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On January 19, the CFPB issued a final rule amending Regulation Z, as required by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, to exempt certain insured depository institutions and credit unions from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for certain higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs). Under the final rule, any loan made by an insured depository institution or credit union that is secured by a first lien on the principal dwelling of a consumer would be exempt from Regulation Z’s HPML escrow requirement if (i) the institution has assets of no more than $10 billion; (ii) “the institution and its affiliates originated 1,000 or fewer loans secured by a first lien on a principal dwelling during the preceding calendar year”; and (iii) the institution meets certain existing HPML escrow exemption criteria. The final rule essentially adopts the proposed rule (covered by InfoBytes here) without change, except the end date for the exception to the prerequisite against maintaining escrows is finalized as 120 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register, instead of the 90 days as proposed.
Recently, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) issued a notice of proposed regulations (and accompanying statement of reasons) seeking to amend the state’s Escrow Law to clarify (i) the meanings of personal property and prohibited compensation; (ii) maintenance of books and preservation of records; and (iii) the annual report requirements. Among other things, the proposal adds “gametic material” to the definition of personal property to clarify that escrow agents may conduct transactions that hold and disburse funds under assisted reproduction agreements. Additionally, the update to the escrow books and records provisions are to “ensure that CPAs may participate in engagements to meet the annual audit report requirement for Escrow Law licensees without violating any rule of professional conduct.” Comments on the proposed regulatory amendments are due by February 15.
On October 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a putative class action, concluding that the current mortgage servicer has the obligation under RESPA to pay tax payments as they become due. According to the opinion, after a consumer refinanced their mortgage loan, the mortgage was sold to a new mortgage company (defendant), which took over the servicing rights and responsibilities from the previous servicer, effective October 2017. The consumer continued making payments on the mortgage loan, which included payments to an escrow account for property taxes. The defendant allegedly did not pay the consumer’s property taxes due in November 2017 until sometime in 2018. The city assessed late penalties (which the defendant ultimately paid) and the late payment adversely affected the consumer’s income tax bill in the amount of $895. The consumer filed a putative class action alleging, among other things, that the defendant violated RESPA by failing to make the tax payment on time. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the previous servicer was “responsible as ‘the servicer’ under RESPA” to make the payments.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit disagreed, concluding that the consumer plausibly alleged that the defendant was responsible for servicing his mortgage at the time, and therefore, responsible for making his tax payment when due. The appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument that RESPA requires the entity that “received funds for escrow” to make the tax payment when due. RESPA, according to the appellate court, “connects the servicer’s obligation to a payment’s due date, not the date of payment into escrow by the borrower.” Thus, the defendant would be “the servicer” responsible for paying the mortgage tax from the borrower’s escrow account on its due date.
On October 2, the Hawaii Division of Financial Institutions extended interim guidance allowing Hawaii-located financial institutions to reduce hours or close offices during Hawaii’s Covid-19 state of emergency (see here and here for previous coverage). Similar to previously issued guidance, financial institutions and escrow depositories are required to provide notice of closures or reductions in hours. While mortgage loan originators, mortgage servicers and money transmitters are not required to provide notice, the regulator requests a courtesy notification of any closure or reduction in hours. The guidance is extended “in accordance with the county emergency orders found on each county website.”
On September 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a split decision, reversed the denial of a national bank’s motion to dismiss, holding that state law claims involving interest on escrow accounts were preempted by the Home Owners Loan Act (HOLA). As previously covered by InfoBytes, three plaintiffs filed suit against the bank, arguing that it must comply with a California law that requires mortgage lenders to pay interest on funds held in a consumer’s escrow account, following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v. Bank of America (covered by InfoBytes here). The bank moved to dismiss the action, arguing, among other things, that the claims were preempted by HOLA. The court acknowledged that HOLA preempted the state interest law as to the originator of the mortgages, a now-defunct federal thrift, but disagreed with the bank’s assertion that the preemption attached throughout the life of the loan, including after the loan was transferred to a bank whose own lending is not covered by HOLA. The district court granted the bank’s motion for interlocutory appeal.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed with the district court. Specifically, the appellate court applied the plain meaning of the Office of Thrift Supervision’s preemption regulation, concluding that it “extend[ed] to all state laws affecting a federal savings association, without reference to whether the conduct giving rise to a state law claim is that of a federal savings association or of a national bank.” The appellate court distinguished the case from Lusnak, noting that HOLA preemption is “triggered at a much lower threshold” than National Bank Act. Finally, the appellate court rejected the premise that applying preemption would “run afoul” of HOLA’s purpose of consumer protection, concluding that “HOLA field preemption is so broad that the traditional presumption against preemption does not apply.”
In dissent, a judge argued that the statutory and regulatory text does not support the majority’s conclusion and therefore, HOLA’s application does not excuse the national bank from California’s law requiring interest on escrow accounts.
On August 13, the Hawaii Division of Financial Institutions extended, until September 30, 2020, interim guidance permitting licensees with locations in Hawaii to reduce hours or close offices during Hawaii’s Covid-19 emergency period. Consistent with the previous guidance, covered here, financial institutions and escrow depositories are required to provide notice of closures or reductions in hours. While mortgage loan originators, mortgage servicers, and money transmitters are not required to provide notice, the regulator requests a courtesy notification of any closure or reduction in hours.
Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions extends emergency declarations to non-depository entities
On July 24, the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions extended emergency declarations for residential mortgage lenders, check cashers, bond for deed escrow agents and repossession agents, brokers and lenders licensed under the Louisiana Consumer Credit Law and Deferred Presentment and Small Loan Act, and pawnbrokers. The orders were previously covered here. Such entities are granted the authority to temporarily close licensed locations within Louisiana or to temporarily close and/or relocate to another location within the state. Mortgage loan originators are permitted to work from home, whether located in Louisiana or another state, even if the home is not registered with the LOFI. The declarations also provide instructions for notifying the LOFI of a temporary location change. The declarations will remain in effect as long as there is a public health emergency relating to Covid-19, or until rescinded or replaced.
On July 9, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied a national bank’s request for interlocutory appeal of the court’s February decision denying the bank’s motion to dismiss an action, which alleged that the bank violated Maryland law by not paying interest on escrow sums for residential mortgages. As previously covered by InfoBytes, after the bank allegedly failed to pay interest on a consumer’s mortgage escrow account, the consumer filed suit against the bank alleging, among other things, a violation of Section 12-109 of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), which “requires lenders to pay interest on funds maintained in escrow on behalf of borrowers.” The court rejected the bank’s assertion that the state law is preempted by the National Bank Act (NBA) and by the OCC’s 2004 preemption regulations. The court concluded that under the Dodd-Frank Act, national banks are required to pay interest on escrow accounts when mandated by applicable state or federal law.
The bank subsequently moved for an interlocutory appeal. In denying the bank’s request, the court explained that there was not a difference of opinion among courts as to whether the NBA preempts Maryland’s interest on escrow law. Specifically, the court noted that its “conclusion aligns with the only other two courts that have examined [the] particular question,” citing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Lusnak v Bank of America and the Eastern District of New York’s decision in Hymes v. Bank of America (covered by InfoBytes here and here, respectively). After finding there is no “difference of opinion as to any ‘controlling legal issue,’” the court concluded the motion failed to satisfy the requisite elements for an interlocutory appeal.
On July 2, the CFPB issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend Regulation Z, as required by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, and exempt certain insured depository institutions and credit unions from the requirement to establish escrow accounts for certain higher-priced mortgage loans (HPMLs). Under the proposed amendment, any loan made by an insured depository institution or credit union that is secured by a first lien on the principal dwelling of a consumer would be exempt from Regulation Z’s HPML escrow requirement if (i) the institution has assets of no more than $10 billion; (ii) “the institution and its affiliates originated 1,000 or fewer loans secured by a first lien on a principal dwelling during the preceding calendar year”; and (iii) the institution meets certain existing HPML escrow exemption criteria. Comments on the NPRM will be accepted for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.
Hawaii regulator extends guidance permitting licensees to reduce office hours, temporarily close offices
On July 2, the Hawaii Division of Financial Institutions extended earlier guidance, previously covered here, that temporarily permits licensees with locations in Hawaii to reduce hours or close offices during Hawaii’s Covid-19 emergency period. Notice of temporary closure or relocation from certain licensees, including escrow depositories and financial institutions, is required. The guidance is extended to July 31, 2020.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP in consumer finance at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable