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On January 12, the DOJ announced a more than $31 million settlement with a national bank over redlining allegations. Calling the action the largest redlining settlement agreement in the department’s history, the DOJ’s complaint alleged that the bank violated the Fair Housing Act and ECOA by, among other things, failing to provide mortgage lending services to majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. The DOJ contended that because the bank’s internal fair lending oversight, polices, and procedures allegedly failed to ensure that it was able to provide equal access to credit to residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, the bank generated disproportionately low numbers of loan applications and home loans from these neighborhoods compared to similarly-situated lenders.
Under the terms of the proposed consent order, the bank (which denies the allegations) has agreed to invest a minimum of $29.5 million in a loan subsidy fund to increase credit for home mortgage loans, home improvement loans, and home refinance loans extended to residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. The bank has also agreed to spend at least half a million dollars on advertising and outreach targeted toward residents of these neighborhoods, while it will spend at least another half a million dollars on a consumer financial education program to increase residents’ access to credit. An additional $750,000 is earmarked for use in developing community partnerships to provide services for increasing access to residential mortgage credit.
Additionally, the bank agreed to (i) open one new branch in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood and explore future opportunities for expansion within Los Angeles County; (ii) dedicate at least four mortgage loan officers to serving majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods; and (iii) employ a full-time community lending manager to oversee the continued development of lending in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. A community credit needs research-based market assessment will also be conducted by the bank to identify financial services’ needs for majority-Black and Hispanic census tracts within Los Angeles County. According to the DOJ’s announcement, the bank stated it is proactively taking measures to expand its lending services in other markets around the county to improve access to credit in communities of color. Measures include “creating a residential mortgage special purpose credit program to cover geographic areas in various locations throughout the country, including New York, Georgia, Nevada, and Tennessee,” and launching “a small business lending program that will be aimed at assisting underserved business owners in operating and growing their business.”
On December 6, the CFPB issued its semi-annual report to Congress covering the Bureau’s work for the period beginning October 1, 2021 and ending March 31, 2022. The report, which is required by Dodd-Frank, addresses several issues, including complaints received from consumers about consumer financial products or services throughout the reporting period. The report highlighted that the Bureau, among other things, has: (i) conducted an assessment of significant actions taken by state attorneys general and state regulators related to federal consumer financial law; (ii) initiated 21 fair lending supervisory activities to determine compliance with federal laws, including ECOA, HMDA, and UDAAP prohibitions, and engaged in interagency fair lending coordination with other federal agencies and states; (iii) “encouraged lenders to enhance oversight and identification of fair lending risk and to implement policies, procedures, and controls designed to effectively manage HMDA activities, including regarding integrity of data collection”; and (iv) launched a new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Strategic Plan to increase workforce and contracting diversity.
In regard to supervision and enforcement, the report highlighted the Bureau’s public supervisory and enforcement actions and other significant initiatives during the reporting period. Additionally, the report noted rule-related work, including advisory opinions, advance notice of proposed rulemakings, requests for information, and proposed and final rules. These include rules and orders related to the LIBOR transition, fair credit reporting, Covid-19 mortgage and debt collection protections for consumers, small business lending data collection, and automated valuation model rulemaking.
On October 18, the FTC announced an action against an auto dealer group and two of its officers (the owner/president and the vice president) for engaging in deceptive advertising and pricing practices and discriminatory and unfair financing. According to the complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants violated the FTC Act by deceptively advertising cars as “certified,” “inspected,” or “reconditioned” at specific prices, but then charged customers fees above the advertised price for costs related to “inspection,” “reconditioning,” or “certification.” The FTC also alleged that the defendants “unlawfully discriminate[d] on the basis of race, color, and national origin by imposing higher borrowing costs on Black and Latino consumers than non-Latino White consumers,” in violation of ECOA. Specifically, the FTC claimed that the defendants charged a higher markup to the interest rate for Black and Latino consumers than to non-Latino White consumers. Black and Latino consumers paid on average about $291 and $235, respectively, more in interest than non-Latino White consumers did. The FTC also alleged that Black and Latino consumers paid on average at least one extra fee 24 percent and 42 percent more often, respectively, than non-Latino White consumers. In addition to alleging that this conduct violated ECOA, the FTC also alleged that this discriminatory practice was an unfair act or practice in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. According to the order, the defendants are required to establish a fair lending program to ensure they do not discriminate in the future, including a provision that will require each associated dealership to either charge no financing markup or charge the same markup rate to all consumers, and must pay the FTC $3.38 million to refund harmed consumers. Among other things, the defendants are also prohibited from misrepresenting the cost or terms to buy, lease, or finance a car, or whether a fee or charge is optional. Two of the commissioners issued dissenting statements (see here and here), challenging the fair lending claims being brought under Section 5 of the FTC Act and the imposition of liability against the individual officers.
On September 28, the DOJ announced a settlement with a New Jersey bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination by engaging in “redlining” in the Newark metropolitan area in violation of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA. The DOJ’s complaint alleges that from at least 2015 to 2021, the bank failed to provide mortgage lending services to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Newark metropolitan area. The DOJ also alleges that all of the bank’s branches were located outside of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and that these neighborhoods were also largely excluded from the bank’s marketing and outreach efforts.
Under the proposed consent order, the bank will, among other things, (i) invest a minimum of $12 million in a loan subsidy fund for majority-Black and Hispanic census tracts in the Newark metropolitan area, of which at least $150,000 per year will go towards advertising, outreach, consumer education, and credit counseling, and $400,000 will be spent on services to increase access to residential mortgage credit; (ii) establish new branches in neighborhoods of color, including at least one in the city of Newark, that will provide a full range of mortgage products; (iii) assign at least four mortgage loan officers dedicated to serving all neighborhoods in and around Newark; (iv) employ a full-time community development officer to oversee the continued development of lending in neighborhoods of color in the Newark area; and (iii) provide ECOA and fair lending training to employees and officials. The announcement cited the bank’s cooperation with the DOJ to remedy the identified redlining concerns. According to the announcement, this settlement represents the third-largest redlining settlement in DOJ’s history.
On September 27, the CFPB issued a statement in the Federal Register rescinding its No-Action Letter Policy and its Compliance Assistance Sandbox Policy. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2019, the CFPB issued three final innovation policies: the No-Action Letter (NAL) Policy, Compliance Assistance Sandbox (CAS) Policy, and Trial Disclosure Program (TDP) Policy. The NAL policy provided a NAL recipient assurance that the Bureau will not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against the company for providing a product or service under the covered facts and circumstances. The CAS policy evaluated a product or service for compliance with relevant laws and offered approved applicants a “safe harbor” from liability for certain covered conduct during the testing period under TILA, ECOA, or the EFTA. Following the rescission, the statement noted that the Bureau will no longer accept NAL or CAS applications by September 30, but will continue to accept and process requests under the TDP. Entities that have made submissions under the NAL or CAS policies will be notified if the Bureau intends to take additional steps on their submissions. According to the statement, the Bureau “determined that the Policies do not advance their stated objective of facilitating consumer-beneficial innovation” and “that the existing Policies failed to meet appropriate standards for transparency and stakeholder participation.”
On August 12, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an order denying plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment and granting defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment in an action concerning alleged violations of TILA, ECOA, and FHA disparate impact claims. According to the court’s determination, the defendant corporate entity was not a “creditor” during the leasing portion of the underlying rent-to-buy (RTB) agreements, and the plaintiffs lacked standing on certain claims because the wrong parties were targeted.
The defendant realty group purchases, sells, and manages real estate. The plaintiffs all entered into RTB agreements with the realty group that allowed the renter to make 24 payments and then execute a sales contract for the property. The agreements carried interest rate terms between 9.87 and 18 percent. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants, among other things, did not provide TILA-required disclosures for high-cost mortgages, did not require written certifications that tenants had obtained counseling prior to entering into the transaction, and did not provide property appraisals to tenants.
The plaintiffs sued alleging several claims under TILA for failure to provide required information. However, the court concluded that during the 24-month rental period, the realty group was not a “creditor” but was instead a “landlord.” Moreover, the court determined that “the only entities that could arguably be considered creditors are the Individual Land Trusts as the sellers and parties to the Conditional Sales Contract.” These trusts were not named as defendants, the court observed, adding that the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of showing that the land trusts were sufficiently related to the named defendants to allow the court to “pierce the corporate veil” and hold the named defendants liable for actions conducted by the non-party individual land trusts.
With respect to the plaintiffs’ ECOA claims, which claimed that the realty group’s policies and practices were intentionally discriminatory and had a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin, the court applied the same rationale as it did to the TILA claims and again ruled that the realty group was not a “creditor.” In terms of plaintiffs’ FHA claims, the court said that “the racial disparity must have been created by the defendant.” In this action, the court determined that the realty group did not create the condition, reasoning that “the fact that lower-priced homes are more likely to exist in minority neighborhoods is not of Defendants’ making and existed before, and without, the RTB Program.”
However, the court’s order does allow certain individual and class claims related to disparate treatment under the FHA to proceed, as well as certain claims regarding Indiana law related to standard contract terms and the condition of homes in the RTB program.
On July 27, the CFPB and the DOJ jointly filed a lawsuit against a Delaware-based mortgage lender for engaging in unlawful discrimination. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the defendant violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and its implementing Regulation B and the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) by, among other things, engaging in unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin against applicants and prospective applicants, including by redlining majority-minority neighborhoods, and by engaging in acts and practices directed at prospective applicants that would discourage prospective applicants from applying for credit. The DOJ also alleged a violation of the Fair Housing Act, including the “making unavailable or denial of dwellings to persons because of race, color, and national origin,” among other things.
The proposed consent order, if entered by the court, would be Bureau’s first nonbank mortgage redlining resolution. It would require the defendant, among other things, to: (i) deposit $18.4 million into a loan subsidy program; (ii) pay a $4 million penalty to the Bureau; and (iii) pay $2 million to fund advertising to generate applications in redlined areas. The proposed order also notes the defendant neither admits nor denies the allegations in the complaint. According to a statement released by CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, the Bureau “will continue to seek new remedies to ensure all lenders meet and fulfill their responsibilities and obligations and the CFPB continues to be on the lookout for emerging digital redlining to ensure that discrimination cannot be disguised by an algorithm.”
Recently, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs released the CFPB’s spring 2022 rulemaking agenda. According to the preamble, the information in the agenda is current as of April 1, 2022 and identifies regulatory matters that the Bureau “reasonably anticipates having under consideration during the period from June 1, 2022 to May 31, 2023.”
Key rulemaking initiatives include:
- Consumer Access to Financial Records. The Bureau notes that it is considering rulemaking to implement section 1033 of the Dodd-Frank Act to address the development and use of standardized formats for information made available to consumers. The Bureau will release materials in advance of convening a panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration’s Chief Counsel for Advocacy.
- Amendments to FIRREA Concerning Automated Valuation Models. The Bureau is participating in interagency rulemaking with the Fed, OCC, FDIC, NCUA, and FHFA to develop regulations to implement the amendments made by the Dodd-Frank Act to FIRREA concerning appraisal automated valuation models (AVMs). The FIRREA amendments require implementing regulations for quality control standards for AVMs. The Bureau released a SBREFA outline in February 2022 and estimates in the agenda that the agencies will issue an NPRM in December 2022 (covered by InfoBytes here).
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing. The Bureau issued an ANPR in March 2019 to extend TILA’s ability-to-repay requirements to PACE transactions (covered by InfoBytes here). The Bureau is working to develop a proposed rule to implement Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act section 307 in May 2023.
- Small Business Lending Data Collection Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act amended ECOA to require financial institutions to report information concerning credit applications made by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses, and directed the Bureau to promulgate rules for this reporting. The Bureau issued an NPRM in August 2021, and the comment period ended January 6 (covered by InfoBytes here). The agenda indicates that the Bureau estimates issuance of a final rule in March 2023.
- Adverse Information in Cases of Human Trafficking Under the Debt Bondage Repair Act. The National Defense Authorization Act amended the FCRA to prohibit consumer reporting agencies from providing reports containing any adverse items of information resulting from human trafficking. In June 2022, the CFPB issued a final rule implementing amendments to the FCRA intended to assist victims of human trafficking (covered by InfoBytes here).
On June 29, the American University Washington College of Law held a symposium centered in part around the CFPB’s new approach for examining institutions for unfair conduct. During the CFPB’s New Approach to Discrimination: Invoking UDAAP symposium, CFPB Assistant Director for the Office of Enforcement Eric Halperin answered questions related to updates recently made to the Bureau’s Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices Examination Manual. These updates detail the agency’s view that its broad authority under UDAAP allows it to address discriminatory conduct in the offering of any financial product or service as an unfair act or practice. (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here.) The Bureau published a separate blog post by its enforcement and supervision heads explaining that they were “cracking down on discrimination in the financial sector,” and that the new procedures would guide examiners to look “beyond discrimination directly connected to fair lending laws” and “to review any policies or practices that exclude individuals from products and services, or offer products or services with different terms, in an unfairly discriminatory manner.”
Assistant Director Halperin’s remarks were followed by a discussion of the Bureau’s revisions to its Examination Manual by a panel that consisted of David Silberman of the Center for Responsible Lending, Kitty Ryan of the American Bankers Association, and John Coleman of Buckley LLP, which was moderated by Jerry Buckley. Topics covered included a June 28 letter that trade associations sent to the CFPB urging recission of revisions to the Examination Manual.
In his interview with American University Law School Professor V. Gerard Comizio, Halperin stated that the CFPB’s Examination Manual updates provide guidance on how examiners will implement the Bureau’s statutory authority to examine whether an act or practice is unfair because it may cause or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers that is not reasonably avoidable and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition. He stressed that the update does not create a new legal standard under the three prongs of the unfairness standard. Halperin also discussed how the Bureau’s UDAAP authority interacts with laws enacted specifically to prevent discriminatory conduct such as ECOA and the Fair Housing Act, and touched on steps institutions should consider taking to ensure compliance. Notably, when asked whether the Bureau intends to pursue disparate impact claims under the CFPA, Halperin stated that disparate impact, along with disparate treatment, are wholly distinct concepts from Dodd-Frank’s prohibition on unfair acts and practices. He added that in assessing an unfair act and practice, the key is to examine the substantial injury prong and then assess the reasonable avoidability and the countervailing benefits prongs. He further explained that the unfairness test does not contain an intentional standard and noted that there have been cases brought by both the FTC and the Bureau where there was injurious conduct that was not intentional or specifically known to the party engaging in this practice. According to Halperin, substantial injury alone is not sufficient to prove unfairness and using disparate impact as the mechanism of proof is not what the Bureau uses to prove an unfairness claim.
Halperin reiterated that the CFPB Examination Manual is designed to provide transparency to financial institutions about the types of issues that examiners will be inquiring about in furtherance of determining whether there has been an unfair act or practice under the current framework, and does not extend or create new law. In terms of practical compliance implications, Halperin said most financial institutions should already have robust UDAAP compliance systems in place and should already be looking for potential unfair acts or practices and examining patterns and group characteristics to identify the root cause of any issues, and to avoid substantial injury to consumers. With respect to a white paper recently sent to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra from several industry groups and the U.S Chamber of Commerce urging the Bureau to rescind the UDAAP exam manual (covered by InfoBytes here), Halperin commented that he has not had time to fully digest the white paper in detail but hoped that some of what was discussed during the symposium, particularly on the legal principles that will be used both in the exam manual and in any supervision and enforcement actions, clarifies that the Bureau is looking for conduct that violates the unfairness test.
On June 17, the FDIC announced updates to its Consumer Compliance Examination Manual (CEM). The CEM includes supervisory policies and examination procedures for FDIC examination staff when evaluating financial institutions’ compliance with federal consumer protection laws and regulations. The June update modifies Section VII Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices to reflect the FDIC’s existing supervisory authority regarding UDAP and UDAAP under Section 5 of the FTC Act, and Sections 1031 and 1036 of the Dodd-Frank Act, respectively. Among other updates, the new Section VII changes language related to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act to add a reference to Dodd-Frank UDAAP provisions. The updated section provides the following:
ECOA prohibits discrimination in any aspect of a credit transaction against persons on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract), the fact that an applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program, and the fact that the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The FHA prohibits creditors involved in residential real estate transactions from discriminating against any person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. FTC UDAPs and Dodd-Frank UDAAPs that target or have a disparate impact on consumers in one of these prohibited basis groups may violate the ECOA or the FHA, as well as the FTC Act or the Dodd-Frank Act. Moreover, some state and local laws address discrimination against additional protected classes, e.g., handicap in non-housing transactions, or sexual orientation. Such conduct may also violate the FTC Act or the Dodd-Frank Act.
With respect to the legal standards for “unfair” and “deceptive” under the FTC Act and Dodd-Frank, Section VII notes that these standards are “substantially similar.”