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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Maryland Court of Appeals says inspection fee ban applies to mortgage assignees and servicers

Courts State Issues Usury Mortgages Debt Collection

Courts

On August 27, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the Maryland Usury Law applied to assignees of mortgage loans–and not just lenders as a defendant argued–and that the law’s prohibition on property inspection fees therefore applied to the mortgage servicer, as the agent of the loan’s assignee. The borrower entered into a mortgage loan secured by a deed of trust that was later assigned to Fannie Mae and contracted to the mortgage servicer. After the borrower defaulted, the servicer allegedly threatened foreclosure and assessed “fees for drive-by inspections of the property.”

The parties entered into a loan modification agreement to resolve the default, but the borrower objected to the inclusion of the property inspection fees. The borrower later filed a complaint claiming the servicer collected property inspection fees prohibited by the Maryland Usury Law (CL §12-121). The borrower also alleged violations of the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (MCDCA). The trial court dismissed the claims concluding, among other things, that neither Fannie Mae nor the servicer were subject to state usury prohibitions because neither entity “fit the definition of ‘lender’ in the law.” An intermediate appellate court later reversed the trial court’s dismissal.

In a 6-1 holding, the Court of Appeals concluded that “the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation has taken the position that mortgage servicers. . .are subject to the prohibition on inspection fees in CL §12-121 during the life of a mortgage loan,” and that, moreover, CL §12-121 “limits the authority of a person who makes a mortgage loan to charge property inspection fees in connection with that loan.” As such, the Court of Appeals held that the addition of the definition of “lender” to the Maryland Usury Law that made the Usury Law part of the Commercial Law Article, “did not change that rule.” The Court of Appeals also stated that the borrower adequately alleged the elements of an MCDCA claim when she asserted the servicer “attempted to collect an alleged debt by asserting a right to collect inspection fees with knowledge that the right did not exist.”

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