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On January 30, the city of Miami dismissed fair housing lawsuits against four of the largest banks in the U.S. (see orders here, here, here and here). The suits—filed in 2013—claimed that redlining by the banks led to a high rate of mortgage loan defaults, foreclosures, and property vacancies, causing property values to go down, which resulted in reduced tax revenues to the city. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that Miami made plausible claims that the lending practices of two of the banks violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and eventually reduced property tax revenues. Philadelphia recently reached a settlement with a large bank after making similar allegations regarding discriminatory mortgage lending practices. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On January 30, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California certified a class of mortgage borrowers in a breach of contract suit against a national bank (defendant). In doing so, the court approved a class defined as consumers who (i) had a mortgage loan with the defendant; (ii) qualified for a modification of their loan between 2010 and 2018 “pursuant to the requirements of government-sponsored enterprises (such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), [or] the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)”; (iii) though they qualified, were not offered a loan modification by the defendant due to defendant’s flawed calculations of eligibility; and (iv) had their homes foreclosed upon and sold by the defendant. According to the order, the plaintiffs claimed that in 2013 the “defendant discovered a calculation error that had caused certain fees to be misstated and had resulted in incorrect mortgage modification denials,” but the problem was not fully resolved until 2018.
The court also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a third amended complaint in order to add a plaintiff “whose property was secured by an FHA instrument.” The plaintiffs reasoned that they should have a representative for the FHA contracts as well as a representative for the GSE contracts, in case it is argued that the FHA and GSE contracts are so different that each requires its own representative.
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 October 28, HUD and DOJ announced a long-awaited Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which provides prudential guidance concerning the application of the False Claims Act to matters involving alleged noncompliance with FHA guidelines. The announcement was made by HUD Secretary Dr. Benjamin S. Carson at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Annual Conference, and both agencies issued releases shortly after Carson’s comments. The intention, HUD noted, is to bring greater clarity to regulatory expectations within the FHA program and ease banks’ worries about facing future penalties for mortgage-lending errors.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
If you have any questions about the HUD/DOJ Memorandum of Understanding or other related issues, please visit our Mortgages or False Claims Act & FIRREA practice pages, or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On September 11, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied a mortgage company’s motion to dismiss an action by the U.S. government alleging the company violated the False Claims Act by falsely certifying compliance with FHA mortgage insurance requirements. According to the opinion, the government intervened in a former employee’s suit against the company and alleged that the company, a participant in HUD’s Direct Endorsement Lender program, had failed to report loans to HUD that presented “material risk and ‘[f]indings of fraud or other serious violations’ discovered during the ‘normal course of business and by quality control staff during reviews/audits of FHA loans.’” The company moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the government failed to allege a scheme that was designed to flout specific FHA requirements. In denying the motion, the court concluded that the government sufficiently alleged the “who, what, where, how, and why” of the company’s misconduct, noting that the company “knew, or should have known, that the certifications of compliance it made at the time of endorsement were false because the falsities were facially apparent from the loan files that it was required to underwrite in accordance with HUD’s requirements.” The court also concluded that the government sufficiently pleaded its breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract claims.
On September 5, the U.S. Treasury Department and HUD released complementary proposals in response to a presidential memorandum issued last March (previously covered by InfoBytes here) directing the departments to develop plans to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and reform the housing finance system.
According to a press release released by the Treasury Department, the Treasury Housing Reform Plan outlines several broad goals and legislative and administrative reforms intended to protect taxpayers and assist homebuyers. Included in the Reform Plan are measures to privatize the GSEs, with the Treasury Department emphasizing that FHFA “should begin the process of ending” the conservatorships. “Central to this objective will be ensuring that the GSEs and their successors are appropriately capitalized to remain viable as going concerns after a severe economic downturn and also to ensure that shareholders and unsecured creditors, rather than taxpayers, bear losses.” Other notable agency and limited congressional action highlights include:
- Congress should authorize an explicit, paid-for guarantee by Ginnie Mae on qualified mortgage-backed securities for single-family and multifamily loans.
- Private sector participation should increase in the mortgage market to compete with the GSEs, and ensure a level playing field for lenders of all sizes.
- Congress should replace GSEs’ statutory affordable housing goals with a “more efficient, transparent, and accountable mechanism” to support underserved borrowers and expand HUD’s affordable housing activities.
- GSEs under FHFA’s capital rule should be required to maintain “capital sufficient to remain viable as a going concern after a severe economic downturn,” the cap on the GSEs’ investments in mortgage-related assets should be further reduced, and GSEs’ retained mortgage portfolios should be restricted to “solely supporting [the] business of securitizing mortgage-backed securities.”
- Mortgages eligible for GSE guarantees should have to comply with strict underwriting requirements.
- The Qualified Mortgage rule should be simplified and the so-called QM patch that allows GSEs to avoid certain regulations should be eliminated (see previous InfoBytes coverage on the CFPB’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking to allow the QM patch to expire here).
- Access to 30-year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers should be preserved.
HUD’s Housing Finance Reform Plan, released in conjunction with Treasury’s proposal, addresses the role of FHA and Ginnie Mae, and outlines steps to reduce risk in the FHA portfolio. According to HUD’s press release, the proposal focuses on four objectives: refocusing FHA to its core mission, protecting American taxpayers, providing tools to FHA and Ginnie Mae to appropriately manage risk, and providing liquidity to the housing finance system. Among other objectives, HUD’s plan (i) stresses that FHA, which serves low- and moderate-income borrowers, “must ensure that borrowers are creditworthy and that they have access to loans that meet their financial needs without creating undue risk”; (ii) recommends that FHA and FHFA establish a “formalized collaborative approach” to streamline government-supported mortgage programs to ensure they are “not competing and do not crowd private capital out of the marketplace;” (iii) encourages continued efforts to reduce loan churning; (iv) encourages a continued partnership between FHA and DOJ “to provide more clarity on how the agencies will consult on the appropriate use of the [False Claims Act]” to provide regulatory certainty to lenders; (v) encourages FHA to develop servicing standards for home equity conversion mortgage programs to reduce operational and financial burdens; and (vi) recommends that FHA develop a mortgage origination risk tool that integrates an automated underwriting system.
On August 29, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD issued disaster relief guidance related to Hurricane Dorian. Fannie Mae reminded servicers of available mortgage assistance options for homeowners impacted by the hurricane: (i) qualifying homeowners are eligible to stop making mortgage payments for up to 12 months without incurring late fees and without having delinquencies reported to the credit bureaus; (ii) servicers may immediately suspend or reduce mortgage payments for up to 90 days without any contact with homeowners believed to have been affected by a disaster; and (iii) foreclosures and other legal proceedings for homeowners believed to be impacted by a disaster are temporarily suspended. Freddie Mac similarly reminded servicers of these mortgage relief options.
The same day, HUD released Mortgagee Letter ML 2019-14 (ML 2019-14), which updates Handbook 4000.1 and expands its “Disaster Standalone Partial Claim” loss mitigation option which “allow[s] borrowers in Presidentially Declared Major Disaster Areas (PDMDAs) with delinquent FHA-insured mortgages to bring their mortgages current without increasing their interest rates or principal and interest payments.” The mitigation option, introduced last year, “covers missed mortgage payments up to 30 percent of Unpaid Principal Balance” through an interest-free second loan on the mortgage without a required trial payment plan. The second loan will become payable only when the borrower sells the home or refinances. Additionally, the loss mitigation option will streamline income documentation and other requirements to expedite relief to eligible borrowers struggling to pay their mortgages while recovering from disasters.
Separately on August 30, the OCC issued a proclamation permitting OCC-regulated institutions, to close offices affected by Hurricane Dorian’s severe weather conditions at their discretion “for as long as deemed necessary for bank operation or public safety.” In issuing the proclamation, the OCC noted that it expects that only those bank offices directly affected by potentially unsafe conditions will close and that they should make every effort to reopen as quickly as possible to address the banking needs of their customers. The proclamation directs institutions to OCC Bulletin 2012-28 for further guidance on natural disasters and other emergency conditions.
On August 14, HUD published revisions in the Federal Register to the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) lender certification requirements originally issued in May. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) In response to comments received on its initial proposal, HUD released a proposed streamlined FHA Annual Lender Certification, which removes a broad statement regarding lenders certifying compliance with all HUD requirements in order to maintain FHA approval. Commenters generally recommended HUD: “(1) Rescind the annual certification statements since the National Housing Act does not require certification of compliance with FHA eligibility requirements or completion of an annual certification; or (2) revise the annual certification statements to a general acknowledgement of the existence of policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to ensure material compliance.” Comments are due September 13.
On August 14, the FHA issued a new condominium approval regulation, along with policy implementation guidance, which allows for certain individual condominium units to be eligible for FHA mortgage insurance even if the condominium project is not FHA approved. Among other things, the rule also: (i) extends the recertification requirement for approved condominium projects from two to three years; and (ii) allows more mixed-use projects to be eligible for FHA insurance. Under the new policy guidance in the FHA’s Single Family Handbook, an individual unit may be eligible for single-unit approval if the individual condominium unit is located in a completed project that is not approved and: (i) for projects with 10 or more units, no more than 10 percent of individual units can be FHA-insured; and (ii) for projects with less than 10 units, no more than two individual units can be FHA-insured. The new policy is effective October 15.
On August 1, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2019-11, which lowers the maximum loan-to-value (LTV) and combined maximum loan-to-value (CLTV) from 85 percent to 80 percent on cash-out refinances for FHA-insured mortgage loans. The letter notes that the total number of cash-out refinance mortgages of FHA-insured mortgage loans has increased 250.47 percent from FY 2013 to FY 2018, and that the FHA therefore has concluded that the reduction in LTV is prudent “in order to strengthen the equity position of cash-out refinances and reduce loss severities in the event of default, [and] stay ahead of any potential future shift in the housing market.” The new LTV is effective for any mortgage loans insured by FHA on or after September 1.
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Industry open forum session on NMLS usage" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Tim Lange to discuss "State legislative update - MSBs and consumer finance" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Regulating innovative consumer lending products" at the NMLS Annual Conference & Training
- Daniel P. Stipano to moderate "Washington update" at the Puerto Rican Symposium of Anti Money Laundering
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Private flood insurance updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Servicing Solutions Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker and H Joshua Kotin to discuss regulatory compliance issues in the fintech industry at Protiviti's Risk & Compliance Innovation Roundtable
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: CFL overview
- Amanda R. Lawrence and Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "California privacy rule" on an NAFCU webinar
- Sasha Leonhardt to discuss "MLA & SCRA" on a NAFCU webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Pathway of the SARs: Tracking trajectories of suspicious activity reports from alerts to prosecution" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- John P. Kromer to discuss "Navigating the multi-state fintech regulatory regime" at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems