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On November 10, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) issued a proposed rule which would allow mortgagors the option to purchase private flood insurance on FHA-insured mortgages for properties located in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). Under the Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973, property owners located in an SFHA, and a community participating in the National Flood Insurance Program, are required to purchase flood insurance as a condition of receiving a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the United States Department of Agriculture, or the FHA. The proposed rule would allow the purchase of private mortgage insurance for properties in SFHAs for the first time. Additionally, the proposed rule seeks comment on a compliance aid, which would “help mortgagees evaluate whether a flood insurance policy meets the definition of ‘private flood insurance.’” According to the FHA, between three and five percent of FHA borrowers could obtain a private flood insurance policy if the option becomes available.
On October 20, the DOJ announced a nearly $25 million settlement with a California-based mortgage lender in connection with alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) related to originating and underwriting mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). According to the DOJ, the lender “knowingly approved ineligible loans that later defaulted and resulted in claims to FHA for mortgage insurance,” failed to comply with material program rules requiring lenders to maintain quality control programs to prevent underwriting deficiencies, and failed to self-report identified materially deficient loans. The mortgage lender agreed to pay the DOJ $24.9 million to resolve the FCA claims. In addition, a whistleblower will receive nearly $5 million under the settlement. The DOJ’s press release noted that the claims “are allegations only, and [that] there has been no determination of liability.”
On October 28, FHA issued Mortgagee Letter 2020-37, which re-extends the effective date of the employment reverification guidance in Mortgagee Letter 2020-05, previously covered here, here, here, and here. The Mortgagee Letter also updates the appraisal scope of work inspection option providing for exterior-only appraisals, which limits face-to-face contact for certain transactions affected by Covid-19. The updated appraisal guidance is effective on November 1, 2020 and is applicable to appraisals with an effective date on or before December 31, 2020. The extension of the employment reverification guidance is effective immediately for cases closed on or before December 31, 2020.
On October 20, FHA announced that homeowners experiencing a Covid-19 financial hardship with FHA-insured mortgages can request an initial forbearance or a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) extension through December 31. Specifically, Mortgagee Letter 2020-34 extends the date by which mortgagees must approve the initial Covid-19 forbearance or Covid-19 HECM extension originally provided for in ML 2020-06 and expanded in ML 2020-22 (covered by InfoBytes here and here). FHA notes that due to the continued Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on borrowers around the country, the agency is extending the deadline through December 31 from the original deadline of October 30.
On October 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued Mortgagee Letter 20-33, which extends interim procedures regarding site access issues related to Section 232 mortgage insurance applications during the Covid-19 pandemic (previously covered here and here). The guidance provides temporary modifications pertaining to third-party site inspections for Section 232 FHA-insured healthcare facilities effective through December 31, 2020. The letter also provides guidance on other aspects relating to Section 232 properties, including regarding lender underwriter site visits, appraisals, and inspections on new construction, among other things.
DOJ: Lender allegedly violated FIRREA, False Claims Act by forging certifications and using unqualified underwriters
On September 25, the DOJ filed a complaint against a lender alleging that it forged certifications and used unqualified underwriters to approve FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) to increase its loan production in violation of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act and the False Claims Act. In addition, the DOJ claims that, because the lender allegedly did not employ enough direct endorsement underwriters to review each HECM loan endorsed for FHA mortgage insurance, it bypassed FHA’s underwriter requirements and (i) allowed “unqualified temporary contractors to underwrite, approve, and sign certifications for HECM loans”; (ii) “[f]orged signatures of qualified underwriters on certifications for other HECM loans” to create the appearance that they had been reviewed and approved by a qualified underwriter; (iii) pre-signed blank certifications representing that appraisals had been reviewed and approved; and (iv) used these forms and certifications to insure HECM loans that did not meet the underwriting requirements. The DOJ alleges that, accordingly, the FHA insured overvalued and underwater properties, which increased borrower expenses and raised the chances of default. The DOJ also asserts that the lender’s purported false claims for FHA mortgage insurance payments were material, as it led to the government making payments it would otherwise not have been required to make.
On September 18, the FDIC issued FIL-91-2020 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and help facilitate recovery in areas of Oregon affected by wildfires that began on September 7. In the guidance, the FDIC writes that, in supervising institutions affected by the wildfires, it will consider the unusual circumstances those institutions face. The guidance suggests that institutions work with impacted borrowers to, among other things, (i) extend repayment terms; (ii) restructure existing loans; or (iii) ease terms for new loans to those affected by the severe weather, provided the measures are “done in a manner consistent with sound banking practices.” Additionally, the FDIC notes that institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery. The FDIC will also consider relief from certain reporting and publishing requirements.
Separately, on September 17, HUD announced disaster assistance available to certain counties impacted by the Oregon wildfires, providing foreclosure relief and other assistance to affected homeowners. Specifically, HUD is providing an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages for covered properties and is making FHA insurance available to those victims whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Additionally, HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program will allow individuals who have lost homes to finance the purchase of a house, or refinance an existing house and the costs of repair, through a single mortgage. The program will also allow homeowners with damaged property to finance the rehabilitation of existing single-family homes.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this month issued a final disparate impact regulation under the Fair Housing Act (Final Rule). HUD’s new Final Rule is intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013 (2013 Rule), with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Inclusive Communities). While the new Final Rule is a notable development, the relatively recent Supreme Court decision makes it unclear to what extent courts and federal agencies will look to the rule for guidance.
On September 10, FHA released Mortgagee Letter 2020-30, which discusses FHA’s underwriting guidelines for mortgages involving borrowers who were previously granted a forbearance. The letter notes that FHA is “expanding its underwriting guidelines” to address situations in which borrowers are seeking new FHA insured financing after being granted a forbearance, due to either a Presidentially Declared major disaster or some other hardship, including the Covid-19 pandemic. The letter specifies that a borrower will be eligible for a new FHA insured mortgage after being granted a forbearance if, among other things, (i) the borrower continued to make regularly scheduled payments and the forbearance plan is terminated; or (ii) for cash-out refinances, the borrower has completed the forbearance and has subsequently made 12 consecutive monthly payments; or (iii) for purchases and no cash-out refinances, the borrower has completed the forbearance and has subsequently made at least three consecutive monthly payments; or (iv) for “Credit Qualifying Streamline” refinances, the borrower has completed the forbearance and has subsequently made less than three consecutive monthly payments; and (v) for all “Streamline refinance” transactions, the borrower has made at least six payments on the FHA insured mortgage being refinanced.
FHA requires the new underwriting guidelines be implemented for all case numbers assigned on or after November 9.
On August 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s decision to partially dismiss an action brought by the City of Oakland, alleging a national bank violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, Oakland alleged that the national bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) reduced spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. The district court dismissed the City’s municipal expenditure claims, but allowed claims based on decreased property tax revenue to continue. The district court also held that the City could pursue its claims for injunctive and declaratory relief.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit affirmed the court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss as to Oakland’s claims for decreased property tax revenue and the court’s dismissal of Oakland’s claims for increased city expenditures. Specifically, with respect to claims for reduced tax revenue, the appellate court concluded that the “FHA’s proximate-cause requirement is sufficiently broad and inclusive to encompass aggregate, city-wide injuries.” Based on allegations that the City could use statistical regression analysis “to precisely calculate the loss in property values in Oakland’s minority neighborhoods that is attributable to foreclosures caused by [the bank’s] predatory loans,” the 9th Circuit found that Oakland’s claim for decreased property tax revenues “has some direct and continuous relation to [the bank]’s discriminatory lending practices.” Regarding the City’s alleged municipal expenditure injuries, the appellate court agreed with the district court that Oakland’s complaint failed to account for independent variables that may have contributed or caused such injuries and that those alleged injuries therefore did not satisfy the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement. Finally, the appellate court held that the City’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were also subject to the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement, and that on remand, the district court must determine whether Oakland’s allegations satisfied this requirement.
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The federal fraud sentencing guidelines: It's time to stop the madness" at a New York Criminal Bar Association webinar
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference