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On January 20, the newly-installed Trump Administration issued Mortgagee Letter 2017-07, which indefinitely suspended the reduction in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) premiums that had been scheduled to go into effect January 27 under a policy approved by outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro. In suspending the rate change, FHA explained that it remains “committed to ensuring its mortgage insurance programs [remain] viable and effective in the long term for all parties involved, especially our taxpayers,” and that, “more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions in an ever-changing global economy that could impact our efforts.” FHA also confirmed that it “will issue a subsequent Mortgagee Letter at a later date should this policy change.”
In an opinion issued Thursday in Bartram v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, Nos. SC14-1265, SC14-1266, SC14-1305, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 16236 (Dist. Ct. App. Nov. 3, 2016), the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a mortgagee is not precluded by the five-year statute of limitations for filing a subsequent foreclosure action based on payment defaults occurring subsequent to the dismissal of the first foreclosure action, as long as the alleged subsequent default occurred within five years of the subsequent foreclosure action. In so holding, the Court affirmed the lower appellate court's decision and reinstated litigation.
The dispute in Bartram began with a 2006 foreclosure lawsuit against Bartram after he stopped making payments on his mortgage. In April 2011, with Bartram's suit still pending, his ex-wife filed a declaratory judgment action to quiet title to the property, naming her ex-husband, the bank and the homeowners’ association as defendants. When the original foreclosure suit against Bartram was dismissed on procedural grounds one month later, he sought declaratory judgment that the 5-year statute of limitations had passed. Specifically, he argued that the limitations period began to run when he defaulted in January 2006 and the bank accelerated the loan. Although the trial court sided with Bartram, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida’s high court narrowly construed the question, framing the issue as: “Does acceleration of payments due under a residential note and mortgage with a reinstatement provision in a foreclosure action that was dismissed . . . trigger application of the statute of limitations to prevent a subsequent foreclosure action by the mortgage based on payment defaults occurring subsequent to dismissal of the first foreclosure suit?” As noted above, the Florida Supreme Court held it does not.
On October 26, the FHA released Mortgagee Letter 2016-15 announcing its decision to lower the owner-occupancy requirement on condominiums to as low as 35 percent. The letter follows a September announcement in which the FHA stated that, pursuant to the Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act of 2016, or H.R. 3700, it was required to “issue guidance regarding the percentage of units within an approved condominium development that must be owner occupied.” The guidance outlined in Mortgagee Letter 2016-15 is “effective immediately for all condominium project approval applications, recertification applications, annexation applications or reconsideration applications submitted for review.”
On December 9, FHA announced new maximum loan limits for forward mortgages for 2016 in 188 counties due to changes in housing prices. The new loan limits for forward mortgages are effective for case numbers assigned on or after January 1, 2016 through the end of the year. FHA noted that no areas saw a decrease in the maximum loan limits for forward mortgages and that, as detailed in Mortgagee Letter 2015-30, the national standard loan limits for low cost and high cost areas remain unchanged at $271,050 and $625,500, respectively.
On July 23, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-16, which requires FHA mortgagees to retain electronic copies of certain foreclosure-related documents and extends the record retention period to seven years after the life of an FHA-insured mortgage. HUD advises that, in addition to any requirements for retaining hard copies or original foreclosure-related documents, loss-mitigation review documents also must be retained in electronic format. Those documents include: (i) evidence of the servicer’s foreclosure committee recommendation; (ii) the servicer’s Referral Notice to a foreclosure attorney, if applicable; and (iii) a copy of the document evidencing the first legal action necessary to initiate foreclosure and all supporting documentation, if applicable. The letter adds that mortgagees also must retain in electronic format a copy of the mortgage, the mortgage note, or the deed of trust. If a note has been lost, mortgagees must retain both an electronic and hard copy of a Lost Note Affidavit. The letter is effective for all foreclosures occurring on or after October 1, 2014.
On July 10, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-15, which updates requirements for pre-foreclosure sales (PFS) and deeds-in-lieu (DIL) of foreclosure for all mortgagees servicing FHA single-family mortgages. The letter explains that if none of FHA’s loss mitigation home retention options are available or appropriate, the mortgagee must evaluate the borrower for a non-home retention option, with mortgagors in default or at imminent risk of default being evaluated first for a PFS transaction before being evaluated for a DIL transaction. The letter details eligibility and documentation requirements for standard PFS, streamlined PFS, and DILs, as well as rules for calculating cash reserve contributions for standard PFS transactions. Further, the letter advises mortgagees that they may, under certain conditions, approve a servicemember for a streamlined PFS or DIL without verifying hardship or obtaining a complete mortgagor workout packet. The letter also addresses numerous other topics, including: (i) requirements for real estate agents and brokers participating in PFS transactions; (ii) an initial listing period requirement for PFS transactions; (iii) updated sample language for the PFS Addendum; (iv) validation requirements for appraisals; (v) the criteria under which the HUD will permit non-arms-length PFS transactions; and (vi) minimum marketing period for all PFS transactions.
HUD Seeks Comments On Limits Of Insurability Of Fixed Interest HECM Products, Announces Other HECM Program Changes
On July 10, HUD published a request for comment on its recent amendments to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) reverse mortgage program to limit the insurability of fixed interest rate reverse mortgages. Although those changes already took effect under the emergency action taken by HUD, it now seeks public comment on those changes. HUD also recently took two other actions related to the HECM program. In Mortgagee Letter 2014-10, HUD reminded mortgagees of the FHA’s requirements prohibiting misleading or deceptive advertising, described those prohibitions, and clarified that they extend to misleading or deceptive descriptions of the HECM program. On June 27, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-12, which announced new HECM principal limit factors. HUD’s new principal limit factor tables now include principal limit factors where the borrower has a non-borrowing spouse younger than 62.
On July 3, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-13, which requires mortgagees seeking voluntary termination of FHA mortgage insurance to obtain a signed borrower consent form from each borrower on the mortgage. HUD states that in order to ensure that voluntary terminations of mortgage insurance are processed in accordance with the National Housing Act and HUD regulations, HUD now requires mortgagees requesting such termination to inform borrowers in writing that electing to terminate the mortgage insurance means that the mortgage will no longer be governed by FHA insurance program rules and regulations, including FHA’s loss mitigation requirements. Effective October 1, 2014, mortgagees must obtain a signed Borrower’s Consent to Voluntary Termination of FHA Mortgage Insurance, which must be on the mortgagee’s letterhead and must include the language in the sample form provided by HUD. HUD will require each borrower on the mortgage to sign the consent form in order for the request for voluntary termination to be considered valid by FHA. Mortgagees must retain copies of the consent form(s) in the servicing file in accordance with HUD’s record retention policies.
On June 18, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-11, which amends the HECM reverse mortgage program to limit the insurability of fixed interest rate reverse mortgages. The letter explains that HUD has identified new emerging risks in connection with certain fixed interest rate HECM strategies that are being introduced in the market. Specifically, HUD is concerned about (i) a new option that “strongly encourages the mortgagor to take the maximum amount available during the first twelve-month disbursement period and to take the remaining amount shortly after the expiration of the first twelve-month disbursement period whether they need it or not;” and (ii) a second option that “emphasizes mortgagor options for future draws at the fixed interest rate set at origination.” As a result, under the new policy, FHA will only insure fixed interest rate reverse mortgages where the mortgage limits the mortgagor to: (i) a single, full draw to be made at loan closing; and (ii) does not provide for future draws by the mortgagor under any circumstances. In addition, FHA will only insure adjustable interest rate reverse mortgages where the payment plan option is either: (i) tenure; (ii) term; (iii) line of credit; (iv) modified tenure; or (v) modified term. The letter details numerous additional related policy changes, describes changes to HECM loan document forms required to implement the policy changes, and updates instructions for entering in FHA Connection a fixed interest rate HECM with a single disbursement lump sum payment option.
HUD To Insure Reverse Mortgages Protecting Non-Borrowing Spouses; Senators Seek Protections For Surviving Heirs
On April 25, HUD issued Mortgagee Letter 2014-07, which states that effective August 4, 2014, HUD will apply an alternative interpretation of Subsection 255(j) of the National Housing Act, which HUD has interpreted to limit its reverse mortgage program (HECM) to insuring only those that contain a safeguard to defer repayment of the loan until the homeowner’s death and certain other circumstances. Going forward, HUD also will insure HECMs that contain a provision deferring the due and payable status in the event of the death of the last surviving mortgagor or the death of the last surviving non-borrowing spouse (including common law), if the spouse was identified at the time of closing. HUD states the change will obviate the need for non-borrowing spouses to refinance the loan upon the mortgagor’s death. HUD intends to publish a rule on this issue, but decided to take initial action through a mortgagee letter, as allowed under the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013.
On April 30, Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter to HUD Secretary Donovan following reported allegations that reverse mortgage companies are threatening heirs with foreclosure instead of following HUD’s rules and allowing them to satisfy the loan at 95% of current appraised value. The Senators' letter asks HUD to: (i) issue a mortgagee letter making clear that a matured reverse mortgage loan can be extinguished by the mortgagor, the mortgagor’s estate, or personal representative by paying 95% of the home’s market value; (ii) develop a letter that servicers can send to a borrower’s family members and heirs that outlines options for satisfying the loan; and (iii) enforce existing rules and require that any servicer that fails to offer this option within the required time allow a family member or heir to pay the lower of 95% of the home’s value at the time the loan became due or 95% of the home’s value at the time the error was corrected.
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