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On October 7, the CFPB filed a petition for panel or en banc rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, asking the appellate court to reconsider its recent determination “that practicing attorneys are categorically exempt from Regulation O,” as it strips the CFPB “of the authority given it by Congress to hold attorneys to account for violations not just of Regulation O, but of a host of other federal laws as well.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) In 2014, the CFPB, FTC, and 15 state authorities took action against several foreclosure relief companies and associated individuals, alleging that they made misrepresentations about their services, failed to make mandatory disclosures, and collected unlawful advance fees (covered by InfoBytes here). A ruling issued by the district court in 2019 (covered by InfoBytes here) ordered nearly $59 million in penalties and restitution against several of the defendants for violations of Regulation O, but was later vacated by the 7th Circuit based on the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Liu v. SEC, which held that a disgorgement award cannot exceed a firm’s net profits—a ruling that is “applicable to all categories of equitable relief, including restitution.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
In its appeal, the Bureau did not challenge the vacated restitution award, but rather argued that a rehearing is necessary to ensure that the agency can bring enforcement actions against attorneys who violate federal consumer laws, including Regulation O. “The panel’s conclusion. . .threatens to disrupt the existing federal regulatory scheme for multiple consumer laws and expose ordinary people across the country to an increased risk of harm from illegal practices,” the Bureau stated, adding that 12 U.S.C. § 5517(e) does not limit the Bureau’s ability to pursue a civil enforcement action against practicing attorneys who are subject to Regulation O. According to the Bureau, Paragraph 3 of § 5517(e) states that the limitation on the Bureau’s authority “‘shall not be construed’ to limit the Bureau’s authority with respect to an attorney ‘to the extent that such attorney is otherwise subject’ to an enumerated consumer law or transferred authority.” The Bureau asked the 7th Circuit to reconsider its decision on this issue or, in the alternative, withdraw that portion as unnecessary to the outcome.
On October 5, HUD issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking comments regarding the transition from the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) to alternate indices on adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). According to the ANPRM, most ARMs insured by FHA are based on LIBOR, which is likely to become uncertain after December 31 and to no longer be published after June 30, 2023. Due to the uncertainty, HUD has begun to transition away from LIBOR and has approved the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) index in some circumstances. In recognizing that there may be certain difficulties for mortgagees transitioning to a new index, HUD “is considering a rule that would address a Secretary-approved replacement index for existing loans and provide for a transition date consistent with the cessation of the LIBOR index.” Furthermore, HUD “is also considering replacing the LIBOR index with the SOFR interest rate index, with a compatible spread adjustment to minimize the impact of the replacement index for legacy ARMs.” Comments on the ANPRM are due by December 6.
The same day, Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles spoke at the Structured Finance Association Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, reminding participants that they should cease utilizing LIBOR by the end of the year, “no matter how unhappy they may be with their options to replace it,” and further warned that the Fed will supervise firms accordingly. Quarles emphasized that, “[g]iven the availability of SOFR, including term SOFR, there will be no reason for a bank to use [LIBOR] after 2021 while trying to find a rate it likes better.”
On September 30, HUD announced disaster assistance for certain areas in Vermont impacted by a severe storm and flooding from July 29 to July 30, providing foreclosure relief and other assistance to affected homeowners. This followed President Biden’s major disaster declaration for the counties of Bennington and Windham issued on September 29. The following day, HUD announced disaster assistance for certain areas in Montana affected by the Richard Spring Fire from August 8 to August 20, also providing foreclosure relief and other assistance to affected homeowners. This followed President Biden’s major disaster declaration for Rosebud County and the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation issued on September 30. According to the announcement, federal funding is additionally available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation in all areas of Montana.
For both disaster relief measures, HUD is providing an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages for covered properties and is making FHA insurance available to victims whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged, such that “reconstruction or replacement is necessary.” Additionally, HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program will allow individuals who have lost homes to finance the purchase of a house, or refinance an existing house and the costs of repair, through a single mortgage. The program will also allow homeowners with damaged property to finance the rehabilitation of existing single-family homes. Flexibility measures for state and local governments, public housing authorities, tribes, and tribally designated house entities are also addressed.
On September 29, FHA requested stakeholder review and feedback on the draft Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) Origination through Servicing sections of its Single Family Housing Policy Handbook 4000.1. The new draft sections are a continuation of the agency’s move toward a consolidated, authoritative Handbook 4000.1, and contain revisions to policy language to improve clarity and consistency along with proposed new policies. FHA stated that once the final version is published, the HECM Origination through Servicing sections will conform to the new organizational structure of Handbook 4000.1 and will replace existing HECM guidance on: (i) origination through post-closing and endorsement; (ii) appraiser and property requirements; (iii) servicing and loss mitigation; and (iv) glossary and acronyms. Feedback on the draft sections (posted on the agency’s drafting table) are due by November 15.
On September 22, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted a national bank’s motion for summary judgment in an action claiming the bank allegedly failed to pay interest on mortgage escrow accounts. The plaintiff filed a putative class action asserting various claims including for violation of Section 12-109 of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), which requires lenders to pay interest on funds maintained in escrow on behalf of borrowers. In response, the bank filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the MCPA is preempted by the National Bank Act and by 2004 OCC preemption regulations. In 2020, the court denied the bank’s motion to dismiss after it determined, among other things, that under Dodd-Frank, national banks are required to pay interest on escrow accounts when mandated by applicable state or federal law. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Citing previous decisions in similar escrow interest cases brought against the same bank in other states (covered by InfoBytes here and here), the court stated that Section 12-109 “does not prevent or significantly interfere with [the bank’s] exercise of its federal banking authority, because [Section] 12-109’s ‘interference’ is minimal, when compared with statutes that the Supreme Court has previously found were preempted.” The court further noted that state law—which “still allows [the bank] to require escrow accounts for its borrowers”—provides that the bank must pay a small amount of interest to borrowers if it chooses to maintain escrow accounts.
However, in its most recent ruling, the court held that the MCPA does not authorize the plaintiff to sue either. “[T]his court finds that § 12-109 does not confer a private right of action,” the court wrote, adding that the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim could not get around a notice-and-cure provision in her mortgage agreement that she had not complied with before suing. The plaintiff argued that these requirements did not apply because “her self-styled breach of contract claim is actually a statutory claim because the allegedly breached contractual provision is one which pledges general adherence to applicable law.” The court disagreed, stating that under the plaintiff’s theory “any claim for breach of contract, which also violated a federal or state law, would be vaulted to a privileged hybrid status. Such claims would enjoy an unlimited private right of action (regardless of whether the underlying statute created one) and. . .would be unbounded by any of the provisions or conditions precedent detailed in the contract itself.” The court also ruled that the plaintiff’s escrow statements, which “correctly reflected that her account was not accruing interest,” are themselves “not rendered deceptive by the mere fact that Plaintiff believes such interest is owed.”
On September 30, the CFPB issued an analysis of recent rules that ensure mortgage servicers provide options to potentially vulnerable borrowers exiting forbearance. The analysis points out that there are approximately 1.6 million borrowers exiting mortgage forbearance programs and that many may be vulnerable to a greater risk of harm due to a variety of circumstances, which may have been exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Bureau issued a final rule earlier this year, which took effect August 31, obligating servicers to continue specifying, with substantial detail, any loss mitigation options that may help borrowers resolve their delinquencies. In April, the CFPB also urged mortgage servicers “to take all necessary steps now to prevent a wave of avoidable foreclosures this fall.” Citing the millions of homeowners in forbearance due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bureau’s April compliance bulletin warned servicers that consumers would need assistance when pandemic-related federal emergency mortgage protections expire (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition, in August the Bureau released an overview report of Covid-19 pandemic responses from 16 large mortgage servicers, finding that, among other things: (i) most servicers reported abandonment rates of less than 5 percent during the reporting period, while others’ rates exceeded 20 percent, with one servicer as high as 34 percent; (ii) most servicers saw increased rates of borrowers who were delinquent upon exiting pandemic hardship forbearance programs in March and April 2021 compared to previous months; and (iii) delinquency rates ranged from about 1 percent to 26 percent for federally-backed and private loans (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the September analysis, the Bureau “encourages servicers to enhance their communication capabilities and outreach efforts to educate and assist all borrowers in resolving delinquency and enrolling in widely available assistance and loss mitigation options.” The Bureau further encourages servicers to ensure that their compliance management systems include robust measures and warns against one-size-fits-all practices that may harm vulnerable consumers.
On September 29, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued circulars providing updates for servicers on assisting borrowers who continue to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Circular 26-21-19, servicers may continue to offer loan deferments as a home retention option to borrowers exiting a Covid-19 forbearance period. Servicers who select this option will defer repayment of principal, interest, taxes, and insurance “to the loan maturity date or until the borrower refinances the loan, transfers the property, or otherwise pays off the loan (whichever occurs first) and with no added costs, fees, or interest to the borrower, and with no penalty for early payment of the deferred amount.” The VA’s Covid-19 Home Retention Waterfall and Covid-19 Refund Modification guidance, issued in July (covered by InfoBytes here), provides that the loan deferment option may be used in situations where a borrower indicates that he or she can resume normal monthly guaranteed loan payments but cannot repay the arrearages. Additionally, the VA notes that in order “to relieve undue prejudice to a debtor, holder, or other person,” it is “temporarily waiving the requirement that the final installment on any loan shall not be in excess of two times the average of the preceding installments.” This waiver, the agency notes, is applicable only to VA’s Covid-19 Home Retention Waterfall cases. The Circular is rescinded July 1, 2023.
The same day, the VA also issued Circular 26-21-20 to clarify timeline expectations for forbearance requests submitted by affected borrowers. “For borrowers who have not received a COVID-related forbearance as of the date of this Circular, servicers should approve requests from such borrowers provided that the borrower makes the request during the National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic.” The VA states that it expects all Covid-19 related forbearances to end no later than September 30, 2022.
On September 28, the OCC reported that 95 percent of first-lien mortgages were current and performing at the end of the second quarter of 2021—an increase from 91.1 percent at the end of the second quarter of 2020 (the first full quarter of the Covid-19 pandemic). According to the report, seriously delinquent mortgages declined from 4.6 percent in the prior quarter (6.8 percent a year ago) to 3.8 percent. During the second quarter of 2021, servicers initiated 592 new foreclosures—a 28.9 percent decrease from the prior quarter but a 137.8 percent increase from a year ago. The OCC noted that events related to the pandemic, such as foreclosure moratoriums, “significantly affected these metrics.” Additionally, mortgage modifications decreased 17.1 percent from the prior quarter. Of the reported 39,599 mortgage modifications, 53.3 percent reduced borrowers’ pre-modification monthly payments, while 97.2 percent were “combination modifications” that “included multiple actions affecting affordability and sustainability of the loan, such as an interest rate reduction and a term extension.”
On September 24, the FDIC released a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in August. During the month, the FDIC issued eight orders consisting of “one Consent Order, three terminations of Consent Orders, two Orders to Pay Civil Money Penalty, one Removal/Prohibition Order, and two Section 19 Orders.” Among the orders is an order to pay a civil money penalty imposed against a Nebraska-based bank related to alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act. Among other things, the FDIC claimed that the bank “[m]ade, increased, extended or renewed a loan secured by a building or mobile home located or to be located in a special flood hazard area without providing notice to the borrower and/or the servicer as to whether flood insurance was available for the collateral.” The bank also allegedly “[f]ailed to comply with proper procedures for force-placing flood insurance in instances where the collateral was not covered by flood insurance at some time during the term of the loan.” The order requires the payment of a $3,000 civil money penalty.
On September 27, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2021-24, which extends and adds Covid-19 relief options for borrowers who are struggling with mortgage payments due to the pandemic and for senior homeowners with Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM) who require assistance to stay in their homes. According to HUD, these actions are in response to the impact of the pandemic and “are part of FHA’s continuing evolution of its COVID-19 policies so that the right tools are in place to help borrowers.” FHA is now providing: (i) “up to six months of COVID-19 Forbearance for borrowers requesting an initial COVID-19 Forbearance or HECM Extension from their mortgage servicer between October 1, 2021, and the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency, and an additional six months if the COVID-19 Forbearance or HECM Extension is exhausted and expires before the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency”; and (ii) “up to six months of additional forbearance for borrowers who requested or will request an initial COVID-19 Forbearance or HECM Extension from their mortgage servicer between July 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021, allowing these borrowers up to a maximum of 12 months of COVID-19 Forbearance or HECM Extension.”
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate an interactive roundtable at the Latin Lawyer and GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations Conference
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: You have license renewal questions, we have answers
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek