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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.
On October 22, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) issued Mortgagee Letter 2018-08, streamlining documentation requirements for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) servicers when assigning FHA-insured reverse mortgages to HUD for claims payments. Effective immediately, servicers may now submit alternative supporting documentation, such as (i) documentation from a current hazard insurance provider in lieu of a declaration page; and (ii) alternative evidence of a borrower’s death, such as an obituary or healthcare documents in lieu of a death certificate. Servicers must now also submit evidence that any mobile home is “real property” under the laws of the particular state for which the home is located. FHA reminds servicers that claims for insurance benefits must be filed within 60 calendar days after receiving preliminary title approval, and notes that servicers must now provide a detailed explanation of all pre-due and payable corporate advances in the compliance package, including the date of the disbursement, the expense that was paid, and any information related to received repayments. According to a FHA’s press release, streamlining the requirements and reducing the documentation burden will help accelerate the claim payments process for servicers.
On September 28, FHA announced that it will require a second appraisal for certain reverse mortgage transactions. The purpose of this requirement, according to Mortgagee Letter 2018-06, is mitigation of the risk that valuation of the collateral poses to FHA borrowers and the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. FHA will perform a collateral risk assessment of the appraisal prepared for use in all Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) originations (also known as “reverse mortgages”); whether a second appraisal is required will depend on the results of the assessment. A mortgagee may not approve or close a transaction until a second appraisal, if required, is obtained. If the second appraisal provides a lower value, the mortgagee must use the lower value in the origination of the HECM. The new requirements are effective for all HECM originations with FHA case numbers assigned on or after October 1 through September 30, 2019. FHA will evaluate these program changes at six and nine months to determine if it should extend the requirements beyond the current end date.
On September 18, Fannie Mae updated the Reverse Mortgage Loan Servicing Manual with changes related to a servicer’s responsibilities for paying escrow-related expenses for certain properties in Fannie Mae’s REO inventory. According to RVS-2018-03, Fannie Mae will now pay property taxes for all acquired proprieties in REO inventory and servicers are no longer required, except when directed by Fannie Mae, to pay co-op fees and assessments or ground rents for certain properties in REO inventory. The update applies to all property taxes and ground rents for all acquired properties effective on October 1, and applies to co-op fees and assessments for all acquired properties with a foreclosure sale or mortgage release date occurring on or after October 1.
On July 11, Fannie Mae issued RVS-2018-02, which updates the Reverse Mortgage Loan Servicing Manual to include changes related to REO Hazard Insurance Coverage Requirements for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) mortgages. Specifically, the update requires a servicer to place a property insurance policy on acquired property up to the HUD foreclosure appraisal amount or deed-in-lieu property valuation amount, in accordance with HUD guidelines. If the servicer is unable to obtain either of these valuation amounts, the servicer must place coverage up to the unpaid principal balance amount. Servicers are required to implement the changes no later than October 1 for new and existing HECM properties in REO inventory.
On April 11, Fannie Mae updated its Servicing Guide, regarding servicing transfer welcome calls. Pursuant to Fannie Mae SVC-2018-03, transferee servicers are no longer required to, among other things, initiate welcome calls within five days of the transfer of servicing. Transferee servicers may now implement their own processes for borrower contact as long as the servicer remains in compliance with applicable laws. Fannie Mae also updated the Servicing Guide to add flexibility in connection with the collection of escrow shortages during a mortgage modification. Under the amendment to the Servicing Guide, servicers may spread repayment of the shortage amount over a term of up to 60 months, unless the borrower decides to pay up-front. Additionally, Fannie Mae released a revised Reverse Mortgage Loan Servicing Manual, which includes updates to expense reimbursement claim submissions and mortgage loan status codes.
On the same day, Freddie Mac released Guide Bulletin 2018-6, which, among other things, updates servicer requirements on Subsequent Transfers of Servicing (STOS) and borrower-paid mortgage insurance. Effective July 23, transferor servicers must use the automated STOS request system and new transfer requests must be submitted at least 45 days and no more than 60 days prior to the effective date of the transfer. The Bulletin also provides additional details on initiating the electronic STOS and executing the STOS agreement. There will be a temporary moratorium on STOS requests and modifications to existing requests from July 9 through July 20, in order for Freddie Mac to implement the new process.
Separately, the Bulletin includes various changes to streamline servicer responsibilities in canceling borrower-paid mortgage insurance, such as now allowing servicers to process a borrower’s verbal request to cancel mortgage insurance and simplifying the process to determine current value.
Consistent with the Fannie updates, Freddie Mac also modified its escrow shortage collection requirements to allow repayment to be spread over up to 60 months.
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