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District Court grants summary judgment concerning TILA, ECOA, FHA claims

Courts Consumer Finance TILA ECOA Disparate Impact Fair Housing Act Fair Lending State Issues Indiana

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On August 12, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an order denying plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment and granting defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment in an action concerning alleged violations of TILA, ECOA, and FHA disparate impact claims. According to the court’s determination, the defendant corporate entity was not a “creditor” during the leasing portion of the underlying rent-to-buy (RTB) agreements, and the plaintiffs lacked standing on certain claims because the wrong parties were targeted.

The defendant realty group purchases, sells, and manages real estate. The plaintiffs all entered into RTB agreements with the realty group that allowed the renter to make 24 payments and then execute a sales contract for the property. The agreements carried interest rate terms between 9.87 and 18 percent. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants, among other things, did not provide TILA-required disclosures for high-cost mortgages, did not require written certifications that tenants had obtained counseling prior to entering into the transaction, and did not provide property appraisals to tenants.

The plaintiffs sued alleging several claims under TILA for failure to provide required information. However, the court concluded that during the 24-month rental period, the realty group was not a “creditor” but was instead a “landlord.” Moreover, the court determined that “the only entities that could arguably be considered creditors are the Individual Land Trusts as the sellers and parties to the Conditional Sales Contract.” These trusts were not named as defendants, the court observed, adding that the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of showing that the land trusts were sufficiently related to the named defendants to allow the court to “pierce the corporate veil” and hold the named defendants liable for actions conducted by the non-party individual land trusts.

With respect to the plaintiffs’ ECOA claims, which claimed that the realty group’s policies and practices were intentionally discriminatory and had a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin, the court applied the same rationale as it did to the TILA claims and again ruled that the realty group was not a “creditor.” In terms of plaintiffs’ FHA claims, the court said that “the racial disparity must have been created by the defendant.” In this action, the court determined that the realty group did not create the condition, reasoning that “the fact that lower-priced homes are more likely to exist in minority neighborhoods is not of Defendants’ making and existed before, and without, the RTB Program.”

However, the court’s order does allow certain individual and class claims related to disparate treatment under the FHA to proceed, as well as certain claims regarding Indiana law related to standard contract terms and the condition of homes in the RTB program.

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