFPB’s guidance emphasizes the dangers posed to consumers by MSA arrangements that hide or indirectly or inadvertently facilitate the unlawful exchange of payment for referrals of settlement service business, including potential increases in mortgage pricing and negative impacts on consumers’ ability to freely shop for mortgages and mortgage-related settlement services.

Click Here to View the Full Special Alert

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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.

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BuckleySandler Files Amicus Curiae Brief on Behalf of Industry Group in RESPA Case; Marks First Appeal Against CFPB Director Decision

On October 5, BuckleySandler attorneys filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Consumer Mortgage Coalition (CMC) in the first case to come up on appeal to the District of Columbia Circuit since the CFPB was founded in 2011. In the CMC’s brief, BuckleySandler attorneys argued that the CFPB Director’s decision to ignore the decades-long interpretation of Section 8 of RESPA will harm consumers by eliminating an important form of risk retention, making the home mortgage closing process more difficult and expensive for consumers, and will particularly harm the country’s least affluent mortgage borrowers.

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Ninth Circuit Rules Against Title Insurer in Long-Running RESPA Litigation

On August 24, the Ninth Circuit held that a title insurer’s equity investments in title agencies in exchange for agreements that the agencies would refer customers to the insurer violated the anti-kickback provisions of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Edwards v. First Am. Corp., 2015 WL 4999329 (9th Cir. Aug. 24, 2015). In this long-running case (covered in InfoBytes here, here, here, and here), borrowers filed a putative class-action lawsuit against the title insurer claiming violations of Section 8 of RESPA, which prohibits payments for the referral of settlement service business. In prior phases of the litigation, courts declined to certify the class, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually granted certiorari but declined to rule on the merits of the litigation. In this appeal, the plaintiff-borrowers asked the Ninth Circuit to review the district court’s most recent denial of class certification, and the CFPB filed an amicus brief in the appeal as well. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the certification, finding that common issues did not predominate over individual issues for the proposed class. The court further stated that, while RESPA exempts payments for “goods,” “facilities,” and “services” from Section 8’s prohibition on referral fees, the title insurer’s equity investments in the title agencies were not payments for “goods,” “facilities,” or “services.” Further, the court found that RESPA’s exemption from Section 8 available to affiliated business arrangements did not apply because no compensable services were performed by the title agencies in exchange for the payments and the title insurer did not receive any payments from the title agencies as a return on its ownership interests.

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United States District Court: Mortgagor Lacks Standing to Bring RESPA Claim

On August 11, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire rejected the addition of a potential RESPA claim to plaintiff’s complaint due to lack of standing, and the court dismissed the remaining counts for failure to state a claim. Sharp v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, As Trustee For Morgan Stanley ABS Capital Inc. Trust 2006-HE3, No. 14-cv-369 (D.N.H. Aug. 11, 2015). Although plaintiff and his father were both mortgagors on the mortgage document, the promissory note identified plaintiff’s father as the sole borrower for the loan. After plaintiff’s father died and plaintiff defaulted on the mortgage, plaintiff sought to enjoin the bank’s subsequent foreclosure proceedings. Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to add a RESPA claim based on the bank’s allegedly inadequate responses to his requests for information pursuant to 12 C.F.R. § 1024.35 and 12 C.F.R. § 1024.36. The court determined that plaintiff lacked standing to assert his RESPA claim because the RESPA provisions at issue only applied to borrowers, not mortgagors like plaintiff. The court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that his status as the successor-in-interest to his father under 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38 established standing to bring the RESPA claim. The court confirmed that plaintiff was protected by 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38, but the court relied on the CFPB’s official interpretation of 12 C.F.R. § 1024.38 to determine that no private right of action existed to enforce the rule.  Read more…

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Update Regarding Marketing Services Agreements (“MSAs”)

On Thursday, June 30, 2015, a CFPB spokesman issued a statement to HousingWire in response to the announcement by a large lender that it was terminating its MSAs:

[This] decision to exit all marketing services agreements is an important step for the mortgage industry towards ensuring compliance with [the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”)] and freeing up more choices for consumers.  We are concerned that such agreements can carry significant legal risk for companies and undermine transparency for consumers.  Companies should take note of today’s action and consider carefully whether their own business practices comply with the consumer protections provided under the law, which bars kickbacks for customer referrals.

These announcements come in the wake of the CFPB’s September 2014 consent order against Lighthouse Title, Inc. and CFPB Director Cordray’s June 2015 ruling against PHH Corporation and its affiliates. Both matters involved alleged violation of Section 8 of RESPA, which states that “[n]o person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.” 12 U.S.C. § 2607(a). However, Section 8 also states that “[n]othing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting … the payment to any person of a bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed.” 12 U.S.C. § 2607(c)(2).  Read more…

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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”).

Click here to view the full Special Alert. 

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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.

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CFPB Director Issues Decision on First Appeal of an Administrative Enforcement Proceeding

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.

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CFPB and Maryland AG Bring RESPA Enforcement Action Against Title Company and Six Individuals

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.

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OCC Issues Updated RESPA Examination Guidance to Supervised Institutions

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.

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CFPB Releases New Mortgage Toolkit in Anticipation of New Mortgage Disclosure Rule

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.”

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Trade Association Urges HUD to Delay Effective Date on Single-Family Housing Policy HandBook

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.

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POSTED IN: Miscellany, Mortgages

Eleventh Circuit Holds Settlement Service Fees Do Not Violate RESPA

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.

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POSTED IN: Consumer Finance, Courts