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On September 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a motion for summary judgment from the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies arguing that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s disparate-impact rule conflicts with the limits of the Fair Housing Act as interpreted at the Supreme Court. The rule, promulgated in 2013 and reinstated under the Biden administration, a policy is unlawful if it has a “discriminatory effect” on a protected class and was not necessary to achieve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory” interest or if there is a less discriminatory alternative. Judge Richard J. Leon held that the rule does not exceed limitations on disparate-impact liability under the FHA placed by the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U.S. 519 (2015) where those limitations avoid potential constitutional issues and prevent the Act from forcing housing authorities to reorder their legitimate priorities.
On July 26, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that a tenant screening algorithm is subject to the Fair Housing Act, including the FHA's ban on racial discrimination in housing. The court held that even though the company is not itself is not a landlord, as property owners allegedly relied solely on the company's decisions to deny prospective renters' applications, the company was effectively granting it authority to make housing decisions.
Plaintiffs alleged in an amended complaint that a tenant-screening service operated by the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604 and Massachusetts anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. The Plaintiffs claimed that the services discriminate against holders of rental vouchers and applicants of certain races and income classes, in violation of the FHA, resulting in less housing availability, less favorable terms and conditions in rental agreements, and discriminatory provision of services in connection with housing, in each case based on race and national origin.
Defendants, in their respective motions to dismiss, argued that the FHA does not apply to a tenant-screening service, such as the defendant, because the service does not “make housing decisions.” In denying the motion to dismiss on this count, the court reasoned that the FHA provisions do not limit liability to people or entities that “make housing decisions” but rather “focuses on prohibited acts,” and reiterated that the Supreme Court has already held that “language of the Act is broad and inclusive.” The court observed that while housing providers are the typical target of FHA claims, other entities are often held liable under the Act. The court reasoned that the application of the FHA “beyond direct housing providers” is a “logical extension which effectuate[s] the purpose of the FHA,” as “a housing provider could simply use an intermediary to take discriminatory and prohibited actions on its behalf and defeat the purpose of the FHA.”
Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws, among other things, make it unlawful to discriminate in the “terms, conditions, or privileges” of the sale or rental of housing or provision of such services “to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden under this chapter,” which includes Sections 4(6) and 4(10). Plaintiffs allege that the discriminatory rental application process was facilitated by the tenant score produced by the defendants. The court held that the chapter is construed broadly and reiterated the Massachusetts Supreme Court finding that defendants who play a role in the tenant selection process may be held liable under certain sections even if they only “aid[ed] or abet[ted]” a violation of Section 4(10). As such, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims for disparate impact discrimination for race or source of income under both FHA and Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws were sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss.
On July 18, FHA announced a proposed rule for public comment that would revise requirements for investing lenders and mortgagees “to gain or maintain status as an FHA-approved lender or mortgagee.” The proposed rule would also “separately define Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) and the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLB) from other governmental entities and align general FHA approval standards with current industry business practices.” The proposed changes are mainly aimed at accommodating more precise language and definitions concerning an investing lender or mortgagee's limited participation in FHA programs. According to FHA, these changes do not represent a significant departure from existing requirements for most lenders and mortgagees involved in originating, endorsing, or servicing FHA-insured loans. Through the proposed rule, HUD proposes to: (i) “separately define the GSEs and their approval requirements from other Federal, State, or municipal governmental agencies and Federal Reserve Banks”; (ii) include Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the FHLBs in the GSE definition; (iii) add language to require investing lenders and mortgagees to comply with applicable audit and financial statement requirements; and (iv) “clarify that investing lenders and mortgagees must comply with FHA’s annual certification requirements.”
On July 11, FHA announced modifications to certain FHA home equity conversion mortgage requirements in Mortgagee Letter (ML) 2023-15, entitled “Modifications to FHA Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) Requirements Related to Secretary Payment of Borrower Disbursements Due to Mortgagee Default.” The letter updates FHA’s investigation requirements regarding situations where a mortgage lender is unable or unwilling to fulfill a borrower’s payment obligations required under an HECM. Mortgagees that fail to make a necessary payment to a borrower must now furnish specific information to FHA. The modifications provide additional sources where FHA can receive notice of a mortgagee’s anticipated or actual default on borrower payments and are designed to improve FHA’s ability to make prompt payments in the event of mortgagee default to ensure HECM borrowers timely receive scheduled or requested funds. ML 2023-15 is effective immediately.
On June 29, the DOJ announced a $23.75 million settlement with a South Carolina-based mortgage lender to resolve alleged False Claims Act (FCA) violations related to its origination and underwriting of mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). According to the DOJ, two former employees filed a lawsuit under the FCA’s whistleblower provisions alleging the lender failed to maintain quality control programs for preventing and correcting underwriting deficiencies. As part of the settlement, the lender admitted that it certified loans that did not meet the applicable requirements for FHA mortgage insurance and VA home loan guarantees. The lender also acknowledged that these loans would not have been insured or guaranteed by the agencies were it not for the submission of false certificates. While the conduct began in July 2008, the DOJ recognized that the lender has taken significant measures to stop the violations, both before and after being told of the investigation, and gave the lender credit for doing so. Under the terms of the settlement, the lender will pay $23.75 million to the U.S., with the whistleblowers receiving a total of $4.04 million of the settlement proceeds.
On June 27, FHA announced lenders will have to submit information about borrowers’ language preferences and homeownership education or housing counseling history through the Supplemental Consumer Information Form when originating mortgages for FHA insurance. According to FHA, borrowers may choose to provide all, some, or none of the information requested on the form, and lenders must transmit any information the borrower disclosed. The information collected from the form will allow the administration to have a better aggregate view of language preferences, which FHA stated, “will influence its future actions to continue breaking down language and other barriers to homeownership.” On June 13, FHA also announced the availability of Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese versions of more than 30 single family mortgage documents and related resources associated with FHA programs.
On June 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant mortgage servicer, holding that while the plaintiff had sufficient proof of materiality with respect to alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA), plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof on the element of causation. Plaintiff (formerly employed by the defendant as an underwriter) alleged the defendant made false representations to HUD in the course of certifying residential mortgage loans for federal insurance coverage. She maintained that HUD would not have endorsed the loans for federal insurance if it had known defendant was not satisfying the agency’s minimum underwriting guidelines. Defendant moved for summary judgment after the district court excluded the bulk of plaintiff’s “expert opinion,” arguing that plaintiff could not meet her evidentiary burden on the available record. The district court sided with defendant, ruling that as a matter of law, plaintiff could not prove either materiality (due to the lack of evidence that would allow “a reasonable factfinder to conclude that HUD viewed the alleged underwriting deficiencies as important”) or causation (the false statement caused the government’s loss).
On appeal, the 7th Circuit explained that to show proximate causation, plaintiff was required to identify evidence indicating that the alleged false certifications in reviewed loans were the foreseeable cause of later defaults, as defaults trigger HUD’s payment obligations. The appellate court noted that “it is not clear how a factfinder would even spot the alleged false statement in each loan file, let alone evaluate its seriousness and scope.” Without further evidence indicating how defendant’s alleged misrepresentations caused subsequent defaults, the plaintiff’s claims could not survive summary judgment.
However, the 7th Circuit disagreed with the district court’s reasoning with respect to materiality under the FCA. Although the district court held that plaintiff had failed to establish materiality, the appellate court determined that because HUD’s regulations “provide some guidance, in HUD’s own voice, about the false certifications that improperly induce the issuance of federal insurance, and those are precisely the false certifications present here” there was enough evidence to “clear the summary judgment hurdle” on this issue.
HUD recently released Mortgage Letter (ML) 2023-11 to update previously issued guidance on loss mitigation options for non-borrowers who acquire a title through an exempted transfer. The provisions apply to all FHA Title II Single Family forward mortgage programs and may be implemented immediately but no later than July 21. Previously, ML 2023-03 (which expanded Covid-19 recovery loss mitigation options) temporarily suspended the use of FHA Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) loss mitigation for all borrowers. As a result, mortgagees were no longer able to review non-borrowers who acquired a title through an exempted transfer for FHA-HAMP loss mitigation. With the issuance of ML 2023-11, FHA has reinstated FHA-HAMP loss mitigation to allow mortgagees to review non-borrowers who acquired a title through an exempted transfer and are in default or imminent default.
On May 24, the CFPB reported price dispersion trends in the mortgage industry, finding that borrowers could save at least $100 per month by choosing cheaper lenders. Price dispersion—the difference in interest rates charged by different lenders for the same loan product—is significant in the mortgage market, the Bureau said, following a review of 2021 HMDA data focusing on numbers for the 20 largest-volume lenders for each of the market segments. Examining price dispersion by loan type, including FHA and Department of Veterans Affairs loans, loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and jumbo loans, the Bureau considered several potential factors contributing to price dispersion such as lender differences, competition, and increased demand. Additionally, the Bureau found that various options provided by lenders may account for different costs and choices made by consumers who may not select the cheapest option due to other factors that outweigh price differences. Data also suggested that competition in the mortgage market does not always translate into lower prices, the Bureau reported, noting that a recent study administered by the Bureau and the FHFA revealed that “most borrowers who recently took out a mortgage responded that they believe they would pay the same price regardless of which lender they choose” and that few borrowers consider more than two options. The data also found that lenders who choose to take on riskier loans may compensate for the risk by charging higher prices.
On May 17, HUD announced new policies to expedite claims processing for home equity conversion mortgages (HECM). Specifically, FHA’s policies will allow for faster payment of funds to mortgagees upon assignment of an HECM to HUD by allowing borrowers with FHA mortgages to submit a request for a preliminary title approval earlier in the process and with fewer documents. Mortgagees will now be able to assign an HECM to HUD once the HECM reaches 98 percent of the maximum claim amount (MCA) and may begin submitting required information to HUD when the HECM reaches 97 percent of the MCA (based on the value of the property at the time the HECM loan is originated). The previous percentage was set at 97.5 percent. Additionally, mortgagees will be able to submit original notes and mortgages after assignment claim payment rather than before. HUD explained that allowing for earlier claim submission and improving document submission measures will hopefully shorten the time between the HECM reaching 98 percent of MCA and FHA paying the mortgagee for the claim.