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On July 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a class action challenging the lender placed insurance practices of a mortgage servicer, concluding that the filed-rate doctrine blocked the claims. According to the opinion, borrowers from North Carolina and New Jersey filed suit against their reverse mortgage lender and insurance company, alleging the lender and insurer colluded to overcharge consumers for lender placed insurance in violation of TILA, the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and various state laws. Specifically, the plaintiffs asserted that the insurance company charged an insurance rate, which was appropriately filed with state regulators, that was higher than the mortgage lender paid. The plaintiffs asserted the insurer then returned a portion of the profits back to the lender in order to induce continued insurance business. The district court dismissed the action, holding that the filed-rate doctrine blocked the claims.
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the lower court. The appellate court emphasized that under the filed-rate doctrine, there is no distinction between “challenging a filed rate as unreasonable and…challenging an overcharge fraudulently included in a filed rate.” Because the plaintiffs sought damages in connection with the alleged overcharge of insurance premiums, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiffs were “functionally challeng[ing] the reasonableness of rates filed with state regulators.” Moreover, the appellate court noted that if the court were to award damages to the plaintiffs, the court would essentially be “giving these borrowers a better price for [lender placed insurance] than other  borrowers using a different lender,” but the same insurer. Thus, because the insurance rate was appropriately filed with the state regulators, the appellate court had no ability to decide whether the rate was “unreasonable or fraudulently inflated,” because the claims were precluded by the filed-rate doctrine.
On June 1, the CFPB updated its reverse mortgage servicing examination procedures to incorporate current HUD regulations that provide the structure for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) products. The updated procedures also add new exam questions to include issues raised in complaints submitted by older consumers. According to the Bureau’s summary, additions to the procedures include: (i) information regarding situations where a “servicer advances funds to pay for property taxes in any situation where the borrower was not behind on these payments”; (ii) guidance concerning a servicer’s timeliness in providing accurate payoff statements; (iii) new language under “Causes of Default” summarizing the circumstances under which an eligible non-borrowing spouse on an HECM loan may stay in the home after the borrower dies, for loans originated on or after August 4, 2014; and (iv) new language in the background section, which “incorporates HUD’s August 2017 regulatory changes that affected the ways in which lenders and servicers calculate the initial and annual mortgage insurance premiums,” as well as additional language “to provide a fuller description of reverse mortgages.”
Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation issues guidance on reverse mortgages
On April 27, the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, Division of Banks, issued guidance relating to compliance with the reverse mortgage counseling requirements under An Act Providing for a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures During the Covid-19 Emergency, which was signed into law and effective on April 20, 2020. The act provides that the in-person counseling requirement under specific provisions of Massachusetts law can alternatively be met by synchronous, real-time video conference or by telephone. The division also provides guidance for counseling options for reverse mortgage counseling, HUD Certificate of HECM counseling, and other reverse mortgage programs.
On December 6, the New York governor signed AB 5626, which amends the state’s real property law related to lenders offering reverse mortgages in the state issued under the FHA’s home equity conversion mortgage for seniors program (HECM program). The Act provides that an authorized lender, or any other party or entity, is prohibited from engaging in any unfair or deceptive practices connected to the marketing or offering of reverse mortgage loans and must not: (i) use the words “public service announcement” in an advertisement or writing; (ii) use the words “government insured” or other similar language to represent that the reverse mortgage loans are “insured, supported and sponsored by any governmental entity” in any form of advertisement or writing; or (iii) “represent that any such loan is other than a commercial product.” Lenders will also be required to provide certain consumer protection information as specified by the NYDFS Superintendent, and must comply with stipulated requirements during the application process.
The Act also outlines various servicing- and foreclosure-related requirements and restrictions, and provides a private right of action to any person injured by reason of any violation of the Act, or any violation of the rules and regulations of HUD relating to the HECM program, to recover three times the person’s actual damages, plus reasonably attorney’s fees.
The Act takes effect March 5, 2020.
On December 3, HUD announced the maximum FHA loan limits for 2020, issuing Mortgagee Letter 19-19 for FHA-insured forward mortgage case numbers and Mortgagee Letter 19-20 for FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) case numbers. The general one-unit property limits “floor” increased to $331,760, and the “ceiling” increased to $765,600, while the HECM claim amount also increased to $765,600, effective January 1, 2020.
On May 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the dismissal of a consumer’s putative class action against her reverse mortgage servicer for the alleged improper placement of flood insurance on her home. The consumer claimed violations of the FDCPA and multiple Florida laws, including the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), based on allegations that the mortgage servicer improperly executed lender-placed flood insurance on her property, even though the condo association had flood insurance covering the property. The lender-placed flood insurance resulted in $5,200 in premiums added to the balance of the loan, and an increase in financing costs on the mortgage. The district court dismissed the action, concluding the mortgage servicer was required by federal law to purchase the flood insurance and the monthly account statements were not collection letters under the FDCPA or state law.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court that the monthly account statements of the reverse mortgage, which prominently stated “this is not a bill” in bold, uppercase letters, and did not request or demand payment, were not an attempt to collect a debt under the FDCPA. Additionally, the appellate court concluded that the consumer failed to allege the mortgage servicer was a debt collector within the meaning of the FDCPA because the complaint does not allege that the debt was in default. The appellate court also affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the state debt collection claims for similar reasons. However, the appellate court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the consumer’s FDUTPA claims, noting that the mortgage servicer failed to cite to a state or federal law requiring it to purchase flood insurance “when it has reason to know that the borrower is maintaining adequate coverage” in the form a condo association insurance.
On April 16, the Maryland Attorney General announced a settlement with a reverse mortgage servicer for allegedly charging homeowners illegal inspection fees. According to the Attorney General, from 2010 through 2016, the servicer passed the cost of inspecting properties in default on to homeowners, which Maryland law does not allow. In 2013, the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation put the servicer on notice that it was charging prohibited inspection fees, but the servicer did not cease the activity until January 1, 2017. The servicer has since refunded or reversed nearly $44,000 in property inspection fees charged to consumers. The settlement agreement requires the servicer to (i) refund inspection fees that have not yet been refunded; (ii) provide notice to any sub-servicer that the inspection fees should be refunded or not collected; (iii) pay $5,000 to the state for costs associated with the investigation; and (iv) pay $50,000 in civil money penalties.
On December 21, the DOJ announced a $4.25 million settlement with a Michigan-based servicer in connection with alleged violations of the False Claims Act related to the servicing of federally-insured home equity conversion mortgages (reverse mortgages). According to the DOJ, for the period between November 2011 and May 2016, the servicer allegedly failed to meet eligibility requirements for receiving FHA insurance payments on interest that accrued after reverse mortgages became due and payable, including meeting deadlines for obtaining property appraisals, commencing foreclosure proceedings, and/or prosecuting the foreclosure proceedings to completion. As a result, mortgagees on relevant reverse mortgage loans obtained additional interest payments they were not entitled to receive. The claims were resolved by the settlement without a determination of liability.
On December 14, HUD issued two Mortgagee Letters (here and here) providing the mortgage limits for FHA-insured forward mortgage case numbers and for FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) for 2019. Beginning on January 1, 2019, FHA’s nationwide forward mortgage limit “floor” and “ceiling” for a one-unit property are $314,827 and $726,525, respectively, and the HECM maximum nationwide claim will be $726,525.
On November 29, FHA announced that the protocols in place for the second appraisal requirement for certain reverse mortgage transactions are now fully automated. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September, FHA announced that it would require a second appraisal for certain Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) transactions (also known as “reverse mortgages”) to mitigate the risk that valuation of the collateral poses to FHA borrowers and the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund, according to Mortgagee Letter 2018-06. FHA will perform a collateral risk assessment of the appraisal prepared for use in all reverse mortgage originations; whether a second appraisal is required will depend on the results of the assessment. Now, once an appraisal is logged into the system, a lender will immediately receive a message indicating whether a second appraisal is required or not required.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference