Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On February 23, the CFPB issued a statement noting it is considering whether to revisit final rules issued last year regarding the definition of a Qualified Mortgage and the establishment of a “Seasoned QM” category of loans. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last December the Bureau issued the General QM Final Rule to amend Regulation Z and revise the definition of a “General QM” by eliminating the General QM loan definition’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio (DTI) limit and replacing it with bright-line price-based thresholds. The General QM Final Rule also eliminates QM status resulting solely from loans meeting qualifications for sale to Fannie or Freddie Mac (GSEs), known as the “GSE Patch.” The Bureau issued a second final rule, the Seasoned QM Final Rule, to create a new category of safe-harbor QMs applicable to first-lien, fixed-rate mortgages that are held in portfolio by the originating creditor or first purchaser for a 36-month period while meeting certain performance requirements, and comply with general QM restrictions on product features and points and fees. The effective date for both final rules is March 1. The General QM Final Rule also has a mandatory compliance date of July 1.
In the statement, the Bureau noted that it is “considering whether to initiate a rulemaking to revisit the Seasoned QM Final Rule,” including whether to revoke or amend the Seasoned QM Final Rule and how that would affect covered transactions for which applications were received after the March 1 effective date. In addition, the Bureau stated that it expects to issue a rule to delay the July 1, 2021 mandatory compliance date of the General QM final rule. Should a proposed rule be finalized, creditors would then “be able to use either the current General QM loan definition or the revised General QM loan definition for applications received during the period from March 1, 2021, until the delayed mandatory compliance date,” the Bureau said. Additionally, the GSE patch would also remain in effect until the new mandatory compliance date, or until the GSEs cease to operate under conservatorship prior to that date.
The same day, the Bureau updated its small entity compliance guide and other compliance aids for the Ability-to-Repay and Qualified Mortgage Rule. The updates reflect amendments set forth in the GSE Patch Extension Final Rule, the General QM Final Rule, and the Seasoned QM Final Rule.
On February 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added two entities to its Specially Designated National List pursuant to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). One of the added entities has been designated pursuant to CAATSA Section 235, which provides the president with the authority to, among other things, “prohibit any transfers of credit or payments between financial institutions or by, through, or to any financial institution, to the extent that such transfers or payments are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and involve any interest of the sanctioned person” or “prohibit any United States person from investing in or purchasing significant amounts of equity or debt instruments of the sanctioned person.”
On February 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 14014 against two individuals connected to a Burmese military coup. The sanctions build upon actions taken by OFAC earlier in the month against 10 current or former military officials as well as three Burmese entities (covered by InfoBytes here), and reaffirms the U.S.’s continued work to “promote accountability for those responsible for attempting to reverse Burma’s progress toward democracy.” As a result of the sanctions all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individuals and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons,” subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons, unless exempt or authorized by a general or specific license.
On February 18, the New York Court of Appeals reversed appellate division orders in four cases concerning the timeliness of mortgage foreclosure claims, seeking to develop “clarity and consistency” for cases affecting real property ownership. In particular, the decision clarifies questions regarding what actions will constitute acceleration of a debt and how such acceleration can be revoked, or de-accelerated, which resets the foreclosure timeline.
The Court of Appeals first addressed the question about how and when a default letter to a borrower constitutes an acceleration, thus commencing the six-year statute of limitations period for initiating a foreclosure action. With respect to two of the cases (appellants three and four), the Court of Appeals applied the ruling from Albertina Realty Co. v. Rosbro Realty Corp., which held “that a noteholder must effect an ‘unequivocal overt act’ to accomplish such a substantial change in the parties’ contractual relationship.” The Court of Appeals reviewed a default letter sent in one of the cases and agreed with the bank that merely warning a borrower of a potential future foreclosure via a default letter does not count as an “overt, unequivocal act.” “Noteholders should be free to accurately inform borrowers of their default, the steps required for a cure and the practical consequences if the borrower fails to act, without running the risk of being deemed to have taken the drastic step of accelerating the loan,” the Court of Appeals stated. Instead, the letter must be accompanied by some other overt, unequivocal act. In addition, the Court of Appeals also reviewed a portion of the appellate division’s decision in appellant four’s case, which held that the bank “could not de-accelerate because it ‘admitted that its primary reason for revoking acceleration of the mortgage debt was to avoid the statute of limitations bar.’” The Court of Appeals majority wrote, “We reject the theory. . .that a lender should be barred from revoking acceleration if the motive of the revocation was to avoid the expiration of the statute of limitations on the accelerated debt. A noteholder's motivation for exercising a contractual right is generally irrelevant.”
The Court of Appeals also addressed the issue of “whether a valid election to accelerate, effectuated by the commencement of a prior foreclosure action, was revoked upon the noteholder’s voluntary discontinuance of that action” in the two other cases (appellants one and two). According to Court of Appeals, when a noteholder has accelerated a loan by filing a foreclosure action, “voluntary discontinuance” of that foreclosure action de-accelerates the loan unless the noteholder states otherwise. Thus, the noteholder can later choose to re-accelerate the loan and file another foreclosure action with a new six-year statute of limitations period, the Court of Appeals wrote, reversing appellate division orders that had dismissed the two cases as untimely.
While largely unanimous, one judge issued a dissenting opinion on two of the rulings concerning whether the noteholders effectively revoked acceleration. The judge stated that if the court is going to impose a deceleration rule based on a noteholder’s voluntary withdrawal of a foreclosure action, she would require that noteholders “provide express notice to the borrower regarding the effect of that withdrawal.”
NYDFS: Global social media company must prevent app developers from transmitting users’ sensitive data
On February 18, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo accepted a report detailing the findings of an NYDFS investigation into whether sensitive personal information, including medical and personal data, was shared with a global social media company by application and website developers without users’ consent or knowledge. In 2019, the governor directed NYDFS to perform an investigation into the company’s collection of sensitive personal data from smartphone apps after a media report emerged that claimed app developers regularly sent sensitive data to the company. According to the NYDFS press release, the report’s findings conclude, among other things, that inadequate controls at the company allowed sensitive data to be wrongfully shared, and that the company “did little to track whether app developers were violating its policies” and to date has taken “no real action against developers” that transmit the data. The report outlines various remedial measures the company has undertaken as a result of the investigation, including (i) building and implementing a screening system to identify and block sensitive information prior to entering the company’s system; (ii) enhancing app developer education to better inform developers that they are obligated to avoid transmitting sensitive data; and (iii) taking measures to provide users more control over data that is collected about them, including from off-company activity. The report also includes recommendations for the company to implement to better protect consumer privacy and ensure app developers “are fully aware of the prohibition” on transmitting sensitive data. The steps include that the company should “do more  to prevent developers from transmitting sensitive data in the first place rather than simply relying so heavily on a back-end screening system.” The report also urges the company to “undertake significant additional steps to police its own rules” by putting in place appropriate consequences for doing so.
On February 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a grant of a motion to compel arbitration filed by the operator of a smartphone app that offers financial services to consumers, holding that an agreement between a consumer and the lender authorizes the arbitrator to award all injunctive remedies available in an individual lawsuit under California law. In this case, the plaintiff took out a credit-builder loan and was required to enroll in a program offered by the lender as a prerequisite for applying for the loan, which required the payment of monthly fees. After the consumer fell behind on her fees, deposits, and loan payments, she filed a putative class action suit claiming that when she tried to cancel her membership in the program, the lender informed her that she first had to pay off the loan in full, which could only happen after she paid the still-accumulating past-due membership fees. The lender moved to compel arbitration, which the district court granted, ruling that the arbitration agreement was fully enforceable and that the agreement “explicitly” did not violate the ruling established in McGill v. Citibank NA, as it allowed the arbitrator to award “all remedies in an individual lawsuit,” including, without limitation, public injunctive relief. On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected the consumer’s argument that she could only secure public injunctive relief by acting as a private attorney general, which the arbitration agreement explicitly prohibited. “Public injunctive relief is available under California law in individual lawsuits—not just in private-attorney-general suits,” the appellate court wrote. “It follows that [the consumer] may secure that relief in arbitration under the [a]greement.” As a result, the court affirmed the district court’s order to compel arbitration.
On February 18, the OCC released a list of recent enforcement actions taken against national banks, federal savings associations, and individuals currently and formerly affiliated with such entities. Included among the actions is a January 8 civil money penalty order against an Illinois-based bank, which requires the payment of $193,105 for an alleged pattern or practice of violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act and its implementing regulations.
On February 18, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke before the 2021 Institute of International Finance U.S. Climate Finance Summit to discuss the role financial institutions play in addressing the challenges of climate change. Noting that both physical risks from climate shifts and transition risks resulting from a shift to a low-carbon economy “create both risks and opportunities for the financial sector,” Brainard stressed that “[f]inancial institutions that do not put in place frameworks to measure, monitor, and manage climate-related risks could face outsized losses on climate-sensitive assets caused by environmental shifts, by a disorderly transition to a low-carbon economy, or by a combination of both.” She emphasized that financial institutions should engage in robust risk management, scenario analyses, and forward planning to ensure they can withstand such climate-related risks and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Brainard also emphasized that given the uncertainty in estimating climate risks, a scenario analysis that takes into account climate-related physical and transition risks and their potential effects on individual firms and the financial system as a whole “may be a helpful tool to assess the microprudential and macroprudential implications of climate-related risks under a wide range of assumptions.” However, Brainard clarified that a scenario analysis is distinct from a regulatory stress test, adding that “[i]t will be important to. . .consider how stress testing and scenario analysis may complement one another.” While acknowledging that a highly prescriptive approach to model development and scenario analysis may not be the most effective way to ensure financial institutions are prepared for the possible impacts of climate change and that “leverag[ing] a range of complementary approaches being developed in both the private and the public sectors” may produce more robust outcomes, Brainard noted that “we should strive for an appropriate balance that allows for innovation and learning across the public and private sectors, iterating in the most effective way possible.”
On February 23, FHA announced the extension of several Covid-19-related flexibilities for single-family lenders and servicers through June 30, generally to continue to limit face-to-face contact as part of the mortgage origination process for FHA loans. Specifically, Mortgagee Letter 2021-06 extends the re-verification of employment guidance and the exterior-only appraisal scope of work option, while Mortgagee Letter 2021-07 will “allow industry partners additional opportunity to utilize flexible guidance related to” self-employment and rental income verification. Both extensions are applicable to Single Family Title II forward and Home Equity Conversion Mortgages. Additionally, FHA is extending temporary flexibilities “for the administration of 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance Program escrow accounts for borrowers in forbearance” for Single Family Title II forward 203(k) rehabilitation mortgages only.
On February 22, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking would be partnering with the United Planning Organization to administer a free hotline to connect District residents who were financially harmed by Covid-19 with trained financial “navigators.” These navigators will offer advice and help connect residents to various programs and services to help manage income disruptions and other financial concerns, including foreclosure mediation.
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "How to become an AUSA" at the New York City Bar Association Minorities in the Courts Committee “How To” series
- Michelle L. Rogers and Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss “Fintech U.S. expansion” at the Tech Nation 3.0 cohort meeting
- Melissa Klimkiewicz to discuss "Flood insurance basics" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance School
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum