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On June 2, the CFPB released new FAQs regarding the Mortgage Servicing Rule and Regulation X and Regulation Z relating to escrow account guidance and analysis. General highlights from the FAQs are listed below:
- Regulation X provides that (i) an escrow account is any account established or controlled by a servicer for a borrower to pay taxes or other charges associated with a federally related mortgage loan, including charges that the servicer and borrower agreed to have the servicer collect and pay; and (ii) the computation year for an escrow account is a 12-month period that the servicer establishes for the account, starting with the borrower’s first payment date and including each subsequent 12-month period, unless the servicer issues a short year statement.
- Servicers must send the borrower an annual escrow account statement “within 30 days of the completion of the escrow account computation year.”
- Disbursement date is defined as “the date the servicer pays an escrow item from the escrow account.”
- “The initial escrow statement is the first disclosure statement that the servicer delivers to the borrower concerning the borrower’s escrow account,” and must include: (i) “the amount of the monthly mortgage payment”; (ii) “the portion of the monthly payment going into the escrow account”; (iii) “itemized anticipated disbursements to be paid from the escrow account”; (iv) “anticipated disbursement dates”; (v) “the amount the servicer elects as a cushion”; and (vi) “trial running balance for the account.”
- The annual escrow statement must include, among other things, “an account history that reflects the activity in the escrow account during the prior escrow account computation year and a projection of the activity in the account for the next escrow account computation year.”
- An escrow account analysis is the accounting a servicer conducts in the form of a trial running balance for an escrow account to: (i) “determine the appropriate target balances”; (ii) “compute the borrower’s monthly payments for the next escrow account computation year and any deposits needed to establish or maintain the account”; and (iii) “determine whether a shortage, surplus, or deficiency exists.”
- “If there is a shortage that is equal to or more than one month’s escrow account payment, the servicer may accept an unsolicited lump sum repayment to resolve the shortage. However, the servicer cannot require or provide the option of a lump sum payment on the annual escrow account statement. In addition, Regulation X does not govern whether borrowers can freely pay the servicer to satisfy an escrow account shortage. Therefore, “the acceptance of a voluntary, unsolicited payment made by the borrower to the servicer to satisfy an escrow account shortage is not a violation of Regulation X.”
- Servicers may inform borrowers that borrowers “may voluntarily provide a lump sum payment to satisfy an escrow shortage if they choose to” if “the communication is not in the annual escrow account statement itself and does not appear to indicate that a lump sum payment is something that the servicer requires but rather is an entirely voluntary option.”
On April 19, FHA issued an update to Section III of the Single Family Housing Policy Handbook 4000.1, which streamlines many standard mortgage servicing operational requirements. The updates also incorporate FHA actions taken to support borrowers experiencing Covid-19-related financial hardships. The changes/updates include:
- A revised loss mitigation home retention “waterfall” to help servicers quickly review borrowers in danger of foreclosure for a permanent FHA Home Affordable Modification Program option without a lengthy forbearance. FHA noted in its announcement that this process “has been proven to be highly effective at helping borrowers avoid redefault and foreclosure.”
- Streamlined documentation requirements designed “to avoid unnecessary delays” and be more closely aligned “with standard industry servicing practices.” One example includes removing signature requirements on trial payment plans.
- A revised structure for certain allowable costs and fees corresponding with other industry participants’ fee structures.
The changes take effect August 17.
On April 13, the Maryland governor signed SB 251, which amends provisions related to licensing requirements for nondepository institutions. Among other things, the act (i) eliminates certain paper licenses for collection agencies, credit services, lenders, installment lenders, mortgage lenders, mortgage loan originators, sales finance companies, check cashing services, money transmission businesses, and debt management services; (ii) provides for the licensing of certain persons for certain activities through NMLS; (iii) outlines specific information to be included on NMLS-provided licenses; (iv) requires certain licensing information be conspicuously posted (with certain exceptions) at a licensee’s licensed location and on websites and software applications; (v) allows for the surrender of a license through NMLS in accordance with a process established by the state Commissioner of Financial Regulation; and (vi) requires notification to the Commissioner of certain licensee actions. The act takes effect October 1.
On March 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim against a mortgage servicer, agreeing with the district court that the consumer failed to plausibly allege a “causal link” between the alleged RESPA violation and actual damages. According to the opinion, the plaintiff alleged he never received notice of a foreclosure sale on his deceased mother’s property, although he was the administrator of her estate. He filed suit, claiming the servicer failed to respond to his qualified written requests within 30 days as required under RESPA, and that as a result of the foreclosure, he allegedly “suffered actual damages from the loss of his mother’s home, loss of her belongings, and his mental anguish.” The servicer countered that the alleged “actual damages” did not result from the servicer’s failure to respond properly to the plaintiff’s letters, but rather were a result of the estate’s failure to pay the mortgage and the resulting foreclosure. In affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff never asked the servicer to rescind the foreclosure sale (noting that under RESPA, a borrower is not authorized to request rescission of a foreclosure sale), and that, moreover, the servicer’s failure to do what the plaintiff actually asked it to do—provide information about the mortgage—did not cause his damages.
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 April 1, the CFPB urged mortgage servicers “to take all necessary steps to prevent a wave of avoidable foreclosures this fall.” Citing to the millions of homeowners currently in forbearance due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bureau’s compliance bulletin warns servicers that consumers will need assistance when pandemic-related federal emergency mortgage protections begin to expire later this year. The Bureau notes that it “will closely monitor how servicers engage with borrowers, respond to borrower requests, and process applications for loss mitigation,” and “will consider a servicer’s overall effectiveness in helping consumers when using its discretion to address compliance issues that arise.” According to the Bureau, industry data suggests that almost 1.7 million borrowers will exit forbearance programs starting in September, many of whom will be a year or more behind on mortgage payments. The Bureau cautions servicers to take proactive measures to prevent avoidable foreclosures, including by (i) contacting borrowers before the end of the forbearance period; (ii) working with borrowers to ensure they obtain all necessary information; (iii) addressing language access and maintaining compliance with ECOA and other applicable laws; (iv) evaluating income fairly when determining loss mitigation options; (v) handling inquiries promptly; and (vi) preventing avoidable foreclosures through compliance with foreclosure restrictions under Regulation X and other federal and state restrictions.
D.C. enacts law extending obligations for debt collection, credit reporting, mortgage servicing, and evictions
On March 17, the mayor of D.C. signed the Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2021. The act extends the most provisions of D.C.’s prior Covid-19 relief act (previously covered here and here) through June 15. Among other things, the act includes consumer protection provisions, including provisions regarding debt collection and credit reporting. It also provides housing and tenant protections, including in the areas of mortgage payment and late fee relief, and restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.
On January 29, a coalition of state attorneys general from 32 states and the District of Columbia, led by the New York AG, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida opposing a proposed settlement in a class-action FDCPA suit against a mortgage servicer that allegedly charged “processing fees” or “convenience fees” for mortgage payments made over the phone or online. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit last March claiming the defendant did not charge processing fees if borrowers made payments by check or signed up for automatic monthly debits from their bank accounts. They further argued that the processing fees were “illegal and improper because neither the mortgages themselves nor applicable statutes authorize such fees.” The parties agreed to mediation in April, and a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement was filed in August.
In their brief, the AGs outlined concerns with the proposed settlement, including that (i) the relief provided to class members violates various state laws, and that the defendant seeks to ratify fees in an “unwritten, mass amendment” that violates state laws and regulations; (ii) the class members only receive an “inadequate” one-time payment, while the defendant may continue to charge excessive fees for the life of the loan; and (iii) low- and moderate-income borrowers are not treated equitably under the proposed settlement. Additionally, the AGs emphasized concerns “about the speed with which this case was settled,” arguing that entering into the proposed settlement quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic has deprived the court and the AGs “of the ability to determine the adequacy, fairness and reasonableness of the settlement.”
On February 3, FHA issued a series of temporary measures in its Single Family Housing Policy Handbook, which waive provisions that, among other things, normally require in-person contact between mortgage servicers and borrowers. These waivers, FHA states, are intended to allow mortgage servicing activities to continue in a safe manner during the Covid-19 pandemic, and augment FHA’s recent extension of its foreclosure and eviction moratorium for borrowers through March 31, as well as the agency’s decision to extend the deadline for impacted borrowers to request a new forbearance (covered by InfoBytes here). Specifically, the waivers build upon previous waivers and will allow the following provisions through December 31, 2021:
- Rather than conducting face-to-face borrower interviews, the waiver will allow substitute methods (such as phone interviews, email, video calling services, and other conference technology) for servicers to conduct borrower interviews for FHA-insured forward and home equity conversion mortgages (HECM) when performing early default interventions for borrowers in danger of foreclosure.
- FHA is waiving the $5,000 property charge payment arrearages cap for HECM borrowers who are behind on their property charge payments.
- FHA is waiving the requirement for servicers to obtain a physical signature on an occupancy certification from a HECM borrower.
Recently, the Texas Finance Commission adopted amendments to regulations governing residential mortgage banker, loan originator, and loan servicer licensing requirements that included updates to definitions, disclosure requirements, and other licensee duties and responsibilities. Highlights of the amendments include: (i) eliminating the requirement for a licensed mortgage company to post disclosures at its physical office; (ii) requiring disclosure of Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry (NMLS) identification information on all correspondence from a mortgage company or sponsored originator; (iii) clarifying an existing requirement that advertisements on social media sites are subject to the rules; (iv) amending regulations governing the duties and responsibilities imposed on mortgage bankers and originators to specify discrete acts listed under certain subsections to be deemed violations of certain prohibitions pursuant to Tex. Fin. Code § 156.303(a)(3); and (v) various changes to the requirements for a mortgage company and its sponsored originator to keep books and records, contained in § 80.204. The various rules are effective between January 3 and January 7.