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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

California Dept. of Real Estate reminds licensees of fiduciary duty requirements

Licensing State Issues California Loan Origination LO Comp Rule Steering Mortgages Consumer Finance

The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) recently reminded real estate licensees with a mortgage loan origination (MLO) endorsement of their fiduciary duty to borrowers. DRE licensees (including brokers, salespersons, and broker-associates supervised by a broker) who provide mortgage brokerage services to a borrower act as a fiduciary of that borrower, the DRE said, explaining that this “includes placing the economic interest of the borrower ahead of their own.” The Bulletin noted that California courts have held that the fiduciary relationship not only requires the broker to act in the highest good faith toward their client but also prohibits the broker from obtaining any advantage over the client by virtue of the fiduciary relationship. Licensees who violate their fiduciary duties may face DRE-disciplinary action against their real estate license and/or MLO endorsement and may also expose themselves to civil liability.

Licensees are reminded that they are required to be aware of all laws, regulations, and rules governing their activities, including the federal Loan Originator Compensation (LO Comp) Rule, which “prohibits loan originators, including brokers, from receiving compensation based on the terms of consumer mortgage transactions.” Prior to the LO Comp Rule, mortgage brokers often received commissions that varied based on the terms of the mortgage loans they obtained for their clients, and in many cases received larger commissions on loans carrying less advantageous terms (e.g., loans with a higher interest rate would result in a larger commission than the same loan with a lower interest rate). The LO Comp Rule now prohibits this practice.

The Bulletin also reminded licensees that receiving greater compensation for acting against the economic interests of a consumer would also violate a broker’s fiduciary responsibility to place the economic interest of their client ahead of their own, should the decision be motivated by a financial desire to increase compensation. Further, licensees may not steer or direct a borrower to close a loan with a particular lender in exchange for receiving a higher commission unless the transaction is the best loan for the borrower. Licensees must also disclose to a borrower the costs and expenses associated with the loan, and disclose all compensation received in the transaction. Taking any secret or undisclosed compensation, commission, or profit is also prohibited, the Bulletin said.