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Special Alert: CFPB proposes to halt foreclosure starts from August 31 until 2022 and create new loss mitigation requirements for servicers
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday issued a proposal that would broadly halt foreclosure initiations on principal residences from August 31, 2021 until 2022, and change servicing rules to promote consumer awareness and processing of Covid-relief loss mitigation options. Although the proposal would give servicers some flexibility in streamlining the modification process, most already have been offering many of these types of modifications since the early days of the pandemic. The proposal also would create new and detailed obligations for communicating with borrowers to ensure they are aware of their loss mitigation options for pandemic-related hardships.
The CFPB indicated that a final rule implementing the proposal will take effect Aug. 31 — a tight timeline to address public comments, which are due May 10. The proposal comes as the housing market is strengthening, loans in Covid-related forbearance are dropping, the unemployment rate is ticking down, and the nation’s vaccination program is gathering momentum.
Restrictions on foreclosure initiation through Dec. 31 for principal residences
The CFPB proposes prohibiting servicers from making the first notice or filing for foreclosure from the effective date on Aug. 31, 2021 until after Dec. 31, 2021, on all principal residences, regardless of whether the loan default was related in any way to the Covid-19 pandemic. Regulation X currently requires a servicer to generally refrain from making the first notice or filing to initiate foreclosure until the borrower reaches the 120th day of delinquency. Although the CFPB has previously taken the position that a borrower generally is not obligated to make a lump sum payment upon expiration of the forbearance period (See for example: Slides - Housing Counseling Webinar Forbearance Options and Resources - March 22, 2021 (hudexchange.info)), the proposal acknowledges that borrowers who enter forbearance programs and do not make payments during the forbearance period become increasingly delinquent on their mortgage obligation. As a result, without additional action, servicers likely would have a right under Regulation X to initiate foreclosure in the event a borrower comes off of a forbearance plan and does not cure the delinquency through reinstatement, deferral, or some other loss mitigation alternative to foreclosure. The proposal said a temporary foreclosure prohibition would address this concern.
The CFPB indicated it is considering creating exemptions from this restriction that would allow for the commencement of foreclosure proceedings if the borrower is not eligible for any nonforeclosure loss mitigation options or has failed to respond to servicer outreach.
It is possible that loan investors who had expected to instruct servicers to foreclose on defaulted loans will raise a legal challenge to the broad proposed foreclosure restriction, which appears to be principally based upon the CFPB’s authority to issue regulations creating mortgage servicer obligations as “appropriate to carry out [the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act’s] consumer protection purposes.” It is an open question whether a blanket prohibition on foreclosures — including those unrelated to the pandemic — and applicable to all mortgage servicers is within the CFPB’s statutory authority under RESPA or the Dodd-Frank Act
Modifications based on evaluation of an incomplete loss mitigation application
The proposal also would allow servicers to offer borrowers with a Covid-19 related hardship a loan modification based on an incomplete application, as long as the modification met the following criteria:
- Term and payment limitations: The modification may not cause the borrower’s principal and interest payment to increase and may not extend the term of the loan by more than 480 months from the date of the modification.
- Non-interest-bearing deferred amounts: Any amounts that the borrower may delay paying until the loan is refinanced, the property is sold, or the loan modification matures, must not accrue interest.
- Fee restrictions: No fees may be charged for the loan modification and all existing late charges, penalties, stop-payment fees, and similar charges must be waived upon acceptance (the CFPB said it was aware that certain agencies, including the Federal Housing Administration, only require waiver of fees incurred after the beginning of the pandemic, and that such modifications would not fall within this safe harbor).
- Covid-related hardship: The loan modification is made available to borrowers experiencing a Covid-19-related hardship, which is very broadly defined in the regulation as “a financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the Covid-19 emergency.”
- Delinquency cure: The modification must be designed to end any preexisting delinquency.
Interestingly, investors and agencies have largely eliminated documentation requirements in response to the pandemic, and servicers have been successfully offering streamlined loan modifications under Regulation X’s current requirements. The lack of documentation requirements has seemingly blurred the lines of what constitutes a complete loss mitigation application.
Additional borrower outreach required
The proposed rule would require servicers, for one year after the effective date, to give borrowers Covid-forbearance-related information regarding the current Regulation X early intervention requirements, as follows:
- For borrowers not currently in forbearance, when live contact is made with the borrower, and the investor makes available to that borrower a Covid--related forbearance program, the servicer must inquire whether the borrower has a Covid-related hardship, then list and briefly describe available programs and actions the borrower must take to be evaluated for them. The CFPB noted that this could include listing federal, state, and/or investor-specific options.
- If the borrower is on forbearance, during the last live contact made pursuant to the early intervention rules prior to the program’s expiration, the servicer must inform the borrower of the date on which the current forbearance period ends and each type of post-forbearance option that is available to the borrower to resolve the post-forbearance delinquency, along with the actions that must be taken to be evaluated for such options. Importantly, this list would include all available loss mitigation options—not simply Covid-specific options.
The proposed rule would also require a servicer to contact the borrower no later than 30 days before the end of the forbearance period to determine if the borrower wishes to complete the loss mitigation application and proceed with a full loss mitigation evaluation. If the borrower requests further assistance, the servicer must exercise reasonable diligence to complete the application before the end of the forbearance program period.
The compliance requirements the proposal contemplates seems likely to present additional complexity and liability for mortgage servicers as they gear up to address the upcoming wave of delinquent borrowers who will be coming out of Covid-related forbearances.
If you have any questions regarding the CFPB’s proposal, please visit our Mortgages practice page or our Covid-19 Legal Resources & Capabilities page or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On March 19, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted a mortgage lender’s motion for summary judgment, rejecting allegations that it had violated RESPA and Regulation X in handling plaintiffs’ loss mitigation application. The plaintiffs executed a promissory note and mortgage with the lender in 2017 and then initiated a loss mitigation application the following year. To complete the loss mitigation application process, the lender requested documents and information from the plaintiffs. The lender filed a foreclosure action after informing the plaintiffs that “required documents ‘remain outstanding.’” The plaintiffs filed suit, alleging the lender mishandled their loss mitigation application by, among other things, (i) failing to exercise reasonable diligence in obtaining documents and information to complete the loss mitigation application; (ii) failing to provide “the correct notices regarding the receipt of documents or with notice of a reasonable date by which Plaintiffs were required to submit additional documents to complete the loss mitigation application”; (iii) failing to evaluate the complete loss mitigation application for all available loss mitigation options within 30 days; (iv) requesting documents already received or impossible to obtain; and (v) filing a foreclosure action against the plaintiffs even though the loss mitigation application was either complete or facially complete.
The court disagreed, ruling that the lender “did not violate RESPA or Regulation X in either the handling of Plaintiffs’ loss mitigation application or in filing foreclosure litigation against Plaintiffs” because, among other things, “[t]here is no genuine issue of material fact that Plaintiffs did not comply with [the lender’s] request for additional information” and that “a complete, or even facially complete, loss mitigation application was not pending in this matter at the time of the filing of the foreclosure action.” As such, because an incomplete loss mitigation application does not carry foreclosure protections, the filed foreclosure action was not improper, the court wrote.
On December 18, the CFPB announced a settlement with a mortgage servicer for allegedly violating the CFPA and RESPA’s implementing regulation, Regulation X, due to widespread failures in the handling and processing of homeowners’ applications for loss mitigation options. According to the consent order, which was entered with the mortgage servicer’s successor in interest, the mortgage servicer violated Regulation X by, among other things, failing to (i) state in the acknowledgement notices the additional documents and information borrowers needed to submit to complete loss mitigation applications; (ii) provide a reasonable due date for submission of borrower documents; (iii) properly evaluate borrowers for all loss mitigation options available to them; and (iv) treat certain applications as “facially complete” in accordance with Regulation X. Additionally, the consent order states that the servicer’s alleged failure to “accurately review, process, track, and communicate to borrowers information regarding their applications for loss mitigation options” is an unfair act or practice and the alleged failure to send accurate acknowledgement notices is a deceptive act or practice. The Bureau asserts that the servicer’s failures delayed or deprived some borrowers of a reasonable opportunity to obtain the benefits of a loss mitigation option, resulting in additional harm such as negative credit reporting, additional late fees, and additional interest.
The consent order requires the successor in interest to pay nearly $5 million in total redress to over 11,000 consumers. The consent order also imposes a $500,000 civil money penalty and includes requirements for operational changes should the successor in interest resume mortgage servicing operations.
On December 21, FHA announced the extension of several Covid-19-related flexibilities, which were set to expire on December 31. Specifically, FHA further extended its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through February 28. The moratorium applies to homeowners with FHA-insured Title II Single Family forward and Home Equity Conversion (reverse) mortgages, excluding legally vacant or abandoned properties. Additionally, FHA extended the date by which borrowers must engage with their servicer to obtain an initial Covid-19 forbearance to February 28 (details on the Covid-19 forbearance covered by InfoBytes here), and requires that mortgage servicers provide up to 6 months of forbearance or an additional 6 month extension of the initial Covid-19 forbearance. The FHA also extended (i) the timeframe for providing an insurance endorsement on single family mortgages in forbearance through March 31; (ii) the temporary re-verification of employment guidance and exterior-only appraisal inspection option through February 28; and (iii) temporary provisions for verification of self-employment, rental income, and 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage escrow accounts through February 28.
On September 14, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued Circular 26-20-33, which clarifies whether, due to the impact of Covid-19, servicers may offer deferment as a Covid-19 loss mitigation option. Deferment may be used if the veteran is able to resume making monthly payment as scheduled under the loan contract after the conclusion of the forbearance period. However, for the VA’s purposes, servicers do not need to, and should not, enter into a modification agreement that modifies the terms of the existing loan for the purpose of applying a deferment. To accommodate the deferment option, the VA has temporarily waived the usual requirement that the final installment on any loan not be in excess of two times the average of the preceding installments. This waiver applies only where the servicer offers a deferment as a Covid-19 loss mitigation option to a borrower who requested CARES Act forbearance, among other conditions in the circular. The circular is rescinded October 1, 2021.
On July 15, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac introduced a new home-retention workout option, the “disaster payment deferral,” for borrowers experiencing financial hardship. According to Fannie Mae’s Lender Letter LL-2020-11 and Freddie Mac’s Guide Bulletin 2020-28, the disaster payment deferral would bring the borrower current on their mortgage by deferring the delinquency amount (which includes up to 12 months of past-due principal and interest payments; out-of-pocket escrow advances paid to third parties; and servicing advances paid to third parties in the ordinary course of business) as a non-interest bearing balance, due and payable at liquidation, refinance, or maturity. To qualify for the program, an eligible disaster event is defined as (i) a financial hardship that impacts the borrower's ability to pay their contractual monthly payment; and (ii) either: the property securing the mortgage loan experienced an insured loss, the property securing the mortgage loan is located in an eligible FEMA-Declared Disaster Area, or the borrower's place of employment is located in an eligible FEMA-Declared Disaster Area. Among other requirements detailed by the Lender Letter and Bulletin, servicers must confirm that the borrower has resolved the financial hardship and have the ability to continue paying the contractual monthly payments. Servicers must begin evaluating borrowers for the disaster payment deferral beginning July 1.
On July 14, FHA published proposed revisions to the Servicing and Loss Mitigation section (Section III) of the Single Family Housing Policy Handbook 4000.1 (SF Handbook) on the agency’s drafting table. The proposed revisions include: (i) changes to the standard servicing loss mitigation home retention waterfall; (ii) elimination of certain borrower documentation requirements for Trial Payment Plans to be consistent with industry practices; and (iii) modification of certain operational policies to provide more consistency between FHA policies and those used by Government Sponsored Enterprises and the private market. The proposed revisions do not address the immediate servicing and loss mitigation challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Comments on the proposed revisions must be received by September 12.
On July 8, the FHA announced additional home retention measures to assist homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages who are financially impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Mortgagee Letter 2020-22, effective immediately, mortgage servicers are able to offer a new suit of loss mitigation “waterfall” options to homeowners whose mortgages were current or less than 30 days past due as of March 1. ML 2020-22 updates existing options previously outlined in ML 2020-06 (covered by InfoBytes here) and introduces several new measures including (i) a standalone partial claim, not to exceed the 30 percent maximum statutory value; (ii) an owner-occupant loan modification (for homeowners who do not qualify for a standalone partial claim) that will modify the rate and term of the existing mortgage at the end of the Covid-19 forbearance period; (iii) a combination partial clam and loan modification (for homeowners who are ineligible for either of the first two options); and (iv) a FHA Home Affordable Modification Program combination loan modification and partial claim with reduced documentation, which may include principal deferment and is for homeowners who are ineligible for the other home retention solutions. ML 2020-22 also provides that borrowers who do not currently occupy their FHA-insurance single family property may obtain a modification to their mortgage rates and terms under a Covid-19 non-occupant loan modification.
On June 23, the CFPB issued an interim final rule that provides relief to mortgage servicers from certain Regulation X requirements when offering Covid-19 related loss mitigation options. Among other things, the interim final rule amends Regulation X to temporarily permit servicers to offer eligible loss mitigation options without obtaining a complete loss mitigation application from borrowers who have experienced a financial hardship due to Covid-19. In order to qualify for the exception, the loss mitigation option must satisfy certain criteria, including that (i) it must permit the borrower to delay paying certain amounts until liquidation, refinance, maturity, or, for a mortgage insured by FHA, the mortgage insurance terminates; (ii) the servicer cannot charge interest on delayed payment amounts, cannot charge fees in connection with the option, and must waive all existing penalties and fees upon acceptance; and (iii) the borrower’s acceptance must resolve any prior delinquency. The interim final rule is effective on July 1.
On May 27, Fannie Mae issued technical updates to Lender Letter LL-2020-07 and LL-2020-05 to include operational requirements related to reporting and completing a Covid-19 payment deferral, as well as the process for obtaining reimbursement for expenses related to the Covid-19 payment deferral. Among other things, servicers are required to pay any expenses associated with the execution of a Covid-19 payment deferral, such as required notary fees, recording costs, and title costs, but Fannie Mae will reimburse allowable expenses in accordance with F-1-05: Expense Reimbursement, in the Fannie Mae Servicing Guide.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced the new Covid-19 payment deferral option to “help borrowers impacted by a hardship related to Covid-19 return their mortgage to a current status after up to 12 months of missed payments.” The new option is for borrowers who (i) are on a Covid-19 related forbearance plan, or (ii) have a resolved financial hardship due to Covid-19. If a borrower is eligible for the Covid-19 payment deferral, the servicer must allow the borrower to resume their contractual monthly payments; however, the delinquency amount must be deferred as a non-interest bearing balance, due and payable at liquidation, refinance, or maturity.
Servicers must begin evaluating borrowers for the Covid-19 payment deferral beginning July 1.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference