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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

New York AG warns mortgage servicers of obligation to help homeowners affected by Covid-19

State Issues State Attorney General Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Covid-19 New York Consumer Finance

State Issues

On December 13, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter warning mortgage servicers operating in the state of their obligation to help homeowners impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The letter, which was also sent to mortgage industry trade associations, reiterated that mortgage servicers are expected to comply with New York law and federal regulations and guidelines when providing long-term relief to affected homeowners. James also announced “that the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) Mortgage Enforcement Unit (MEU) will be helping to oversee the distribution of New York state’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) announced last week by New York Governor Kathy Hochul.” According to the letter, HAF funds “may be used to pay off arrears or reduce mortgage principal so that homeowners can qualify for an affordable loan modification.” However, James stressed that these funds “must supplement rather than replace the mortgage industry’s own efforts,” adding that mortgage servicers must “play their part by offering homeowners all available loss mitigation options before that homeowner seeks an outside HAF grant, in order to help the program save as many homes as possible.” MEU will contact the mortgage industry, including New York legal services and housing counseling agencies, to provide additional information on the HAF application process. MEU will also be responsible for reviewing HAF applications to determine whether homeowners have been presented all available and affordable loan modification options.

James’ announcement stated that mortgages servicers are also expected to comply with streamlined modification programs offered by various federal agencies, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, and must also “provide comparable relief (pursuant to New York state Banking Law § 9-x and New York’s mortgage servicing regulations) to homeowners whose mortgages are owned by private investors through private label securities or by banks in their own portfolios.” Mortgage servicers should also prepare for surges in requests for assistance, and will be held responsible for staffing shortages and poor customer communications, James warned. She noted in her letter that the OAG is “currently investigating whether certain servicers of privately-owned mortgages have failed to offer homeowners the forbearance relief and post-forbearance modifications required by New York Banking Law § 9-x,” and emphasized that the OAG “will continue to monitor compliance and initiate enforcement actions against individual mortgage servicers as needed to protect New York homeowners.”

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