On December 20, HUD announced in Mortgagee Letter 2013-45 that new requirements related to the FHA’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program (HECM) are tolled pending further guidance from the agency. Since announcing the new financial assessment requirements and funding requirements for the payment of property charges in September 2013, HUD has received comments that require HUD to update the requirements and guidance. Given those changes, HUD delayed the original date for compliance with the requirements—January 13, 2014—and will set a new effective date when it issues the updated guidance. Mortgagees will have at least 90 days to comply with the new guidance.
On January 3, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed with prejudice a putative class action alleging a bank breached its Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Deed of Trust and HUD regulations by failing to provide a surviving heir notice and opportunity to purchase the property at 95 percent of its appraised value. Chandler v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 11-3831, 2014 WL 31315 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2014). The court held that the plain language of the deed does not require such notice, in part because the relevant section of the deed that requires the lender to provide notice when the loan becomes due and payable and an option to purchase the property for 95 percent of its appraised value prior to foreclosure (i) specifically does not include as a triggering event the death of the borrower, and (ii) grants rights to the borrower, not the borrower’s heirs. The court also rejected the heir’s claims that HUD regulations required the same notice and opportunity to purchase. The court held that the HUD regulations were not incorporated into the deed, and, even if they were and could be read to allow an heir to take advantage of the 95 percent rule, the applicable HUD interpretation of those regulations at the time required full payment of the debt.
On November 22, an amendment to the Texas constitution took effect to permit the use of a reverse mortgage for the purchase of a homestead property. The amendment was approved by Texas voters on November 5. Under the amendment, a borrower must (i) occupy the homestead property as a principal residence within a specified time after the reverse mortgage closing and (ii) complete financial counseling before the reverse mortgage closing. The amendment requires a lender to provide to a prospective borrower a detailed disclosure of conduct that could lead to foreclosure, including among other things, the failure to pay property taxes.
Federal District Court Invalidates Application Of HUD Regulation Requiring Full Payment of Reverse Mortgage From Surviving Spouses
On September 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that a HUD regulation defining conditions under which it would insure a reverse mortgage agreement, which would have made it easier for lenders to foreclose on homes occupied by surviving spouses, contradicted the governing statute. Bennett v. Donovan, 11-498, 2013 WL 5424708 (D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2013). The surviving spouses in this case, neither of whom were legal borrowers under the reverse mortgages entered into by their spouses, sought declaratory relief that HUD’s regulations requiring that the mortgage be due and payable in full if a borrower dies and the property is not the principal residence of at least one surviving borrower violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the rule is inconsistent with the governing statute. The statute protects “homeowners,” as opposed to “borrowers,” from displacement and defines “homeowner” to include “spouse of the homeowner.” Applying the Chevron deference test, the court held that that the plain meaning of the statute is not contradicted by context or legislative history and clearly provides for the loan obligation to be deferred until the homeowner’s and the spouse’s death. The court held that the regulation as applied to the surviving spouses is invalid, and, consistent with guidance from the D.C. circuit, directed HUD to determine the appropriate relief.
On September 25, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-33, which clarifies the recent changes HUD made to its HECM program earlier this month through Mortgagee Letter 2013-27. The new letter (i) defines mandatory obligation, (ii) adds additional mandatory obligations for traditional and refinance transactions, and for purchase transactions, (iii) identifies items that must be included in the first twelve-month disbursement limit and initial MIP calculation, (iv) states that the monthly increase to the principal limit must include the annual mortgage insurance rate as well as the mortgage note interest rate, (v) corrects the calculation of the life-expectancy set-aside, (vi) makes accommodations for mortgagors who entered into a bona fide sales contract and made an earnest money deposit on a property before the issuance of Mortgagee Letter 2013-27, and (vii) clarifies an exception to the general policy that a mortgagee increase the available principal limit if the mortgagor makes a partial payment. On September 20, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-32 to supersede its prior guidance regarding loss mitigation in Mortgagee Letter 2012-22. The letter, among other things, (i) defines “continuous income,” other than wages, for loss mitigation evaluations, and other terms, (ii) establishes the conditions required for a “special forbearance” to be used as a loss mitigation tool, (iii) provides guidance on capitalization of arrearages for modifications and partial claims, and (iv) discusses working with mortgagors in bankruptcy and those failing to complete trial payment plans. Mortgagees are required to implement the policies in Mortgagee Letter 2013-32 by December 1, 2013.
On September 3, HUD announced changes to the reverse mortgage program that are intended to strengthen the FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund and to ensure that it provides a financially sustainable option to senior citizens. Changes reflected in Mortgagee Letter 2013-27 affect the following aspects of the program: (i) initial disbursement limits, (ii) initial mortgage insurance premiums, (iii) initial mortgage insurance premium calculations for refinance transactions, (iv) principal limit factors, (v) financial assessment requirements, and (vi) funding requirements for the payment of property charges based on the financial assessment. In addition, it creates a new single disbursement lump sum payment option. The requirements for preparing the financial assessments are specified in Mortgagee Letter 2013-28 and an Attachment also released on September 3.
Congress Passes Reverse Mortgage Legislation; Senate Banking Committee Approves Broader FHA Reform Legislation
On July 30, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act, H.R. 2167. The bill, which was passed by the House in June and now goes to the President for his signature, will allow HUD to use notices or mortgagee letters to establish additional or alternative requirements necessary to improve the fiscal safety and soundness of the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program.
On July 31, the Senate Banking Committee voted 21-1 to approve the FHA Solvency Act of 2013, S. 1376, as amended during committee markup. As previously reported, that bill also includes reverse mortgage provisions, as well as measures to more broadly reform the FHA. The bill as approved by the committee includes amendments that would, among other things, (i) provide that in addition to the principal dollar amount limitation on all insured HECM loans, fixed rate HECMs may not involve a principal limit with a principal limit factor in excess of .61, (ii) allow HUD to promulgate rules to require servicers of FHA loans to enter into a subservicing arrangement with any independent specialty servicer approved by HUD, and (iii) prohibit FHA from insuring a mortgage executed by a borrower who was the borrower under any two residential properties that have been previously foreclosed upon. In addition, during the markup committee members offered and then withdrew numerous amendments that later could be included in the bill that is considered by the full Senate. For example, those amendments would (i) create a statutory requirement that HUD/FHA repay Treasury for any funds needed to stabilize the MMI Fund, (ii) revise the indemnification provisions to provide certainty for lenders, and (iii) provide the FHA additional flexibility in times of financial crisis to ensure it can play a countercyclical role. Finally, committee members agreed to work with the FHA to expand loss mitigation options for individuals who receive income from sources other than employment.
On July 15, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) released a discussion draft of a bill intended to improve the solvency of the FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMI Fund). As with legislation recently passed by the House, the bill would allow HUD to manage its HECM program through mortgagee letters. Unlike the House bill, this draft further would require that, whenever HUD issues a HECM mortgagee letter, it also initiate a proposed rulemaking that addresses the subject of the mortgagee letter. The bill also would require that, for a mortgage to be eligible for insurance under the HECM program, the mortgage must contain terms and provisions for ensuring property maintenance, establishing escrow accounts, performing financial assessments, or limiting the amount of any payment made available under the mortgage.
In addition, the bill includes changes to the broader FHA insurance program, including provisions similar to those in a bill passed by the House last year with overwhelming bipartisan support. It would, for example, (i) set a minimum annual mortgage insurance premium of at least 55 basis points and increase existing up-front and annual premium caps by 50 basis points, (ii) direct HUD to establish underwriting standards using criteria similar to the CFPB’s criteria for Qualified Mortgages, and (iii) require that the MMI Fund achieve a capital reserve ratio of 3% within 10 years of enactment and establish escalating reporting requirements and program evaluations that take effect immediately if the capital ratio falls below required levels. Further, the bill would, among other things, (i) enhance HUD’s ability to seek indemnification from FHA-approved mortgagees approved to originate loans under the lender insurance program or the direct endorsement program, (ii) expand the criteria HUD uses to compare mortgagee performance and to allow HUD to terminate a mortgagee’s approval on a national basis, and (iii) require HUD to develop a single resource guide for lenders and servicers regarding the requirements, policies, processes, and procedures that apply to loans insured by FHA.
The committee has scheduled a legislative hearing on the bill for July 24, 2013.
On June 12, the U.S. House passed H.R. 2167, the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act, which would authorize the HUD Secretary to establish, by notice or mortgagee letter, any additional or alternative requirements determined necessary to improve the fiscal safety and soundness of the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program. During recent hearings in both the House and Senate, the FHA has sought more flexibility to pursue program changes outside of the formal rulemaking process. A Senate bill, S. 469 is similar to the House version, but in addition would require that HECM mortgages contain terms and provisions for establishing escrow accounts, performing financial assessments, or limiting the amount of any payment made available under the mortgage.
On May 22, the Texas legislature adopted a joint resolution, SJR 18, to propose an amendment to the Texas Constitution to allow a reverse mortgage for the purchase of a homestead property. Under the amendment, a borrower would need to (i) occupy the homestead property as a principal residence within a specified time after the reverse mortgage closing and (ii) complete financial counseling before the reverse mortgage closing. The amendment would require a lender to provide to a prospective borrower a detailed disclosure of conduct that could lead to foreclosure, including among other things, the failure to pay property taxes. The proposed amendment will be decided by the voters on November 5, 2013.
HUD Announces Reverse Mortgage Program Changes, Increases Mortgage Insurance Premiums, Alters Underwriting Requirements
On January 30, HUD announced that for FHA case numbers assigned on or after April 1, 2013, FHA will use a consolidated pricing option for its home equity conversion mortgages, as explained in more detail in Mortgagee Letter 2013-01. Separately, HUD also announced that effective April 1, 2013, the mortgage insurance premiums for most new mortgages will increase by 10 basis points, and by 5 basis points for jumbo mortgages. To further support the stability of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund, FHA also issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-04 to require most borrowers to continue paying annual premiums for the life of their mortgage loan, reversing a policy adopted in 2001 under which FHA cancelled premium requirements on loans when the outstanding principal balance reached 78 percent of the original principal balance. FHA also will (i) require lenders to manually underwrite loans for which borrowers have a decision credit score below 620 and a total debt-to-income ratio greater than 43 percent, (ii) increase from 3.5 to 5 percent the minimum down payment for jumbo loans, and (iii) increase its enforcement for FHA-approved lenders with regard to aggressive marketing to borrowers with previous foreclosures. Separately, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2013-02, which updates the certification language for all late endorsement requests for reverse mortgages. Finally, through Mortgagee Letter 2013-03, HUD extended to March 15, 2013 the date by which lenders must begin to assess borrowers in default under a new loss mitigation priority order and policies, as outlined in Mortgagee Letter 2012-22.
On January 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that two widowed spouses have standing to pursue allegations that a HUD regulation defining conditions under which it would insure a reverse mortgage agreement contradicted the governing statute, and in doing so made it easier for lenders to foreclose on homes occupied by surviving spouses. Bennett v. Donovan, No. 11-5288, 2013 WL 45879 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 4, 2012). The surviving spouses, neither of whom were legal borrowers under the reverse mortgages entered into by their spouses, sought declaratory relief that HUD’s regulations requiring that the mortgage be due and payable in full if a borrower dies and the property is not the principal residence of at least one surviving borrower violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the rule is inconsistent with the governing statute. The statute protects “homeowners,” as opposed to “borrowers,” from displacement and defines “homeowner” to include “spouse of the homeowner.” The district court held that the spouses lacked standing to sue HUD because relief for their injuries depended solely on the lenders’ decision whether to foreclose. The appellate court held, however, that in situations like those at issue here, it is within HUD’s power to provide complete relief to the lenders and borrowers, and therefore such relief is likely, as opposed to speculative, and as such is sufficient to establish standing. Though it limited its holding to the standing issue, the court added that it was “puzzled” by HUD’s attempt to justify a rule that appears to contradict the governing statute. Further, the court outlined potential relief that HUD could provide, explaining that HUD could accept assignment of the mortgage, pay off the balance of the loans to the lenders, and then decline to foreclose against the spouses. The court reinstated the case and remanded for further proceedings.
Last week, California enacted several additional mortgage-related bills. First, AB 1599 requires that a mortgagee, trustee, beneficiary, or authorized agent attach to the already required recorded notice of default and notice of sale, a summary of the information required to be contained in those notices. The notices must include a statement referencing the attached summary, but the summary need not be recorded or published. Second, SB 980 extends until January 1, 2017 the existing prohibition against persons facilitating loan modifications from requiring or accepting pre-performance compensation, requiring collateral to secure payment, or taking power of attorney from the borrower. Finally, AB 2010 requires that reverse mortgage counseling be conducted in person, unless the borrower elected to receive counseling in another manner.
On September 11, HUD announced the launch of a new platform to manage its home equity conversion mortgage portfolio. Mortgagee Letter 2012-17 advises mortgagees of the new system and related claim enhancements, and directs mortgagees to additional information about the new online platform.
On June 28, the CFPB released a report to Congress detailing the characteristics and evolving uses of reverse mortgages in today’s marketplace. The report presents findings from a CFPB study on reverse mortgages required by the Dodd-Frank Act. Among the findings, the CFPB report states that reverse mortgages are often difficult for consumers to understand. The report further observes that reverse mortgages are being used by younger borrowers to obtain all available equity upfront, a use that contravenes the original and intended use of reverse mortgage products and may pose substantial risks to consumers. Concurrent with the release of the report, the CFPB issued a Notice and Request for Information on topics related to reverse mortgages and will accept comments for 60 days following publication of the Notice in the Federal Register. The CFPB intends to use the information and comments received from the public, as well as the findings from its study, to determine whether further consumer education or regulatory action related to reverse mortgages is necessary.