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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • DOJ: $4.5 million judgment in case targeting Hispanic homeowners

    Federal Issues

    On June 10, the DOJ announced that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered a consent order against several defendants accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by targeting Hispanic homeowners for predatory mortgage loan modification services. After several Hispanic homeowners filed discrimination complaints with HUD, the agency conducted an investigation, issued charges of discrimination, and referred the matter to the DOJ for litigation. According to the DOJ’s complaint, the defendants targeted Hispanic homeowners with deceptive Spanish-language advertising “that falsely promised to cut their mortgage payments in half” and guaranteed “lower payments in a specific timeframe in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550, which defendants claimed were ‘non-refundable.’” The DOJ further contended that many of the targeted Hispanic homeowners (who had limited English proficiency) were told not to communicate with their lenders and were instructed to stop making monthly mortgage payments; however, the defendants allegedly “did little or nothing to obtain the promised loan modifications,” leading to defaults and foreclosures.

    The consent order, reached in partnership with the Civil Rights Division’s Housing Section, enters a nearly $4.6 million judgment (which is mostly suspended) against the defendants to compensate harmed homeowners. Of this amount, $95,000 in total will go to three individuals who intervened as plaintiffs in the DOJ’s lawsuit. Defendants must also pay a $5,000 civil penalty. In addition to monetary relief, the consent order permanently enjoins defendants “from providing any mortgage relief assistance services, including, but not limited to, mortgage loan modification, foreclosure rescue, or foreclosure defense services.” The consent order also imposes training and reporting/recordkeeping requirements for defendants’ other real-estate activities.

    Federal Issues Courts DOJ Fair Lending Fair Housing Act Discrimination Limited English Proficiency Settlement Mortgages HUD Consumer Finance

  • CFPB releases Spanish translations of certain disclosures

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the CFPB announced that it made available Spanish translations of certain disclosures to help financial institutions better support Spanish-speaking communities. According to the Bureau, financial service providers recognize the need for additional services and customer-facing materials in multiple languages. The Bureau also noted that it has encouraged financial institutions to provide fair and transparent access to products and services to those who prefer using a language other than English. Translations of the disclosures released by the Bureau include: (i) prepaid card model forms; (ii) adverse action sample notices; (iii) home mortgage origination documents, including the loan estimate and closing disclosure; (iv) early intervention clauses for mortgage servicers; (v) credit reporting notices; and (vi) debt collection model validation notices.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Limited English Proficiency Disclosures

  • CFPB provides Spanish translations

    Federal Issues

    On April 29, the CFPB released Spanish translations for certain model and sample forms included in the Prepaid Rule in Regulation E and for certain adverse action model and sample notices included in Regulation B. According to the Bureau, the release is part of its continuing effort to ensure fair access to competitive and transparent markets for all consumers. The Bureau also reminded financial institutions of their obligation to serve the communities where they conduct business, which includes communities with limited English proficiency, in addition to encouraging the use of the translations as they work with Spanish-speakers. 

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Regulation E Regulation B Limited English Proficiency

  • DOJ: Property owner’s LEP policies violate FHA

    Federal Issues

    On April 1, the DOJ filed a statement of interest in a 2021 lawsuit alleging defendants violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to rent to applicants with limited English proficiency (LEP) unless someone who speaks and reads English resides in the apartment unit. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, also alleged that the defendants refused offers made by the applicants to bring their own interpreters to translate lease documents and assist with communications.

    According to the plaintiff fair housing organization, “the defendants’ LEP exclusion policy imposes an unjustified disparate impact on the basis of national origin and race,” with the defendants’ restrictive language policy acting as “a pretext to discriminate against applicants based on” these protected classes. The defendants moved to dismiss the case, “arguing that their LEP exclusion policy cannot, as a matter of law, violate the FHA” and that HUD’s 2016 HUD Office of General Counsel Guidance on Fair Housing Act Protections for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (2016 HUD LEP Guidance), which explains how restrictive language policies may violate the FHA, is wrong and does not deserve deference by the court.

    In its statement of interest, the DOJ agreed with the plaintiff that dismissal of the complaint would be inappropriate. In explaining how policies that screen on the basis of an applicant’s language ability may violate the FHA, the DOJ pointed out that some courts have held that language policies can have an unjustified disparate impact on the basis of national origin or race, while others “have recognized that language polices can serve as proxies or pretexts for intentional discrimination based on national origin or race.” As such the DOJ contended that the defendants’ claim that LEP status is not a protected class under the FHA “misses the point.” The DOJ also defended the 2016 HUD LEP Guidance as a reasonable interpretation of the FHA.

    Federal Issues DOJ Fair Housing Act Discrimination Courts Disparate Impact Limited English Proficiency

  • CFPB releases Spanish-language model validation notice for debt collectors

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    Recently, the CFPB issued a Spanish-language translation of its Model Validation Notice. Debt collectors are permitted to send a consumer a completely and accurately translated validation notice if the consumer was either provided an English-language version in the same communication or in a prior communication. Debt collectors that meet these requirements and use the translated notice qualify for the Debt Collection Rule’s safe harbor that any translation be complete and accurate. The Bureau noted that the translated validation notice omits the disclosure informing consumers of their right to request the validation notice in Spanish, “because no translation of those disclosures is necessary,” but debt collectors who choose to include the optional Spanish-language disclosures in a Spanish-language validation notice are still eligible for the safe harbor.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Consumer Finance Debt Collection Regulation F Validation Notice Limited English Proficiency

  • CFPB releases LEP statement

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On January 13, the CFPB released fair-lending guidance for financial institutions that provide services to borrowers with limited English proficiency (LEP). As previously covered by InfoBytes, last July the Bureau issued a request for information that sought, among other things, information on ways to provide clarity under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and/or Regulation B related to meeting the credit needs of LEP borrowers. During a 2020 roundtable focusing on LEP issues, the Bureau was also urged to publish additional guidance to assist financial institutions in expanding products and services to LEP consumers while also maintaining compliance with statutes and regulations. The Statement Regarding the Provision of Financial Products and Services to Consumers with Limited English Proficiency (Statement) incorporates feedback received from stakeholder groups, advocacy organizations, financial institutions, financial regulators, and trade associations. The Statement addresses, among other challenges, issues “related to balancing legal requirements and practical considerations” and potential UDAAP risks associated with offering support in certain non-English languages but not in others. The Statement further provides principles and guidance to assist financial institutions when making decisions related to assisting LEP consumers. Additionally, the Statement also includes key considerations and guidelines for institutions to use when developing compliance solutions for providing products and services in non-English languages to LEP consumers, while at the same time complying with Dodd-Frank, ECOA, and other applicable laws and regulations.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Limited English Proficiency Fair Lending ECOA Regulation B Dodd-Frank