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On June 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a RESPA action against a mortgage servicer, concluding that rescheduling a foreclosure sale is not a violation of Regulation X’s prohibition on moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation application. According to the opinion, a consumer’s home was the subject of an order of foreclosure, and the mortgage servicer subsequently approved a trial loan-modification plan for a six-month period. The servicer filed a motion to reschedule the foreclosure sale so that the sale would not occur unless the consumer failed to comply with the modification plan during the trial period. The consumer filed suit, alleging that the servicer violated Regulation X––which prohibits loan servicers from moving for an order of foreclosure sale after a borrower has submitted a complete loss-mitigation application––because the servicer rescheduled the foreclosure sale instead of cancelling it. The district court dismissed the action.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that the consumer failed to state a claim for a violation of Regulation X. The appellate court reasoned that Regulation X does not prohibit a servicer from moving to reschedule a foreclosure sale as that motion is not the same as the “order of sale,” a substantive and dispositive motion seeking authorization to conduct a sale at all, as referenced in Regulation X. Moreover, the appellate court argued that the consumer’s interpretation of the prohibition is inconsistent with the consumer protection goals of RESPA because it would disincent loan servicers from offering loss-mitigation options and helping borrowers complete loss-mitigation applications, if a foreclosure sale has already been scheduled. Lastly, the appellate court noted that the motion to reschedule is consistent with the CFPB’s commentary that, “[i]t is already standard industry practice for a servicer to suspend a foreclosure sale during any period where a borrower is making payments pursuant to the terms of a trial loan modification,” rejecting the consumer’s argument that the servicer should have cancelled the sale altogether.
5th Circuit: Loan originators cannot be liable for loan servicers’ violations of RESPA loss mitigation requirements
On December 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that a mortgage loan originator cannot be held vicariously liable for a loan servicer’s failure to comply with the loss mitigation requirements of RESPA (and its implementing Regulation X). According to the opinion, in response to a foreclosure action, a consumer filed a third-party complaint against her loan servicers and loan originator alleging, among other things, that the loan servicers had violated Regulation X’s requirement that a servicer evaluate a completed loss mitigation application submitted more than 37 days before a foreclosure sale. In subsequent filings, the consumer clarified that the claims against the loan originator were for breach of contract and vicarious liability for one of the loan servicer’s alleged RESPA violations. The district court dismissed both claims against the loan originator and the consumer appealed the dismissal of the RESPA claim.
On appeal, the 5th Circuit affirmed the dismissal for two independent reasons. First, the 5th Circuit noted it is well established that vicarious liability requires an agency relationship and determined the consumer failed to assert facts that suggested such a relationship existed. Second, in an issue of first impression at the circuit court stage, the court ruled that, as a matter of law, the loan originator could not be vicariously liable for its servicer’s alleged violations of RESPA, as the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions only impose loss mitigation requirements on “servicers,” and therefore only servicers could fail to comply with those obligations. The appellate court reasoned that Congress explicitly imposed RESPA duties more broadly in other sections (using the example of RESPA’s prohibition on kickbacks and unearned fees that applies to any “person”), but chose “a narrower set of potential defendants for the violations [the consumer] alleges.” The court concluded, “the text of this statute plainly and unambiguously shields [the loan originator] from any liability created by the alleged RESPA violations of its loan servicer.”
On September 11, the California governor approved SB 1201, which amends the state civil code to, among other things, require any supervised financial institution that negotiates a mortgage loan modification with a borrower primarily in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean and offers the borrower a final loan modification in writing, to deliver to the borrower at the same time, a specified form summarizing the modified terms in the same language as the negotiation. The amendments require the California Department of Business Oversight (CDBO) to make available—using CFPB and Fannie Mae forms as guidance—certain disclosures and forms in those specified languages.
The amendments are generally effective on January 1, 2019, with the amendments relating to the new written disclosures to become operative 90 days following the issuance of forms by the CDBO, but not before January 1, 2019.
6th Circuit holds that failing to report a trial modification plan can constitute incomplete reporting under FCRA
On August 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that a borrower met the requirements necessary for a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) claim to proceed when two mortgage servicers failed to report the existence of a trial modification plan when reporting the borrower was delinquent to reporting agencies. In 2014, a borrower brought an action against three credit reporting agencies and two mortgage servicers alleging, among other claims, violations of the FCRA due to payments being reported as past due while successfully making payments under a trial modification plan (also referred to as a Trial Period Plan, or “TPP”) and working towards a permanent modification. Regarding the FCRA claim, the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision granting the servicers’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the borrower met the statutory requirements for an FCRA claim because failing to report the existence of a TPP can constitute “incomplete reporting” in violation of the statute. The 6th Circuit rejected the servicers’ argument that the Home Affordable Modification Program guidelines “encouraged, but did not require” that they report a TPP. The court acknowledged this distinction but noted that “[r]eporting that [a borrower] was delinquent on his loan payments without reporting the TPP implies a much greater degree of financial irresponsibility than was present here.” The court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the servicers conducted a reasonable investigation after the borrower disputed the reporting.
FHA updates loss mitigation options for mortgages in certain areas of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
On August 15, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) released Mortgagee Letter 2018-05 (ML 2018-05), which updates loss mitigation options for certain FHA-insured mortgages located in Puerto Rico or Virgin Islands. The properties must be located in Presidentially-Declared Major Disaster Areas (PDMDAs) as a result of Hurricane Maria. In adition, FHA is also instituting a 30-day foreclosure moratorium on certain properties located in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands that FEMA has declared to be eligible for individual assistance. (As previously covered by InfoBytes, ML 2018-03 had extended an existing moratorium through August 16.) Additionally, in order to reduce foreclosures and minimize losses to the Insurance Fund, ML 2018-05 provides updated loss mitigation options “designed to provide greater alternatives to foreclosure for mortgagees to use with borrowers in the designated PDMDAs.” The new options supersede the previous ones offered in ML 2018-01 and rearrange the loss mitigation waterfall in order to provide expedited permanent loss mitigation solutions by considering “Disaster Standalone Partial Claims” earlier. This option would allow borrowers, among other things, to maintain their pre-disaster monthly payment of principle and interest and does not change interest rate and term of the mortgage. These loss mitigation options must be implemented by September 15 and expire May 1, 2019. The foreclosure mortgage moratorium is effective immediately and applies to the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process.
On June 13, Freddie Mac released Guide Bulletin 2018-9, which among other things, updates servicer requirements for short-term, long-term, and unemployment forbearance plans and consolidates the offerings into a single plan. Effective December 1, the streamlined plan will allow servicers to approve forbearance plans lasting up to six months without requiring eligible borrowers to submit a Borrower Response Package. Servicers may also offer consecutive forbearance plans that do not exceed 12 months in total to qualifying borrowers. Separately, the Bulletin includes the introduction of Freddie Mac’s NextJob re-employment services company designed to serve high-needs areas and provide job search skills and training for unemployed or underemployed borrowers who have requested loss mitigation assistance.
On the same day, Fannie Mae updated its Servicing Guide to consolidate and simplify its forbearance policies into a single plan, and encouraged servicers to implement the changes immediately, but no later than December 1. Fannie Mae clarified, however, that forbearance plans “entered into prior to the servicer’s implementation would adhere to existing policy until the expiration of such forbearance plan.” Additional changes to the Servicing Guide include: (i) clarifications to the escrow advances reimbursement policy for real estate taxes and flood/property insurance premiums; and (ii) updates to be implemented by August 1 for when servicers are required to notify Fannie Mae that a mortgage loan has been placed under military indulgence.
On February 20, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia ruled that the early intervention requirements of RESPA allow for a private right of action to pursue claims against loan servicers. According to the opinion, consumers filed a complaint against a mortgage servicer for allegedly violating RESPA’s early intervention requirements under Regulation X, Section 1024.39, which require the servicer to “establish or make good faith efforts to establish live contact with a delinquent borrower not later than the 36th day of the borrower’s delinquency” and promptly inform the borrower of potential loss mitigation options. The servicer filed a motion to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim, arguing that Section 1024.39 does not provide a private right of action. In denying the motion to dismiss, the court concluded that the CFPB adopted Section 1024.39 pursuant to Section 6 of RESPA, which expressly provides a private right of action and therefore, Section 1024.39 had been intended to convey a private right of action as well.
On February 22, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced it will extend its foreclosure relief for borrowers with FHA-insured mortgages whose homes were affected by presidentially-declared natural disasters in 2017. Under Mortgagee Letter ML 2018-01 (ML 2018-01), the new “Disaster Standalone Partial Claim” loss mitigation option will allow borrowers whose property or employment is located in designated disaster areas to cover up to 12 months of missed mortgage payments 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. ML 2018-01 instructs mortgagees to implement the policies set forth no later than May 1.
Find more InfoBytes disaster relief coverage here.
CFPB’s Summer Edition of Supervisory Highlights Discloses Findings Across Many Financial Services Areas
On September 12, the CFPB released its summer 2017 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in areas such as auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, deposit account supervision, mortgage origination and servicing, remittances, service provider programs, short-term small-dollar lending, and fair lending. According to the Supervisory Highlights, recent supervisory resolutions have “resulted in total restitution payments of approximately $14 million to more than 104,000 consumers during the review period” between January 2017 and June 2017.
As examples, in the area of auto loan servicing, examiners discovered vehicles were being repossessed even though the repossession should have been cancelled. Coding errors, document mishandling, and failure to timely cancel the repossession order were cited causes. Regarding fair lending examination findings, the CFPB discovered, in general, “deficiencies in oversight by board and senior management, monitoring and corrective action processes, compliance audits, and oversight of third-party service providers.” Examiners also conducted ECOA Baseline Reviews on mortgage servicers and discovered weaknesses in servicers’ fair lending compliance management systems. Findings in other areas include the following:
- consumers were provided inaccurate information about when bank checking account service fees would be waived, and banks misrepresented overdraft protection;
- debt collectors engaged in improper debt collection practices related to short-term, small-dollar loans, including attempts to collect debts owed by a different person or contacting third parties about consumers’ debts;
- companies overcharged mortgage closing fees or wrongly charged application fees that are prohibited by the Bureau’s Know Before You Owe mortgage disclosure rules; and
- borrowers were denied the opportunity to take full advantage of the mortgage loss mitigation options, and mortgage servicers failed to “exercise reasonable diligence in collecting information needed to complete the borrower’s application.”
The Bureau also set forth new examination procedures for HMDA data collection and reporting requirements as well as student loan servicers, in addition to providing guidance for covered persons and service providers regarding pay-by-phone fee assessments.
Fed Assesses $1.8 Million Civil Money Penalty Against Florida-Based Holding Company, Terminates Enforcement Action
On June 8, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve (Board) announced the termination of an enforcement action brought against a Florida-based holding company in April 2011 relating to deficiencies in its residential mortgage loan servicing, loss mitigation, and foreclosure processing activities found in an Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) review of the company. Additionally, the OTS review found inadequate procedures to assess potential risks associated with such activities. Under the terms of the 2011 enforcement action, the holding company was required to enhance its oversight of its thrift subsidiary and improve its internal risk management, audit, and compliance programs to address deficiencies in these areas. The decision to terminate the action was based on a review conducted by the Board’s supervisory team, which determined the holding company made “sustainable improvement” in its mortgage servicing oversight practices. Furthermore, the mortgage servicer has agreed to pay a $1.8 million civil money penalty.
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