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The Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month issued a final disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). HUD’s new Final Rule is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Inclusive Communities). While the new Final Rule is a notable development, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision makes it unclear to what extent courts and federal agencies will look to the rule for guidance.
On September 4, HUD released the final rule amending agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”). The final rule, among other things, seeks to (i) codify the burden-shifting framework from the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert); (ii) create a uniform standard for determining when a policy or practice has a discriminatory effect in violation of the Fair Housing Act; and (iii) codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Based on public feedback, the final rule largely adopts the August 2019 proposed rule (covered by InfoBytes here) with a number of clarifying and substantive changes.
A Special Alert from Buckley on the details of the final rule will soon be available.
On September 4, the CFPB released its summer 2020 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of consumer reporting, debt collection, deposits, fair lending, mortgage servicing, and payday lending. The findings of the report, which are published to assist entities in complying with applicable consumer laws, cover examinations that generally were completed between September and December of 2019. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Consumer Reporting. The Bureau cited violations of the FCRA’s requirement that lenders first establish a permissible purpose before they obtain a consumer credit report. Additionally, the report notes instances where furnishers failed to review account information and other documentation provided by consumers during direct and indirect disputes. The Bureau notes that “[i]nadequate staffing and high daily dispute resolution requirements contributed to the furnishers’ failure to conduct reasonable investigations.”
- Debt Collection. The report states that examiners found one or more debt collectors (i) falsely threatened consumers with illegal lawsuits; (ii) falsely implied that debts would be reported to credit reporting agencies (CRA); and (iii) falsely represented that they operated or were employed by a CRA.
- Deposits. The Bureau discusses violations related to Regulation E and Regulation DD, including requiring waivers of consumers’ error resolution and stop payment rights and failing to fulfill advertised bonus offers.
- Fair Lending. The report notes instances where examiners cited violations of ECOA, including intentionally redlining majority-minority neighborhoods and failing to consider public assistance income when determining a borrower’s eligibility for mortgage modification programs.
- Mortgage Servicing. The Bureau cited violations of Regulation Z and Regulation X, including (i) failing to provide periodic statements to consumers in bankruptcy; (ii) charging forced-placed insurance without a reasonable basis; and (iii) various errors after servicing transfers.
- Payday Lending. The report discusses violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act for payday lenders, including (i) falsely representing that they would not run a credit check; (ii) falsely threatening lien placement or asset seizure; and (iii) failing to provide required advertising disclosures.
The report also highlights the Bureau’s recently issued rules and guidance, including the various responses to the CARES Act and the Covid-19 pandemic.
On August 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s decision to partially dismiss an action brought by the City of Oakland, alleging a national bank violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, Oakland alleged that the national bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) reduced spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. The district court dismissed the City’s municipal expenditure claims, but allowed claims based on decreased property tax revenue to continue. The district court also held that the City could pursue its claims for injunctive and declaratory relief.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit affirmed the court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss as to Oakland’s claims for decreased property tax revenue and the court’s dismissal of Oakland’s claims for increased city expenditures. Specifically, with respect to claims for reduced tax revenue, the appellate court concluded that the “FHA’s proximate-cause requirement is sufficiently broad and inclusive to encompass aggregate, city-wide injuries.” Based on allegations that the City could use statistical regression analysis “to precisely calculate the loss in property values in Oakland’s minority neighborhoods that is attributable to foreclosures caused by [the bank’s] predatory loans,” the 9th Circuit found that Oakland’s claim for decreased property tax revenues “has some direct and continuous relation to [the bank]’s discriminatory lending practices.” Regarding the City’s alleged municipal expenditure injuries, the appellate court agreed with the district court that Oakland’s complaint failed to account for independent variables that may have contributed or caused such injuries and that those alleged injuries therefore did not satisfy the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement. Finally, the appellate court held that the City’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were also subject to the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement, and that on remand, the district court must determine whether Oakland’s allegations satisfied this requirement.
On August 24, the CFPB filed another status report in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as required under a stipulated settlement reached in February with a group of plaintiffs, including the California Reinvestment Coalition. The settlement (covered by InfoBytes here) resolved a 2019 lawsuit that sought an order compelling the Bureau to issue a final rule implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the Bureau to collect and disclose data on lending to women and minority-owned small businesses. Details on the Bureau’s first status update can be found here.
Among other things, the Bureau noted in the status report that (i) on July 22, it released a “survey of lenders to obtain estimates of the onetime costs that lenders would incur to prepare to collect data required by Section 1071”; and (ii) on August 11, it provided the SBA and the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs a draft Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) outline regarding proposals under consideration and alternatives considered. The status report emphasizes that the Bureau is “on track” to release a SBREFA outline by September 15 and convene a SBREFA panel by October 15, as required by the settlement.
On July 28, the CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) seeking input on ways to create a regulatory environment that expands credit access and ensures consumers and communities are protected from discrimination with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction. The RFI seeks comments to “identify opportunities to prevent credit discrimination, encourage responsible innovation, promote fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, address potential regulatory uncertainty, and develop viable solutions to regulatory compliance challenges under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and Regulation B.” The RFI is in lieu of a symposium previously planned for this fall on topics related to ECOA. Information received will assist the Bureau in exploring ways to address regulatory compliance challenges, prevent unlawful discrimination, and foster innovation. Among other things, the Bureau seeks comments on ways to provide clarity under ECOA and/or Regulation B related to: (i) disparate impact analysis; (ii) meeting the credit needs of borrowers with limited English proficiency; (iii) special purpose credit programs; (iv) affirmative advertising to disadvantaged groups; (v) small business lending, particularly minority and women-owned firms; (vi) the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of a sexual orientation or gender identity; (vii) the scope of federal preemption of state law; (viii) situations in which “creditors seek to ascertain the continuance of public assistance benefits in underwriting decisions”; (ix) credit underwriting decisions based in part on models using artificial intelligence or machine learning; and (viii) adverse action notices. Comments on the RFI are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The same day, Director Kathy Kraninger published a blog post outlining Bureau priorities for ensuring a more inclusive financial system. In addition to the RFI, Kraninger discussed (i) the usefulness of the consumer complaint system in identifying cases of discrimination and fair lending violations; (ii) examinations and enforcement actions; (iii) the Bureau’s request for legislative authority to compensate whistleblowers; and (iv) education efforts focusing on consumers’ rights in the financial marketplace, including those related to disparities in student loan outcomes.
On July 23, the DOJ and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York filed a complaint and proposed settlement agreement with a national bank to settle charges that the bank engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against people with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act. According to the complaint, policies put in place by the bank beginning in January 2010 allegedly denied mortgage and home equity loans to adults with disabilities living under guardianships or conservatorships. The complaint further claims that the bank, in certain circumstances, denied mortgage loans to applicants who “made explicit requests” for the bank to “reconsider its denial” and accept court orders specifically permitting the guardian or conservator to act on behalf of the disabled individual. These policies were changed in 2016 for mortgage loans and in 2017 for home equity loans, the DOJ noted. The bank, however, denied the allegations, asserting that it did not, and does not, unlawfully discriminate on any prohibited basis, and that during the time period in question, it made “mortgage loans to persons with handicaps and disabilities without restrictions, including some adult applicants who had legal guardians or conservatorships.” Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the bank has agreed to pay $4,000 to each affected loan applicant, with a total expected payout of approximately $300,000. The bank is also required to (i) maintain the revised loan underwriting policies; (ii) train employees on the new policies; and (iii) monitor loan processing and underwriting activities to ensure Fair Housing Act compliance.
On July 23, HUD announced plans to ultimately terminate the 2015 version of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, while proposing a new final rule titled “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.” The new final rule includes a detailed history of the expansion of the AFFH concept and details concerns with the 2015 rule. According to HUD, the AFFH rule is, among other things, overly burdensome, costly, and ineffective. However, several senators argued against HUD’s originally proposed replacement (covered by InfoBytes here), contending that the proposed rule would reverse efforts to make access to housing fair and equitable and “relies on the faulty premise that simply increasing housing supply can address the problems of housing discrimination and segregation.” HUD stated that after reviewing comments on the proposed changes, the agency ultimately determined them to be “unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with,” and noted that it had instead established programs to bring capital into underserved communities where affordable housing is present but opportunities are not. The new final rule broadly defines “fair housing” to be “housing that, among other attributes, is affordable, safe, decent, free of unlawful discrimination, and accessible under civil rights laws,” and defines “affirmatively furthering fair housing” as “any action rationally related to promoting” any of the attributes of fair housing. Specifically, a grantee’s certification that it has affirmatively furthered fair housing would be deemed sufficient provided it proposed taking action to further fair housing policy during the relevant period. The new final rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On July 20, a group of eighteen senators wrote to the acting Comptroller of the OCC, Brian Brooks, regarding reports that senior officials at the agency “have undermined OCC examiners’ efforts to investigate and pursue violations of civil rights laws,” including the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and ECOA. The letter cites to reports of at least three instances where examiners allegedly found discriminatory lending patterns present, yet OCC leadership failed to pursue action against the institutions.
The senators argue that failing to pursue fair lending violations “not only harms borrowers and their communities, but also undermines meaningful bank evaluations under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).” The senators list a series of questions regarding the OCC’s supervision of the FHA and ECOA since 2017, including information covering the number of fair lending citations that the OCC has issued, as well the number of fair lending referrals the OCC has made to the DOJ. The letter sets a response deadline of July 31.
On July 15, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a complaint against a Chicago-based nonbank mortgage company alleging fair lending violations predicated, in part, on statements made by the company’s owner and other employees during radio shows and podcasts from 2014 through 2017. The complaint, filed in federal court in Illinois, marks the first instance in which a federal regulator has taken a public enforcement action against a nondepository institution based on allegations of redlining.
According to the CFPB, the mortgage company violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by engaging in discriminatory marketing and applicant outreach practices that allegedly:
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Making customers whole: Trends in remediation and restitution expectations" at the American Bar Association Business Law Virtual Section Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fairness gone viral: Fair lending considerations for financial institutions amid Covid-19" at the American Bar Association Business Law Virtual Section Meeting
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "High standards: Best practices for banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Wait wait ... do tell me! Where the panelists answer to you" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Matthew P. Previn and Walter E. Zalenski to discuss "Is valid when made ... valid?" at the Women in Housing & Finance Partner Series webinar
- Warren W. Traiger and Caroline K. Eisner to discuss "CRA modernization and the OCC final rule" at CBA Live
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Transnational corruption: A chat with former U.S. federal prosecutors in New York" at Marval Live Talks
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk and Lauren Frank to discuss "New CFPB interpretation on UDAAP" at a California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality and Compliance Committee webinar
- Thomas A. Sporkin to discuss "Managing internal investigations and advanced government defense" at the Securities Enforcement Forum
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Independent monitoring in the United States" at the World Compliance Association Peru Chapter IV International Conference on Compliance and the Fight Against Corruption
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Pandemic fallout – Navigating practical operational challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute