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On April 4, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concerning a mortgage loan servicer allegedly failing to answer multiple inquiries from two separate consumers regarding their loans despite the requirement under Regulation X that servicers respond when a borrower submits a request for information that “states the information the borrower is requesting with respect to the borrower’s mortgage loan.” The plaintiffs filed suit after the defendant servicer declined to provide the information requested, stating that it would not respond “because the issues raised are the same or very closely related to the issues raised” in pending litigation surrounding the mortgages.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, noting that under RESPA, “a mortgage loan servicer only has an obligation to provide a written response to a [qualified written request] that seeks ‘information relating to the servicing of such loan,’” and that the plaintiffs’ inquiries regarding the ownership of their loans and requesting other miscellaneous information did not “trigger [the defendant’s] obligations to respond under Regulation X” because a servicer has a ‘duty to respond’ only if a request for information ‘relates to the servicing of the loan.’”
In urging the appellate court to overturn the decision, the Bureau argued that under Section 1024.36 of Regulation X “servicers generally must respond to ‘any written request for information from a borrower’ that seeks ‘information ... with respect to the borrower’s mortgage loan.’” According to the Bureau, although a servicing-related request would fall under this provision, it is just one type of request that seeks information ‘with respect to’ a loan and thereby triggers a servicer’s obligation to respond” under the rules. The Bureau stated that Regulation X broadly requires servicers to respond to requests that seek information “with respect to” a borrower’s mortgage loan, explaining that it “included explicit language to that effect in the 2013 Rule to make clear that the rule created a unified set of requirements such that servicers’ obligations to respond were the same for a qualified written request as for any other information request,” and that it “did not exclude information requests that do not relate to servicing from the scope of § 1024.36.” The Bureau agreed with the plaintiffs that there is “no litigation exception to a servicer's obligation to respond to information requests under Regulation X.” The Bureau further noted in a blog post that,“[a] pending lawsuit does not take away a borrower’s right to a response from their loan servicer under Regulation X.”
On March 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted a defendant mortgage loan servicer’s motion for summary judgment in an action claiming violations of federal law based on alleged defects in the servicing of the plaintiff’s loan. According to the court, after settling similar claims against his two prior loan servicers, the plaintiff sued the companies that own and service his mortgage loan (collectively, defendants) disputing the precise amount of his delinquency and claiming the defendants failed to properly apply his mortgage payments or to respond to his notice of error (NOE). The plaintiff contended, among other things, that the defendants’ response to the NOE, misapplication of payments, and inaccurate periodic mortgage statements breached the terms of the mortgage agreement and violated RESPA, FDCPA, and TILA. In granting summary judgment, the court agreed with the defendants, finding that plaintiff’s breach of contract claim was foreclosed by a prior settlement agreement with his former servicer. The court also found that the servicer’s response to plaintiff’s NOE did not violate RESPA because it “fully addressed both ‘errors’ that the plaintiff presented,” and the perceived errors “amounted to confusion about basic arithmetic.” The court emphasized that “[n]othing in RESPA or Regulation X gives borrowers authority to dictate the parameters of a lender’s investigation,” and concluded that the servicer’s investigation and response was sufficient since the servicer provided the documents used to conclude that there was no misapplication of funds and “[e]ven a cursory investigation would have revealed that the specific errors alleged in the NOE did not occur.”
In granting the defendants’ request for summary judgment regarding claims that the plaintiff received five inaccurate mortgage statements in violation of the FDCPA and TILA, the court concluded that the periodic statements contained all the fields required under Regulation Z, and explained that allegations contesting the accuracy of the information contained in the statements did not violate TILA because “12 C.F.R. § 1026.42(d) does nothing to regulate the accuracy of information presented in a periodic statement.” As to the plaintiff’s FDCPA claim, which was premised on allegations that plaintiff’s prior servicer misapplied funds which caused defendants to collect amount that plaintiff did not owe, the court found that that the disputed periodic statement was truthful and accurate and that the plaintiff released the defendants of any liability under the FDCPA in his settlement agreement with the prior servicer.
On February 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s dismissal of claims related to whether letters sent by plaintiff borrowers to a defendant loan servicer constituted qualified written requests (QWRs) under RESPA or Regulation X that would require the defendant to stop sending adverse information about accounts to credit reporting agencies. According to the opinion, one of the plaintiffs wrote to the defendant asking to have his records corrected after noticing his credit reports reflected purported overdue home loan payments that were allegedly affecting his employment after his employer expressed concerns about the credit report. The plaintiff noted a discrepancy between the amount he was allegedly behind on his mortgage payment and included a copy of the credit report his employer received, his account number, the ID number of the agent with whom he spoke on the phone, and requested that the error be corrected. However, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant continued to report adverse loan information. The other named plaintiff allegedly fell behind on her loan payments, and the defendant began reporting adverse information to the credit reporting agencies. She later applied for a loan modification, which was not finalized due to the existence of a lien by a solar panel company. The plaintiff sent a letter to the defendant challenging the existence of “title issues” and asked for her dispute to be investigated and corrected. The parties ultimately finalized a loan modification, but in the interim, the defendant continued reporting adverse information. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that despite sending QWRs, the defendant continued to report adverse information on their loans to credit reporting agencies; however, the district court dismissed the claims.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the first plaintiff’s claim, holding that the plaintiff’s letter was a QWR subject to RESPA because it contained sufficient details to identify his account and indicate why he believed the credit reporting was in error. In particular, the court noted that the letter constituted a QWR because it did not rely solely on the alleged phone call “as the basis for the description of the problem,” but also detailed conflicting balance information received from the defendant and the credit reporting service. The dissenting judge wrote that this plaintiff’s letter was not a QWR because it failed to identify the possible error and did not provide a statement of reasons for believing the unidentified error existed.
With respect to the other named plaintiff’s claim, the court affirmed dismissal because the letter did not qualify as a QWR. The court explained that the content of the plaintiff’s letter failed to satisfy the requirements of a valid QWR, finding that “correspondence limited to the dispute of contractual issues that do not relate to the servicing of the loan, such as loan modification applications, do not qualify as QWRs.”
On January 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated an order granting summary judgment in favor of a mortgage lender (defendant) for alleged violations of TILA and RESPA, among other claims. The plaintiff, a retired disabled military veteran, contracted with a home builder to purchase a home and used the defendant to obtain mortgage financing, which was later transferred to a servicing company. The plaintiff contended that the defendant allegedly (i) provided outdated TILA and RESPA disclosures; (ii) misrepresented that the plaintiff would not have to pay property taxes; (iii) failed to make a reasonable and good faith determination of the plaintiff’s ability to pay; and (iv) failed to provide notice of the transfer of servicing rights. On appeal, the 3rd Circuit determined that the defendant did not meet the initial burden to show no genuine dispute as to any material fact related to the plaintiff’s claims, and remanded the action. Without assessing the evidentiary value of the testimonies and materials submitted by each party in support of their own version of events, the appellate court reasoned that “these materials do not foreclose a reasonable jury from crediting [the plaintiff’s] testimony over [the defendant’s] account and finding [the defendant] liable.”
On December 23, the CFPB announced final rules adjusting the asset-size thresholds under HMDA (Regulation C) and TILA (Regulation Z). Both rules took effect January 1, 2022. Under HMDA, institutions with assets below certain dollar thresholds are exempt from the collection and reporting requirements. The final rule increases the asset-size exemption threshold for banks, savings associations, and credit unions from $48 million to $50 million, thereby exempting institutions with assets of $50 million or less as of December 31, 2021, from collecting and reporting HMDA data in 2022. TILA, likewise, exempts certain entities from the requirement to establish escrow accounts when originating higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs), including entities with assets below the asset-size threshold established by the CFPB. The final rule increases this asset-size exemption threshold from $2.230 billion to $2.336 billion, thereby exempting creditors with assets of $2.336 billion or less as of December 31, 2021, from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for HPMLs in 2022.
On December 8, the CFPB released its fall 2021 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of credit card account management, debt collection, deposits, fair lending, mortgage servicing, payday lending, prepaid accounts, and remittance transfers. The report’s findings cover examinations that were completed between January and June of 2021 in addition to prior supervisory findings that led to public enforcement actions in the first half of 2021. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Credit Card Account Management. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation Z related to billing error resolution, including instances where creditors failed to (i) resolve disputes within two complete billing cycles after receiving a billing error notice; (ii) reimburse late fees after determining a missed payment was not credited to a consumer’s account; and (iii) conduct reasonable investigations into billing error notices concerning missed payments and unauthorized transactions. Examiners also identified deceptive acts or practices related to credit card issuers’ advertising practices.
- Debt Collection. The Bureau found instances of FDCPA violations where debt collectors represented to consumers that their creditworthiness would improve upon final payment under a repayment plan and the deletion of the tradeline. Because credit worthiness is impacted by numerous factors, examiners found “that such representations could lead the least sophisticated consumer to conclude that deleting derogatory information would result in improved creditworthiness, thereby creating the risk of a false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect a debt in violation of Section 807(10).”
- Deposits. The Bureau discussed violations related to Regulation E, including error resolution violations related to misdirected payment transfers and failure to investigate error notices where consumers alleged funds were sent via a person-to-person payment network but the intended recipient did not receive the funds.
- Fair Lending. The report noted instances where examiners cited violations of ECOA and Regulation B by lenders "discriminating against African American and female borrowers in the granting of pricing exceptions based upon competitive offers from other institutions,” which led to observed pricing disparities, specifically as compared to similarly situated non-Hispanic white and male borrowers. Among other things, examiners also observed that lenders’ policies and procedures contributed to pricing discrimination, and that lenders improperly inquired about small business applicants’ religion and considered religion in the credit decision process.
- Mortgage Servicing. The Bureau noted that it is prioritizing mortgage servicing supervision attributed to the increase in borrowers needing loss mitigation assistance due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Examiners found violations of Regulations Z and X, as well as unfair and deceptive acts and practices. Unfair acts or practices included those related to (i) charging delinquency-related fees to borrowers in CARES Act forbearances; (ii) failing to terminate preauthorized EFTs; and (iii) assessing fees for services exceeding the actual cost of the performed services. Deceptive acts or practices found by examiners related to mortgage servicers included incorrectly disclosed transaction and payment information in a borrower’s online mortgage loan account. Mortgage servicers also allegedly failed to evaluate complete loss mitigation applications within 30 days, incorrectly handled partial payments, and failed to automatically terminate PMI in a timely manner. The Bureau noted in its press release that it is “actively working to support an inclusive and equitable economic recovery, which means ensuring all mortgage servicers meet their homeowner protection obligations under applicable consumer protection laws,” and will continue to work with the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, and state financial regulators to address any compliance failures (covered by InfoBytes here).
- Payday Lending. The report identified unfair and deceptive acts or practices related to payday lenders erroneously debiting consumers’ loan balances after a consumer applied and received confirmation for a loan extension, misrepresenting that consumers would only pay extension fees on the original due dates of their loans, and failing to honor loan extensions. Examiners also found instances where lenders debited or attempted one or more duplicate unauthorized debits from a consumer’s bank account. Lenders also violated Regulation E by failing “to retain, for a period of not less than two years, evidence of compliance with the requirements imposed by EFTA.”
- Prepaid Accounts. Bureau examiners found violations of Regulation E and EFTA related to stop-payment waivers at financial institutions, which, among other things, failed to honor stop-payment requests received at least three business days before the scheduled date of the transfer. Examiners also observed instances where service providers improperly required consumers to contact the merchant before processing a stop-payment request or failed to process stop-payment requests due to system limitations even if a consumer had contacted the merchant. The report cited additional findings where financial institutions failed to properly conduct error investigations.
- Remittance Transfers. Bureau examiners identified violations of Regulation E related to the Remittance Rule, in which providers “received notices of errors alleging that remitted funds had not been made available to the designated recipient by the disclosed date of availability” and then failed to “investigate whether a deduction imposed by a foreign recipient bank constituted a fee that the institutions were required to refund to the sender, and subsequently did not refund that fee to the sender.”
The report also highlights recent supervisory program developments and enforcement actions.
On November 10, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, CFPB, FDIC, NCUA, and state financial regulators issued a joint statement announcing the end to temporary supervisory and enforcement flexibility provided to mortgage servicers due to the Covid-19 pandemic by the agencies’ April 3, 2020 joint statement. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the April 2020 joint statement provided mortgage servicers greater flexibility to provide CARES Act forbearance of up to 180 days and other short-term options upon the request of borrowers with federally backed mortgages without having to adhere to otherwise applicable rules. The April 2020 joint statement also announced that agencies would not take supervisory or enforcement action against mortgage servicers for failing to meet certain timing requirements under the mortgage servicing rules provided that servicers made good faith efforts to provide required notices or disclosures and took related actions within a reasonable time period.
The agencies noted in their announcement that while the pandemic continues to affect consumers and mortgage servicers, servicers have had sufficient time to take measures to assist impacted consumers and develop more robust business continuity and remote work capabilities. Accordingly, the agencies “will apply their respective supervisory and enforcement authorities, when appropriate, to address any noncompliance or violations of the Regulation X mortgage servicing rules that occur after the date of this statement.” However, the agencies will take into consideration, when appropriate, “the specific impact of servicers’ challenges that arise due to the COVID-19 pandemic and take those issues in account when considering any supervisory and enforcement actions,” including factoring in the time it may take “to make operational adjustments in connection with this joint statement.”
The same day, the Bureau released a report titled Mortgage Servicing Efforts in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, summarizing efforts taken by the Bureau since the start of the pandemic to respond to the evolving needs of homeowners and CFPB-supervised entities. These responses include: (i) conducting prioritized assessments and targeted supervisory reviews; (ii) issuing reminders to servicers that being “unprepared is unacceptable”; (iii) implementing temporary procedural safeguards to allow borrowers time to explore options before foreclosure; (vi) analyzing consumer complaint data and conducting targeted reviews of high-risk complaints related to pandemic forbearances; (v) analyzing and releasing information relating to mortgage servicers’ pandemic responses; (vi) documenting research on the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black, Hispanic, and low-income communities; and (vii) partnering with other federal agencies to create online tools to provide information on CARES Act assistance and protections, as well as providing homeowner outreach materials. The Bureau noted it “will continue to monitor closely the performance of mortgage servicers to prevent avoidable foreclosures to the maximum extent possible and will not hesitate to take supervisory or enforcement action if warranted.”
On August 5, the CFPB clarified that it will not penalize mortgage lenders that did not adjust some time-sensitive borrower protections for Juneteenth, noting that the quick enactment of the law designating the holiday left the industry “unsure of how to treat the day for purposes of regulatory compliance.”
The CFPB released an interpretive rule to provide guidance on the impact of the new Juneteenth federal holiday on Regulation Z timing requirements related to the provision of the TRID Closing Disclosure at least three “business days” prior to closing and a consumer’s right to rescind a transaction until midnight on the third “business day” following settlement.
On the afternoon of June 17, President Biden signed a bill establishing June 19, Juneteenth, as a federal holiday. The bill amends 5 U.S.C. § 6103(a) which codifies legal public holidays. Because June 19 fell on a Saturday this year, the holiday was observed on Friday, June 18.
The timing requirements for purposes of delivering the Closing Disclosure prior to closing and for establishing a consumer’s rescission period are measured in “specific business days” defined as “all calendar days except Sundays and legal public holidays” as specified in 5 U.S.C. § 6103(a). Thus, for some transactions, Saturday June 19 counted as a business day when Closing Disclosures were issued or the rescission period began, but no longer counted as a business day at the end of the relevant time period. In its interpretive rule, the Bureau states that it interprets the definition of “specific business day” to mean the “the version of the definition in effect when the relevant time period begins.” Accordingly, for the 2021 Juneteenth holiday and the affected timing requirements, if the relevant time period began on or before June 17, 2021, then June 19, 2021 is a business day. If the relevant time period began after June 17, 2021, then June 19, 2021 is counted as a federal holiday and not a business day for purposes of the specific business day definition.
As such, it appears that the Bureau will not penalize mortgage lenders for not adding an additional day to the applicable waiting periods to the extent that the waiting periods began on or before the day President Biden established Juneteenth as a federal holiday, while also noting the obvious that nothing prohibits creditors from providing longer wait periods. As an interpretive rule to advise the public prospectively how an agency proposes to exercise a discretionary power, the Bureau’s guidance is exempt from the notice and comment provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act.
On August 4, the CFPB updated the mortgage servicing Small Entity Compliance Guide to include guidance on the 2021 Mortgage Servicing COVID-19 Final Rule and the 2020 Mortgage Servicing COVID-19 Interim Final Rule. In June, the Bureau finalized amendments to certain federal mortgage servicing regulations, which added provisions applicable to borrowers as federal foreclosure protections ended. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB previously released new FAQs regarding the Mortgage Servicing Rule and Regulation X and Regulation Z relating to escrow account guidance and analysis. The guide clarifies the servicing file requirements under the existing mortgage servicing rules and provides guidance regarding compliant use of multiple electronic systems. The guide also reflects updates made to the final rule regarding, among other things: (i) loss mitigation foreclosure protections; (ii) loss mitigation incomplete application requirements; (iii) and early intervention live contact. The final rule provisions addressed in the guide are temporary and phase out over time. Miscellaneous administrative changes have been made throughout the guide, as well.
On June 2, the CFPB released new FAQs regarding the Mortgage Servicing Rule and Regulation X and Regulation Z relating to escrow account guidance and analysis. General highlights from the FAQs are listed below:
- Regulation X provides that (i) an escrow account is any account established or controlled by a servicer for a borrower to pay taxes or other charges associated with a federally related mortgage loan, including charges that the servicer and borrower agreed to have the servicer collect and pay; and (ii) the computation year for an escrow account is a 12-month period that the servicer establishes for the account, starting with the borrower’s first payment date and including each subsequent 12-month period, unless the servicer issues a short year statement.
- Servicers must send the borrower an annual escrow account statement “within 30 days of the completion of the escrow account computation year.”
- Disbursement date is defined as “the date the servicer pays an escrow item from the escrow account.”
- “The initial escrow statement is the first disclosure statement that the servicer delivers to the borrower concerning the borrower’s escrow account,” and must include: (i) “the amount of the monthly mortgage payment”; (ii) “the portion of the monthly payment going into the escrow account”; (iii) “itemized anticipated disbursements to be paid from the escrow account”; (iv) “anticipated disbursement dates”; (v) “the amount the servicer elects as a cushion”; and (vi) “trial running balance for the account.”
- The annual escrow statement must include, among other things, “an account history that reflects the activity in the escrow account during the prior escrow account computation year and a projection of the activity in the account for the next escrow account computation year.”
- An escrow account analysis is the accounting a servicer conducts in the form of a trial running balance for an escrow account to: (i) “determine the appropriate target balances”; (ii) “compute the borrower’s monthly payments for the next escrow account computation year and any deposits needed to establish or maintain the account”; and (iii) “determine whether a shortage, surplus, or deficiency exists.”
- “If there is a shortage that is equal to or more than one month’s escrow account payment, the servicer may accept an unsolicited lump sum repayment to resolve the shortage. However, the servicer cannot require or provide the option of a lump sum payment on the annual escrow account statement. In addition, Regulation X does not govern whether borrowers can freely pay the servicer to satisfy an escrow account shortage. Therefore, “the acceptance of a voluntary, unsolicited payment made by the borrower to the servicer to satisfy an escrow account shortage is not a violation of Regulation X.”
- Servicers may inform borrowers that borrowers “may voluntarily provide a lump sum payment to satisfy an escrow shortage if they choose to” if “the communication is not in the annual escrow account statement itself and does not appear to indicate that a lump sum payment is something that the servicer requires but rather is an entirely voluntary option.”
- Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar