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  • FTC, CFPB examine discriminatory background screenings

    Federal Issues

    On February 28, the FTC and CFPB issued a request for information (RFI) on background screening issues affecting consumers seeking rental housing in the U.S., including ways criminal and eviction records and algorithms may lead to discriminatory screening outcomes. (See also CFPB blog post here.) According to the agencies, information used and collected in rental-screening checks may “unfairly prevent consumers from obtaining and retaining housing.” The announcement comes as part of an effort to identify practices that unfairly prevent applicants and tenants from accessing or staying in housing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Biden administration announced in January new actions for enhancing tenant protections and furthering fair housing principles. This marks the first time the FTC has issued an RFI that explores unfair practices in the rental market. Collected data will be used to inform enforcement and policy actions under each agency’s jurisdiction, the agencies said, adding that the FCRA (which both agencies enforce) also imposes requirements on several aspects of the tenant screening process. 

    Seeking feedback from current and prospective tenants, advocacy groups, landlords, and others who use or are subject to rental-screening checks, the RFI requests information covering a wide array of issues, including: (i) how housing decisions are impacted when criminal and eviction records (which may contain potential inaccuracies) are used; (ii) whether consumers are made aware of the criteria used in the screening process or notified about the reasons leading to a rejection; (iii) how application and screening fees are set; (iv) how the screening process uses algorithms, automated decision-making, artificial intelligence, or similar technology; and (v) ways the current screening process can be improved. Comments on the RFI are due May 30.

    Federal Issues CFPB FTC Consumer Finance Discrimination

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  • CFPB asks for comments on alternative disclosures for construction loans

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 27, the CFPB announced it is in the final stages of reviewing an application for alternative mortgage disclosures for construction loans submitted by a trade group representing small U.S. banks. The applicant maintains that it is not uncommon for first-time homebuyers in rural communities to build their home instead of purchasing an existing home due to the scarcity of “existing affordable ‘starter’ homes.” The applicant seeks to adjust existing mortgage disclosures to facilitate the offering of loans that finance both the construction phase and the permanent purchase of a home. According to the applicant, a consumer’s understanding of construction loans would be improved if disclosures are more specifically tailored to these types of transactions. The Bureau stated that should it approve this “template” application, individual lenders will be able to apply for enrollment in an in-market testing pilot. However, the Bureau noted that, as indicated in its Policy to Encourage Trial Disclosure Programs (covered by InfoBytes here), the mere approval of a template neither permits a lender to unilaterally conduct a trial disclosure program without further approval by the CFPB, nor does it “bind the CFPB to grant individual applications.”

    The disclosure of the application comes as a result of efforts undertaken by the Bureau to be more open and transparent when adjusting regulations for new business models. The Bureau stated that in addition to publicly releasing the application, it is seeking input from stakeholders who have experience with construction loans. Comments will be accepted through March 29.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Mortgages Disclosures Construction

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  • CFPB shutters mortgage lender, alleging deceptive advertising

    Federal Issues

    On February 27, the CFPB entered a consent order against a California-based mortgage lender (respondent) for alleged repeat violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, TILA (Regulation Z), and the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule (Regulation N), in relation to a 2015 consent order. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2015, the Bureau claimed the respondent (which is licensed in at least 30 states and Puerto Rico and originates consumer mortgages guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and mortgages insured by the FHA) allegedly led consumers to believe it was affiliated with the U.S. government. Specifically, respondent allegedly used the names and logos of the VA and FHA in its advertisements, described loan products as part of a “distinctive program offered by the U.S. government,” and instructed consumers to call the “VA Interest Rate Reduction Department” at a phone number belonging to the mortgage lender, thus implying that the mailings were sent by government agencies. The 2015 consent order required the respondent to abide by several prohibitions and imposed a $250,000 civil money penalty.

    The Bureau contends, however, that after the 2015 consent order went into effect, the respondent continued to send millions of mortgage advertisements that allegedly made deceptive representations or contained inadequate or impermissible disclosures, including that the respondent was affiliated with the VA or the FHA. Additionally, the Bureau alleges that the respondent misrepresented interest rates, key terms, and the amount of monthly payments, and falsely represented that benefits available to qualifying borrowers were time limited. Many of these alleged misrepresentations, the Bureau claims, were expressly prohibited by the 2015 consent order.

    The 2023 consent order permanently bans the respondent from engaging in any mortgage lending activities, or from “otherwise participating in or receiving remuneration from mortgage lending, or assisting others in doing so.” The respondent, which neither admits nor denies the allegations, is also required pay a $1 million civil money penalty.

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Mortgages Military Lending Consumer Finance CFPA TILA MAP Rule Regulation Z Regulation N Department of Veterans Affairs FHA

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  • Supreme Court agrees to review constitutionality of CFPB’s funding, but not on an expedited basis

    Courts

    The Supreme Court granted the CFPB's request to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but so far has not expedited consideration of the case. Without quick action to expediate consideration by the Court, all CFPB actions will be open to challenge until the Supreme Court issues a decision. At the current pace, the CFPB could remain in this limbo until June of 2024.

    In this case, the 5th Circuit held that Congress violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause when it created what that Court described as a “perpetual self-directed, double-insulated funding structure” for the agency. As a result, the CFPB’s 2017 Payday Lending Rule is invalid because the CFPB would not have been able to issue it “without its unconstitutional funding.” The implication, as the CFPB itself pointed out in its petition for certiorari, is that all past and future actions that relied on the same funding mechanism—basically everything the agency has ever done or will ever do—are invalid as well.

    Although the CFPB had ninety days to seek review of the 5th Circuit’s decision, it took the unusual step of filing the petition in less than 30 days, and specifically urged the Supreme Court to “set this case for argument this Term,” to guarantee a decision by June or early July of this year. The Court’s order issued Monday simply states that the CFPB’s petition is granted, without setting an expediated briefing schedule. As a result, without the Court taking some immediate steps to speed up consideration, the case will be decided under the Court’s standard briefing schedule. This means the matter will be briefed over the next several months with oral argument likely next fall, as part of the Supreme Court’s October 2023 Term. Although a decision could come out any time after oral argument, cases as significant as this case often come out towards the end of the term, i.e., by June 2024.

    The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to expedite consideration of the case to date has serious practical implications for the CFPB’s ability to push forward its ambitious agenda. As the CFPB has itself acknowledged, the 5th Circuit’s decision binds lower courts in that circuit unless and until it is overturned. It will likely encourage challenges to CFPB rulemakings and potentially other actions in that circuit. Even outside of the 5th Circuit, lower courts adjudicating CFPB enforcement actions may be unwilling to move those cases forward until the Supreme Court provides direction on this fundamental funding issue. Thus, for the time being, we can expect more challenges and more delays in CFPB enforcement actions.

    For financial institutions, our advice remains the same as when the 5th Circuit’s decision was issued. Generally, companies should maintain their day-to-day focus on compliance, as the CFPB may weather this latest constitutional challenge with its full authority, including its enforcement power, intact. In addition, other Federal agencies—for example, the Federal banking agencies, the National Credit Union Administration, the Federal Trade Commission—and state attorneys general and/or state regulators often have overlapping authority to enforce Federal consumer financial law. Finally, companies should continue to assume that rules issued by the Bureau are valid and that they will not be penalized for good-faith reliance on such rules.

    Courts CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Fifth Circuit Payday Lending Payday Rule Constitution Enforcement Funding Structure

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  • CFPB asks large auto lenders for origination and servicing data

    Federal Issues

    On February 23, the CFPB sent market-monitoring orders to nine large auto lenders representing a cross-section of the auto finance market asking for information on their lending portfolios. Data collected from the responses on auto loans originated or serviced from January 1, 2018, through December 31, 2022, will be used in the Bureau’s new data set for monitoring the auto loan market. The Bureau announced its intention to create the data set last November (covered by InfoBytes here), explaining that while available data permits market participants to identify and measure certain trends, it is insufficiently granular to fully explore the causes of those trends. Since November, the Bureau has held multiple discussions with stakeholders and has gathered public input into areas in need of greater transparency, including lending channel differences; data granularity, consistency and quality; and loan performance trends. Stakeholders told the Bureau they want insights into the types of technology used during repossession, as well as “access to high-quality, consistent, and regularly published auto lending data.” The Bureau explained that the data set will provide insights into lending channels, loan performance, and inform possible future data collection efforts. The data will not include consumers’ personally identifiable information.

    Federal Issues CFPB Auto Finance

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  • CFPB finalizes updates to Rules of Practice for Adjudication Procedures

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 24, the CFPB finalized updates to the agency’s Rules of Practice for Adjudication Procedures (Rules of Practice). Under Section 1053(e) of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Bureau is required to establish procedures for administrative adjudications. Last February, the Bureau issued a request for comments on proposed amendments to the Rules of Practice, which are intended to provide greater procedural flexibility, provide parties earlier access to relevant information, expand deposition opportunities, and make various other changes (covered by InfoBytes here). After considering comments received, the Bureau said it will retain the proposed updates in the final procedural rule. According to the Bureau, the updated Rules of Practice expand opportunities for parties in adjudication proceedings to conduct depositions of potential witnesses to allow hearings to “proceed more efficiently and focus more on issues central to the proceeding.” The final rule also makes several amendments related to “timing and deadlines, the content of answers, the scheduling conference, bifurcation of proceedings, the process for deciding dispositive motions, and requirements for issue exhaustion, as well as other technical changes.” The final rule is effective upon publication in the Federal Register. The Bureau noted in its announcement that while it “still plans to bring the vast majority of its matters in district court,” it will continue to conduct administrative adjudications in certain circumstances.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Adjudication CFPA

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  • CFPB orders nonbank title lender to pay $15 million for numerous violations

    Federal Issues

    On February 23, the CFPB entered a consent order against a Georgia-based nonbank auto title lender (respondent) for alleged violations of the Military Lending Act (MLA), the Truth in Lending Act, and the Consumer Financial Protection Act. According to the Bureau, the respondent allegedly charged nearly three times the MLA’s 36 percent annual interest rate cap on auto title loans made to military families. The respondent also allegedly changed military borrowers’ personal information in an attempt to hide their protected status, included mandatory arbitration clauses and unreasonable notice provisions in its loans, and charged fees for an insurance product that provided no benefit to the borrower. The Bureau noted that the respondent has been under a consent order since 2016 for allegedly engaging in unfair and abusive acts related to its lending and debt collection practices (covered by InfoBytes here). While neither admitting nor denying any of the allegations, the respondent has agreed to pay $5.05 million in consumer redress and a $10 million penalty. The respondent must also implement robust measures to prevent future violations.

    Federal Issues CFPB Enforcement Auto Finance Military Lending Act Consumer Finance Nonbank Repeat Offender Title Loans UDAAP CFPA Unfair Abusive

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  • District Court says undated collection letter is misleading

    Courts

    On February 9, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida partially granted a defendant debt collector’s motion to dismiss an action alleging an undated collection letter violated various provisions of the FDCPA. Plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant providing information on the amount of outstanding debt and instructions on how to dispute the debt, as well as a timeframe for doing so. However, the letter sent to the plaintiff was undated, and the plaintiff asserted that it was impossible for him to determine what “today” meant when the letter said “‘[b]etween December 31, 2021 and today[,]’” or what “now” referred to in the context of “[t]otal amount of the debt now.” He argued that by withholding this necessary information, the letter appeared to be illegitimate and misleading, and ultimately caused him to spend time and money to mitigate the risk of future financial harm. The defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, maintaining that the letter “fully and accurately stated the amount of the debt and otherwise complied with all requirements of the [statute].” The defendant further argued that the letter “conforms exactly to” the debt collection model form letter provided by the CFPB, and insisted that, because it complied with 12 C.F.R. § 1006.34(d)(2), it fell within the safe harbor provided by Bureau regulations to debt collectors that use the model form letter. The defendant contended that, even if it did not qualify for the safe harbor provision, it is not a violation of the FDCPA for a debt collection letter to be undated. The plaintiff asked the court to ignore the Bureau’s safe harbor provision and find that the undated letter is sufficient to state a plausible FDCPA claims.

    In dismissing one of plaintiff’s claims, the court agreed with the defendant that the plaintiff failed to provide any factual or plausible allegations demonstrating “harass[ment], oppress[ion], or abuse” by the defendant (a requirement for alleging a violation of 15 U.S.C. section 1692d). “An undated letter, with little else, is not ‘the type of coercion and delving into the personal lives of debtors that [section] 1692d in particular[] was designed to address,” the court wrote.

    However, the court determined that the plaintiff’s other three claims survive the motion to dismiss. First, the court held that the defendant’s reliance on the model form letter “overstates both the meaning and scope of the regulatory safe harbor provided by the CFPB.” Specifically, the plaintiff did not allege that the defendant violated any CFPB regulations—he alleged violations of the FDCPA, and the court explained that nowhere does the Bureau state that using the model form letter “suffices as compliance with the corresponding statutory requirements of [FDCPA] section 1692g.” Moreover, while use of the model form might provide a safe harbor from some of the statute’s requirements, “a safe harbor for the form of provided information is different from a safe harbor for the substance of that information,” the court said, adding that using the model form letter alone does not bar plaintiff’s claims. Additionally, the court determined that under the “least-sophisticated consumer” standard, the plaintiff alleged plausible claims for relief based on the omission of the date in the letter. Among other things, the undated letter could be interpreted as not stating the full amount of the debt, nor does the letter provide a means for plaintiff to assess how the debt might increase in the future if he did not make a prompt payment. With respect to whether the defendant used “unfair or unconscionable means to collect” the debt, the court determined that the undated letter’s misleading nature as to the full amount of the debt might “be ‘unfair or unconscionable’ to the least-sophisticated consumer.”

    Courts Debt Collection Consumer Finance CFPB FDCPA

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  • Supreme Court “relist” of CFPB petition for certiorari threatens prolonged legal limbo

    Courts

    The Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to grant the CFPB’s pending petition for certiorari seeking review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s holding in Community Financial Services Association of America v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The 5th Circuit found that the agency’s funding structure is unconstitutional, potentially voiding everything the CFPB has done or could do. The Justices considered the petition at their conference this past Friday, but the Court neither granted nor denied the petition. Instead, it “relisted” the petition for consideration at its conference this Friday, February 24.

    The Court’s decision functions as a delay and does not necessarily suggest an ultimate denial of the petition. In recent practice, petitions have been relisted before being granted. Practically, this action makes it less likely that the case will be decided this term, leaving the agency, and the rules it issues, in a state of legal limbo for as much as another year or more. The possibility that the case will not be decided during this Supreme Court term may leave the CFPB’s actions subject to successful challenges in federal district courts in states subject to the 5th Circuit decision (Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana).

    The CFPB was no doubt hoping to avoid this possible outcome. It filed the petition less than 30 days after the 5th Circuit’s decision and urged the Court to act quickly to decide the case during the current term, which typically ends in late June. In the petition the CFPB explained that the 5th Circuit’s decision would negatively impact the “CFPB’s critical work administering and enforcing consumer financial protection laws … because the decision below vacates a past agency action based on the purported Appropriations Clause violation, the decision threatens the validity of all past CFPB actions as well.” The CFPB argued that refusal to decide the case this term “threatens the ability of the CFPB to function and risks severe market disruption. Delaying review until next term would likely postpone resolution of the critical issues at stake until sometime in late 2023 and more likely 2024.” 

    The CFPB’s timeline was complicated by the Court’s agreement to extend the briefing schedule on the petition, in part to accommodate briefing on the Community Financial Services Association of America’s conditional cross-petition, which seeks review on other aspects of the 5th Circuit’s decision. The Court’s delay in acting on the CFPB’s petition complicates matters further. It is still possible that the Court could agree to hear the case and set it for expedited briefing so that it can be decided this term, but every indication so far is that the Court is in no hurry to decide this matter, even if it complicates life for the CFPB. Stay tuned. We may get action on the petition by the Court either Friday or next Monday.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage here.

    Courts CFPB U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Fifth Circuit Payday Lending Payday Rule Constitution Enforcement Funding Structure

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  • Agencies reiterate illegality of appraisal discrimination

    Federal Issues

    On February 14, CFPB Fair Lending Director Patrice Ficklin joined senior leaders from the FDIC, HUD, NCUA, Federal Reserve Board, DOJ, OCC, and FHFA in submitting a joint letter to The Appraisal Foundation (TAF) urging the organization to further revise its draft Ethics Rule for appraisers to include a detailed statement of federal prohibitions against discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and ECOA.

    This is the second time the agencies have raised concerns with TAF. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last February, the agencies sent a joint letter in response to a request for comments on proposed changes to the 2023 Appraisal Standards Board Ethics Rule and Advisory Opinion 16, in which they noted that while provisions prohibit an appraiser from relying on “unsupported conclusions relating to characteristics such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, familial status, age, receipt of public assistance income, disability, or an unsupported conclusion that homogeneity of such characteristics is necessary to maximize value,” the “provisions do not prohibit an appraiser from relying on ‘supported conclusions’ based on such characteristics and, therefore, suggest that such reliance may be permissible.” The letter noted that the federal ban on discrimination under the FHA and ECOA is not limited only to “unsupported” conclusions, and that any discussions related to potential appraisal bias should be consistent with all applicable nondiscrimination laws. 

    In their second letter, the agencies said that the fourth draft removed a detailed, unambiguous summary covering nondiscrimination standards under the FHA and ECOA, and instead substituted “a distinction between unethical discrimination and unlawful discrimination.” The letter expressed concerns that the term “unethical discrimination” is not well established in current law or practice, and could lead to confusion in the appraisal industry. Moreover, the letter noted that “the term ‘ethical’ discrimination, and reference to the possibility of a protected characteristic being ‘essential to the assignment and necessary for credible assignment results,’ appears to resemble the concept of ‘supported’ discrimination that the agencies previously disfavored and whose removal and replacement with a summary of the relevant law significantly improved the draft Ethics Rule.” The agencies further cautioned that “[s]uggesting that appraisers avoid ‘bias, prejudice, or stereotype’ as general norms” would grant individual appraisers wide discretion in applying these norms and likely yield inconsistent results. The agencies advised TAF to provide a thorough explanation of these legal distinctions.

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Appraisal FDIC HUD NCUA Federal Reserve DOJ OCC FHFA Fair Housing Act ECOA Discrimination

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