July 10, 2014

RESPA: FDIC FINES NEW FRONTIER BANK $70,000 FOR SECTION 8 VIOLATIONS

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation entered into a consent order with New Frontier Bank in St. Charles, Missouri on May 5, 2014 which was recently made public. (FDIC-14-0084b and FDIC-13-151k) The FDIC ordered New Frontier Bank to cease and desist from the violating the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act "RESPA" Section 8, 12 U.S.C. §2607 and its implementing regulation, Regulation X, 12 C.F.R. §1024.14, which is the prohibition against kickbacks and unearned fees.

The FDIC's consent order did not mention the facts surrounding this consent order only that "the Bank shall cease all acts or practices in violation of RESPA and take all necessary steps to effect and maintain future compliance with RESPA."

The consent agreement also ordered New Frontier Bank to reimburse all consumers who were affected by the undisclosed RESPA violations to pay an amount not less than $400 per consumer as restitution for the RESPA violations the FDIC said New Frontier Bank may have violated. The consent agreement did not state how many consumers may have been impacted. In addition to the consumer restitution New Frontier Bank was ordered to pay a $70,000 dollar penalty to the Treasury of the United States.

Sylvia H. Plunkett who is the Senior Deputy Director in the Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection signed off on the consent order on behalf of the FDIC. The lack of information in the FDIC consent order could signal that the CFPB or other regulator is continuing the investigation as was the case In the Matter of Benchmark Bank, Plano, Texas FDIC-11-461k. In the Benchmark Bank consent order the FDIC provided very little information and the CFPB later instituted an enforcement action against Paul Taylor Homes out of Dallas, Texas.

July 9, 2014

RESPA: NEW YORK TIMES QUOTES MARX STERBCOW ON CFPB ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Sterbcow Law Group's Marx Sterbcow was quoted in a New York Times article titled "Cracking Down on Illegal Mortgage Referrals" written by NY Times Mortgage Columnist Lisa Prevost. The article published June 5, 2014, discusses the recent RESPA regulatory enforcement actions by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) against mortgage, title, real estate brokerages. The CFPB has now been involved in 12 RESPA enforcement actions since taking over from HUD in July of 2011.

Mr. Sterbcow was quoted in his description of the RealtySouth consent order: "That’s Respa 101 of what not to do,” said Marx David Sterbcow, a New Orleans lawyer specializing in Respa issues. “You don’t write it into the contracts and basically steer customers to your affiliated company.”

"Respa is intended to protect consumers from having to pay inflated costs for mortgage and closing services. In looking for violators, the bureau has shown that “they don’t care how big your company is,” Mr. Sterbcow said. “Nor do they care how small your company is.""

The RealtySouth consent order was an enforcement action which was triggered against RealtySouth because it inserted into it's pre-printed contract sale form that consumers were required to use TitleSouth (RealtySouth's affiliated title company). The language in the pre-printed contract which was only in operation for a year stated in Paragraph 5, "Title Insurance. Seller agrees to furnish Buyer a standard form owner's title insurance policy issued by TitleSouth, LLC in the amount of the purchase price."

This was the crux of the RESPA enforcement action although the CFPB also added a seemingly trivial charge against RealtySouth's for not strictly adhering to the exact font and language specifications required in an affiliated business disclosure form. The CFPB argued the disclosure was modified because fonts, word capitalization requirements, and marketing slogans were either not allowed or out of compliance and deviated from the required format.

While CFPB did not identify how many consumers actually opted out of that provision in the pre-printed contract and used a third party title company it didn't matter as the language spoke for itself which is why the RealtySouth action was commenced by federal regulators.

Continue reading "RESPA: NEW YORK TIMES QUOTES MARX STERBCOW ON CFPB ENFORCEMENT ACTION " »

May 28, 2014

RESPA: CFPB ANNOUNCES AFFILIATED BUSINESS CONSENT ORDER WITH REALTYSOUTH IN ALABAMA

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" announced another enforcement action today against JRHBW Realty, Inc. d/b/a RealtySouth and TitleSouth, LLC (both HomeServices of America companies) for violating Section 8 Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act , 12 U.S.C. §2607, and its implementing regulation, 12 C.F.R. Part 1024 (formerly codified at 24 C.F.R. Part 3500)(collectively, RESPA).

Administrative Proceeding File No. 2014-CFPB-0005 "In the Matter of JRHBW Realty, Inc., doing business as RealtySouth; TitleSouth LLC found that RealtySouth used illegal Affiliated Business Disclosure Statements and inserted language in the RealtySouth purchase agreements which mandated the use of TitleSouth both of which violate RESPA.

RealtySouth is a real estate brokerage company operating in the state of Alabama who also owns another company, TitleSouth LLC, which provides title closing services in Alabama. The CFPB made note in the consent order that the President of TitleSouth also is the General Counsel of RealtySouth.

RealtySouth and TitleSouth were order to pay a fine of $500,000 to the CFPB and faced additional requirements as identified below. It should be noted that this isn't RealtySouth's first experience with RESPA as it was involved in the infamous RESPA class action case: Vicki V. Busby versus JRHBW Realty, Inc. d/b/a Realty South involving administrative brokerage fees.

Continue reading "RESPA: CFPB ANNOUNCES AFFILIATED BUSINESS CONSENT ORDER WITH REALTYSOUTH IN ALABAMA" »

February 10, 2014

RESPA: CFPB ISSUES CONSENT ORDER AGAINST MORTGAGE LENDER FOR ILLEGAL OFFICE SPACE LEASE AGREEMENT

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" issued a Consent Order against Fidelity Mortgage Corporation "FFMC" and Mark Figert on January 16, 2014 for engaging in illegal business practices which violated Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 12 U.S.C. §2607 "RESPA". The CFPB stated that Fidelity Financial Mortgage Corporation, which is based in St. Louis, Missouri, entered into a office-rental agreement with the Bank of Sullivan.

The CFPB described the illegal office space lease agreement between FFMC and Bank of Sullivan as a rental arrangement based the volume of successful mortgage transactions that FFMC would originate out of the Bank of Sullivan's office. The parties discussed anticipated loan volume and a pipeline of referrals under this office space rental agreement. The parties negotiated a daily rental rate of $200.00 and the lease agreement contained an exclusivity clause which required the Bank of Sullivan to only promote FFMC and FFMC could only promote the Bank of Sullivan.

The office space consisted of an interior office surrounded by bank personnel. FFMC also did not exclusively use the bank's office to meet bank related borrowers. The CFPB stated that FFMC met Bank of Sullivan borrowers at a variety of locations, including coffee shops. The office rental agreement between March 2012 and November of 2012 showed that Fidelity had originated approximately 20 loans resulting an average monthly rental amount of $1,350.00 per month. The monthly office space rental amount fluctuated each month (from $800 to $2000 per month). The CFPB conducted a investigation into what the prevailing monthly rental rate was in the market place for office of similar stature and the found a monthly amount ranging from $600 to $900 a month which was substantially lower than the average monthly amount Fidelity had paid the Bank of Sullivan under this office space rental agreement. The rental agreement the CFPB violated RESPA Section 8(a) which prohibits giving a fee, kickback or thing of value in exchange for a referral of business related to a real estate settlement service.

The CFPB also pointed out that HUD's 1996 Statement of Policy which analyzed and discussed office rental agreements was used to help determine whether this rental agreement was a disguised referral fee. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau concluded that an above market rent was a disguised referral fee because the general market value of the property, not the value of the property to a settlement service provider was the definitive method of calculating whether RESPA was violated or not. HUD defined "general market value" as 'the rent that a non-settlement service provider would pay for the same amount of space and services in the same or a comparable building."

If you have an existing office rental lease you are using or you are contemplating entering into a office space rental agreement please contact us so the Sterbcow Law Group can guide you through any RESPA regulatory hurdles.

January 31, 2014

RESPA: FEDERAL COURT CERTIFIES MARKETING AGREEMENT CLASS ACTION

The United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern Division certified a Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act "RESPA" class action lawsuit on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 involving marketing agreements between a "Team" of real estate agents "and Lakeview Title Company, Inc. The Creig Northrop Team, PC (a/k/a The Northrop Team) is a team of independent contractor real estate agents who work for Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.. The class action lawsuit arises out of an alleged scheme for a team of real estate agents to receive over half million dollars in illegal kickbacks from a title insurance company for referrals over a period of 13 years.

Patrick Baehr, et al., v. The Creig Northrop Team, P.C., et al. (Civil No: 1:2013cv00933). Judge William D. Quarles is the presiding judge in this case.

The allegations specifically state that the defendants "used a 'sham employment arrangement and a sham marketing agreement' 'to generate unearned fees and kickbacks.'" The employment agreement allegation involves Carla Northrop who was a full-time employee of the Northrop Team but secretly received payments from Lakeview Title under an employment agreement, even though Ms. Northrop allegedly did not perform any services or actual work for Lakeview Title nor was she provided an office, telephone number, or email address showing she was working for Lakeview Title. The employment agreement was not disclosed to the plaintiffs in this case. These allegations if proven would likely violate 12 U.S.C. §2607 of RESPA which is the prohibition against kickbacks and unearned fees section.

The Marketing Agreement allegation states that Lakeview Title began funneling illegal kickbacks through a sham Marketing Agreement or Marketing Services Agreement with Creig Northrup and The Northrop Team. The Marketing Agreement stated that Creig Northop and The Northrop Team would designate Lakeview Title as their "exclusive settlement and title company" and would "provide mostly unspecified marketing services." The Marketing Agreement it is alleged also contained language that prohibited the endorsement of other title companies. The marketing agreement was originally $6,000 a month for marketing services but according to the complaint Lakeview Title paid as much as $12,000 per month to The Northrop Team. The court states that there is "no record of 'any real joint marketing services reasonably related to actual amounts paid by Lakeview Title. These allegations if proven true would also violate 12 USC §2607 of RESPA.

The court also stated that because the Plaintiffs did not discover their claim until March 16, 2013, after the statute of limitation had run, that the plaintiffs had sufficiently pled their entitlement to equitable tolling.

The certification of this RESPA class action lawsuit is significant for any company who has a Marketing Agreement with individual agents or Teams of agents. If you have a Marketing Agreement with real estate agents individually or with teams of real estate agents you should seek legal counsel immediately.

December 10, 2013

2014 REGULATORY OUTLOOK: COMPLIANCE, ENFORCEMENT, AND PRESSURE POINTS WEBINAR

The Dodd-Frank Update and The Legal Description legal publications at October Research, LLC have teamed up to host a 90-minute federal regulatory outlook webinar for mortgage, title insurance and settlement services professionals. This in-depth training features two top compliance attorneys who will educate participants on significant regulations impacting the industry in 2014. The webinar will be held on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 from 2:00-3:30 PM EST.

Speakers Mitch Kider, of Weiner Brodsky Kider PC, and Marx Sterbcow, of The Sterbcow Law Group, will define significant regulations, what companies should be doing now to prepare and what the regulatory landscape will look like as we move into yet another year of complying with thousands of pages of new and existing regulations. Topics will include:

•CFPB enforcement actions: Who’s at risk and what to expect;

•QM/QRM and what mortgage lending will look like;

•RESPA/TILA mortgage disclosure forms;

•Lender supervision of title agents; and

•The changing dynamics of affiliated business arrangements.

To register click here

October 31, 2013

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency releases Vendor Management Bulletin

On October 30, 2013, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency "OCC" issued a bulletin on "Risk Management Guidance" which will have wide ranging implications for all vendors of national banks and federal savings associations. The bulletin provides new guidance for assessing and managing compliance risks associated with third-party relationships. A 3rd party relationship is any business arrangement between a banks and another entity, by contract or otherwise.

3rd party relationships include activities that involve outsourced products and services, use of independent consultants, networking arrangements, merchant payment processing services, services provided by affiliates and subsidiaries, joint ventures, and other business arrangements where the bank has an ongoing relationship or may have responsibility for the associated records. Affiliate relationships are also subject to sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act (12 USC 371c and 12 USC 371c-1) as implemented in Regulation W (12 CFR 223). Third-party relationships generally do not include customer relationships.

The OCC stated that it "expects a bank to practice effective risk management regardless of whether the bank performs the activity internally or through a third party. A bank's use of 3rd parties does not diminish the responsibility of its board of directors and senior management to ensure that the activity is performed in a safe and sound manner and in compliance with applicable laws."

The OCC released the bulletin in response to the on-going concern that banks were continuing to increase the number and complexity of third party relationships with both foreign and domestic 3rd parties. Specifically they highlighted:
(1) outsourcing entire bank functions to third parties, such as tax, legal, audit, or information technology operations;
(2) outsourcing lines of business or products;
(3) relying on a single third party to perform multiple activities, often to such an extent that the third party becomes an integral component of the bank’s operations;
(4) working with third parties that engage directly with customers;
(5) contracting with third parties that subcontract activities to other foreign and domestic providers;
(6) contracting with third parties whose employees, facilities, and subcontractors may be geographically concentrated; and
(7) working with a third party to address deficiencies in bank operations or compliance with laws or regulations.

The OCC is concerned that the quality of risk management over third-party relationships may not be keeping pace with the level of risk and complexity of these relationships. The OCC has identified instances in which bank management has:
(1) failed to properly assess and understand the risks and direct and indirect costs involved in third-party relationships.
(2) failed to perform adequate due diligence and ongoing monitoring of third-party relationships.
(3) entered into contracts without assessing the adequacy of a third party’s risk management practices.
(4) entered into contracts that incentivize a third party to take risks that are detrimental to the bank or its customers, in order to maximize the third party’s revenues.
(5) engaged in informal third-party relationships without contracts in place.

These examples represent trends whose associated risks reinforce the need for banks to maintain effective risk management practices over third-party relationships.

Continue reading "Office of the Comptroller of the Currency releases Vendor Management Bulletin" »

August 15, 2013

RESPA CLASS ACTION: INFORMATIONAL INJURY IS SUFFICIENT TO PROVE STANDING

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision in the Charvat v. Mutual First Federal Credit Union case. The case involved a violation of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act ("EFTA") 15 U.S.C. §1693 where the Charvat's made several ATM withdrawals from two Nebraska banks. The 8th Circuit stated "The EFTA requires ATM operators to provide two forms of notice, one "on or at" the ATM machine and another on-screen during the ATM transaction, if the bank operators charged a ATM transaction fee. The ATM machines in question failed to provide the required notice disclosure on the "on ATM machine" and this was the basis for the class action.

The 8th Circuit held that "[D]ecisions by this Court and the Supreme Court indicate that an informational injury alone is sufficient to confer standing, even without an additional economic or other injury." The 8th Circuit further stated that Charvat identified a variety of instances where the denial of a statutory right to receive information was sufficient to establish standing and cited to the Fed. Election Comm'n v. Akins case and more importantly the Dryden v. Lou Budke's Arrow Fin. Co. which was a Truth-In-Lending Act case.

The citing of the Dryden case is particularly important because the 8th Circuit said ""f [borrower] proved that the disclosure provisions of [TILA] and Regulation Z were violated in connection with the January 26 transaction, [lender] is liable for statutory damages.")." The 8th Circuit said the EFTA creates a right to a particular form of notice before an ATM transaction fee could be levied. If that notice was not provided and a fee was nonetheless charged, an injury occurred, and the statutory damages are directly related to the consumer's injury."

"Informational Injury" in RESPA and TILA class actions will certainly cite to the Charvat case in order to overcome any standing challenges.

December 10, 2012

CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU AND DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCE AGREEMENT ON FAIR LENDING LAWS ENFORCEMENT

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" and the United States Department of Justice "DOJ" formally entered into an Memorandum of Understanding Agreement "MOU" pursuant to Section 1054(d)(2)(B) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which mandated the two agencies to establish an agreement between themselves to help prevent enforcement conflicts and help streamline fair lending law litigation under Federal law. The MOU involves Federal fair lending laws such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, and Truth In Lending Act.

The MOU outlined three key areas for this cooperative agreement:

1. Information sharing and confidentiality issues: the agencies will be sharing information in matters that the CFPB refers to the Justice Department, in joint investigations under the ECOA, and in order to coordinate fair lending enforcement. The MOU establishes strict confidentiality protections for this shared information.

2. Joint investigations and coordination: the MOU provides for collaboration in investigations as well as coordination in joint investigations involving the CFPB and DOJ. The agencies will also meet regularly to discuss pending fair lending investigations and opportunities for coordination.

3. Referrals and notifications: the CFPB will refer matters to the Justice Department when it has reason to believe that a creditor has engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination. Because a referral to the Justice Department does not affect the CFPB’s authority to pursue its own supervisory or enforcement action, the CFPB and the Justice Department will coordinate their efforts to avoid unnecessarily duplicative actions. The agencies agreed to notify each other of their enforcement work, such as the opening of an investigation or the filing of a lawsuit.


May 7, 2012

CFPB: CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU ISSUES BULLETIN ON SERVICE PROVIDER COMPLIANCE

On April 13, 2012 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued Bulletin 2012-03 titled "Service Providers". The CFPB stated that it expects supervised banks and nonbanks to oversee their business relationships with their service providers in a manner that ensures compliance with Federal consumer financial law, which is designed to protect the interests of consumers and avoid consumer harm.

The term "Service Provider" is defined in Section 1002(26) of the Dodd-Frank Act as "Any person that provides a material service to a covered person in connection with the offering or provision by such covered person of a consumer financial product or service." (12 U.S.C. Section 5481(26)). A "Service Provider" may or may not be affiliated with the person to which it provides services."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in its bulletin states that the CFPB "recognizes that the use of service providers is often an appropriate business decision for supervised banks and nonbanks. Supervised banks and nonbanks may outsource certain functions to service providers due to resource constraints, use service providers to develop and market additional products or services, or rely on expertise from service providers that would not otherwise be available without significant investment."

The CFPB's bulletin expresses concerns about the lack of liability by the lender to the consumer for third party behavior. "The mere fact that a supervised bank or nonbank enters into a business relationship with a service provider does not absolve the supervised bank or nonbank of responsibility of complying with Federal consumer financial law to avoid consumer harm. A "service provider" that is unfamiliar with the legal requirements applicable to the products or services being offered, or that does not make efforts to implement those requirements carefully and effectively, or that exhibits weak internal controls, can harm consumers and create potential liabilities for both the service provider and the entity with which it has a business relationship." The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau states that "depending on the circumstances, legal responsibility may lie with the supervised bank or nonbank as well as with the supervised service provider."

In short the CFPB now expects supervised banks and nonbanks to make sure the service providers comply with the law. The CFPB by issuance of this bulletin has effectively put the entire real estate industry on notice that if they want to do business in the future they had better make sure their internal controls are in place otherwise the supervised bank or nonbank will cease doing business with you.

Continue reading "CFPB: CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU ISSUES BULLETIN ON SERVICE PROVIDER COMPLIANCE" »

January 19, 2012

RESPA CLASS ACTION SURVIVES MOTION TO DISMISS RESPA CLAIMS IN ATLANTA

The Heather Q. Bolinger, et al v. First Multiple Listing Service, Inc., et al (Case 2:10-cv-00211-RWS) which is being litigated in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Gainesville Division survived the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the case on January 18, 2012.

The First Multiple Listing Service Inc. lawsuit contends the federal Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (“RESPA”) requires full disclosure of all fees and charges in real estate closings involving a federal mortgage loan. RESPA also prohibits unearned fees or kickbacks designed to encourage the referral of business by settlement service providers, such as First Multiple Listing Service ("FMLS") and its member real estate brokers. One of the principal purposes of these RESPA provisions is to lower the cost of real estate closings to consumers by eliminating secret, disguised, and inflated charges.

The Bolinger et al. class action lawsuit alleges that:

1. Members of FMLS, which include virtually every residential real estate broker and agent in North Georgia, are required to list with FMLS all properties for sale and to pay undisclosed, unearned transaction fees to FMLS after closing and all services are rendered. Consumers either pay these fees directly or through inflated commissions.


2. Real Estate Brokers receive a kickback of all or substantially all of those fees from FMLS, and share in transaction fees paid on other closings. The suit further contends that these unearned hidden settlement fees and kickbacks are funded by real estate commissions paid by consumers. The hidden transaction settlement fee is $1.20 per thousand dollars of the selling price (i.e., .0012% of the sales price), and is doubled if the listing and selling agents work for different real estate brokers.

For example, the sale of a house for $200,000 with different listing and selling real estate agents would result in an undisclosed hidden transaction settlement fee of $480. In most transactions, the hidden settlement fee is not disclosed to the buyer or seller, either in the voluminous documents executed at closing or otherwise, and the kickbacks are never disclosed.


3. In addition to violating RESPA, these practices violate the Sherman Act, which is the core federal antitrust law. Notably, the “MLS Antitrust Compliance Policy” of the National Association of REALTORS® expressly prohibits basing MLS fees on a percentage of the sales price rather than the value of the services rendered [download NAR policy here]. Yet investigation for the lawsuit found not only that, as alleged, FMLS charges a per-transaction fee based on the sales price, and pays a kickback to brokers for utilizing its services, but that FMLS may be the only MLS in the country to do so. Further, the fees associated with FMLS are alleged to be higher than those charged by MLS’s elsewhere in Georgia and around the country.

Taylor English Duma LLP, a law firm with offices in Atlanta and Savannah, Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, LLP, a Georgia law firm with offices in Atlanta and Columbus, and the New Orleans based Sterbcow Law Group LLC have filed a lawsuit on behalf of buyers and sellers of residential real estate in metro Atlanta and North Georgia against First Multiple Listing Service, Inc. (“FMLS”), its member real estate brokers, the agents who handled the transactions of the named plaintiffs, and three boards of REALTORS®, alleging a longstanding practice of FMLS and its members in charging buyers and sellers unearned hidden transaction fees in connection with residential real estate closings in violation of federal and state law. FMLS is a multiple listing service (“MLS”) that provides an electronic database for listing residential real estate for sale. It is the largest MLS in metro Atlanta and North Georgia.

For more information please visit the FMLS CLASS ACTION WEBSITE.

Continue reading "RESPA CLASS ACTION SURVIVES MOTION TO DISMISS RESPA CLAIMS IN ATLANTA" »

November 9, 2011

RESPA: H.R. 2446 RESPA HOME WARRANTY CLARIFICATION ACT OF 2011

H.R. 2446 known as the "RESPA Home Warranty Clarification Act of 2011" passed The Insurance, Housing, and Community Opportunity Subcommittee last week. US Congresswoman Judy Biggert sponsored the bill and is the Chairman of the subcommittee. The RESPA Home Warranty Clarification Act as currently written by Rep. Biggert seeks to clarify the scope of RESPA by exempting home warranty companies as settlement service providers and would require that consumers are given clear notice that their real estate agent could receive a referral fee for selling them a home warranty. According to Rep. Biggert, Home warranties should not be subjected to these RESPA regulations because the sale of home warranties is outside the scope of RESPA.

Rep. Biggert seeks to overturn the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Interpretive Rule which stated that a "homeowner's warranty is covered as a "settlement service" under HUD's RESPA regulations at 24 CFR 3500.2 it issued on June 25, 2010.

Continue reading "RESPA: H.R. 2446 RESPA HOME WARRANTY CLARIFICATION ACT OF 2011" »

November 7, 2011

CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU: "THE EARLY WARNING NOTICE" PROCEDURE ANNOUNCED FOR ENFORCEMENT ACTION

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" announced plans today to implement an early warning enforcement action plan ("the Early Warning Notice") which would allow those under investigation the ability to respond to the CFPB. The CFPB Bulletin 2011-04 (Enforcement) announced the first in a series of periodic bulletins the CFPB will release which are aimed at providing information about the policies and priorities of the CFBP's Bureau of Enforcement.

"Before the Office of Enforcement recommends that the Bureau commence enforcement proceedings, the Office of Enforcement may give the subject of such recommendation notice of the nature of the subject's potential violations and may offer the subject the opportunity to submit a written statement in response. The decision whether to give such notice is discretionary, and a notice may not be appropriate in some situations, such as in cases of ongoing fraud or when the Office of Enforcement needs to act quickly."

It is important to note that if the subject(s) of an investigation is asked to provide the Bureau of Enforcement a response statement and the subject prepares and submits the response statement under oath to the Bureau the response may be discoverable by third parties.

The Early Warning Notice also allows any person involved in an investigation to voluntarily submit a written statement at any point during an investigation.

Continue reading "CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU: "THE EARLY WARNING NOTICE" PROCEDURE ANNOUNCED FOR ENFORCEMENT ACTION" »

September 26, 2011

RESPA VIOLATION LITIGATION COULD HINGE ON WHETHER PLAINTIFF HAS STANDING TO SUE WITHOUT AN ACTUAL INJURY IN FACT

Daniel Fisher of Forbes Magazine wrote an article today titled ""Sleeper" Case Asks Whether Plaintiffs Can Sue Without An Injury." Mr. Fisher's article highlights the Edwards v. First American case and discusses the positive impact a Supreme Court's ruling would have for corporations facing civil and class action lawsuits from consumers who might have a hard time showing actual injury in fact damages.

The Edwards case stems from a real estate settlement procedures act (RESPA) class action where the Edwards' were required to purchase a title insurance policy from First American. First American's actions allegedly violated Section 8(c)(2) of RESPA where the federal rules state that affiliated businesses can't require that borrowers use their affiliated businesses and the civil penalty for violating this rule is treble damages on all fees paid to First American plus attorney's fees.

The US Supreme Court is looking at standing to sue under Article 3 of the US Constitution in the Edwards case. "First American argues Edward suffered no harm and therefore has no standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution. Under Article III federal courts are limited to hearing “cases” or “controversies” and the Supreme Court has since decided that means somebody who has suffered actual harm or is in imminent danger of it."

Fisher's business article on Forbes.com explains how the future decision by the Supreme Court in the Edwards case would impact not only the financial services industry but the decision will have a major impact on the automobile industry among others. The ramifications of the Edwards decision by the US Supreme Court could certainly change the way businesses operate because the threat of civil litigation by consumers will be significantly curtailed. A ruling in favor of First American would also put more pressure on regulators to regulate compliance issues.

September 22, 2011

Bank of America says Countrywide Bankruptcy is on the table

Reporter Avi Salzman with Barron's is reporting that Bank of America may file for bankruptcy protection for it's Countrywide subsidiary if litigation costs from Countrywide threaten Bank of America. Bank of America is the parent company of Countrywide but it is a separate legal entity. If Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) decides to declare bankruptcy it would only affect the Countrywide division not the entire company.

If Bank of America does file for bankruptcy protection for Countrywide it could have a material impact on on-going litigation involving RESPA, TILA, and other legal actions across the United States involving Countrywide. The purchase by Bank of America is widely viewed as one of the worst acquisition decisions in corporate American history.

July 12, 2011

RESPA: HUD ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH PROSPECT MORTGAGE

Prospect Mortgage reached a settlement today with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over Prospect's use of the Series Limited Liability Company "aka Series LLC" joint venture business model. The terms of the settlement are not yet available but we will update the Respa Lawyer Blog as soon as HUD releases that information.

This is the second major settlement enforcement action in the last two days by HUD's RESPA division which moves over to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on July 21, 2011. It is highly possible that other settlement actions may be announced by HUD prior to the July 21, 2011 due to stronger monetary penalties under the CFPB.

June 20, 2011

BREAKING RESPA NEWS: UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT GRANTS WRIT OF CERTIORARI IN EDWARDS VS. FIRST AMERICAN'S RESPA CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

The United States Supreme Court granted First American Financial Corporation's Writ of Certiorari it filed in the Denise P. Edwards et al. v. First American Financial Corporation, et al. RESPA class action lawsuit today (June 20, 2011). The Supreme Court will now decide whether a plaintiff has standing to sue, on behalf of a nationwide class, when a plaintiff asserts that a real estate company violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA) without showing the RESPA violation affected the services rendered.

The Edwards lawsuit accuses First American and others of operating an illegal kickback scheme which violated Section 8 of RESPA. The Supreme Court decision will focus strictly on Question 2 presented in the Writ of Certiorari. The issue presented in Question 2 is whether the a privte purchaser of real estate has standing to sue under Article III, Sec. 2 of the United States Constitution.

The case is First American Financial v. Edwards, 10-708.

Continue reading "BREAKING RESPA NEWS: UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT GRANTS WRIT OF CERTIORARI IN EDWARDS VS. FIRST AMERICAN'S RESPA CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT" »

December 22, 2010

RESPA: CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU ENFORCEMENT DIVISION TO BE HEADED UP BY RICHARD CORDRAY

The United States Department of Treasury has hired Richard Cordray to lead the Enforcement Division of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which was created under the Dodd-Frank Bill. Richard Cordray was elected as the Ohio Attorney General in 2008. Cordray has filed numerous lawsuits during his tenure as the Ohio Attorney General, most notably against AIG, Marsh & McLennan, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch which resulted in more than 2.5 billion dollars in settlements.

Given Cordray's history it appears that he will be focusing on federal preemption of nationally chartered banks and the problems state regulators have had with their inability to enforce laws. The doctrine of preemption was used by the Office of Comptroller of the Currency as a way to stop states from enforcing rules and regulations against nationally chartered banks. He has pledged to jointly work with state attorney generals while at the CFPB in his investigations which could significantly hamper nationally chartered banks argument of federal preemption against state laws. Cordray and The American Bankers Association have opposing stances on the bank preemption issue. The underlying premise is that nationally chartered banks who engage in abusive and fraudulent tactics better be prepared for an onslaught of litigation and penalties when the enforcement team starts working with the states.

Richard Cordray's reputation is that of a staunch advocate for consumer rights against financial services companies who break the law. Cordray is responsible for selecting the enforcement team and preparing for the exercise of enforcement powers. RESPA enforcement under Cordray appears to be a priority based on his past history and Section 6 of RESPA is a prime target for future regulatory enforcement action by the CFPB.

November 10, 2010

RESPA: HUD AND NAR JOIN FORCES TO PRODUCE THREE VIDEOS TO HELP PROSPECTIVE HOME BUYERS UNDERSTAND HOME BUYING PROCESS

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) collaborated to produce a series of videos on YouTube.com which are geared at educating future home buyers on the real estate buying process. The joint effort was unveiled at the National Association of Realtors 2010 National Conference in New Orleans last week.

The first 10 minute video "Shopping for your home" features HUD associate deputy assistant secretary Teresa Baker Payne explaining the home buying process.

The second 12 minute video "Shopping for your loan" features HUD deputy assistant secretary for FHA Vicki Bott explaining what home buyers need to look for when shopping for their mortgage loan and includes a consumer friendly approach to the Good Faith Estimate "GFE."

The third 10 minute video "Closing the Deal" features Teresa Baker Payne explaining the actual closing process and what areas on the Good Faith Estimate and RESPA HUD-1 Settlement Statement home buyers needs to look at when they receive their closing documentation.

This is an excellent series of videos because not only does this help consumers but it also will help educate those in the real estate industry as well. This is probably the best consumer educational initiative HUD has put together in years.

September 17, 2010

CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU: PRESIDENT OBAMA APPOINTS ELIZABETH WARREN AS ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND AS A SPECIAL ADVISOR TO TREASURY

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which will oversee the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) now has a decision maker to help set up the CFPB. President Obama announced today the appointment of Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren to implement policies and procedures to protect consumers from financial products. Ms. Warren who is widely known as the person who developed the idea for the CFPB will also be responsible for helping select a director to head up the CFPB.

Warren is considered a strong consumer advocate and her ideology has some in the financial services industry concerned. The concern reached a fevered pitch over the last two months with Republicans and the financial services industry pledged to hold up her confirmation in the Senate. Obama's move of not appointed her to the CFBP but rather giving Warren supervisory authority of the CFPB without going through a senate confirmation process stunned her critics.

It remains to be seen how Warren will tackle the enforcement of RESPA in the near future but I suspect that we will see a huge increase in both funding and manpower in the RESPA enforcement arena.

June 5, 2010

RESPA SECTION 9: HUD SEEKS COMMENTS ON REAL ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES ACT'S "REQUIRED USE" PROHIBITION

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is seeking public comments relating to Section 9: "Required Use" under RESPA. "The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA): Strengthening and Clarifying RESPA's "Required Use" Prohibition Advance Notice of Proposed Rule making" was made public on June, 3, 2010.

HUD appears to be concentrating on home builder owned title and mortgage companies where homebuilders offered construction upgrades or discounts to consumers if the home buyers used their ancillary title or mortgage company. The controversy centered around a few homebuilders who offered consumers free upgrades (i.e. bonus rooms, automobiles, or other extravincentives) if the consumer used the home builders affiliated mortgage or title company. The controversy escalated when some of these free upgrades exceeded tens of thousands of dollars. The cost to use another mortgage or title company did not make sense because the consumer would lose out on the extravagant free upgrade. Some consumers felt like they had to use the home builders affiliated business because the incentive was so excessive they had no choice but to use the homebuilders mortgage company.

The affiliated business model is encouraged by HUD when the consumer saves money but some some felt like the practice that a few homebuilders engaged in did not really save the consumers money on the mortgage side because they claim the interest rates were higher.

HUD appears to be looking at how to clarify the incentive language under "Required Use" so that the incentive offered actually benefits the consumer yet still allows the consumer to shop around.

The comment period ends on September 1, 2010.
All interested parties wishing to submit a comment should direct their comments to:
Regulations Division, Office of General Counsel, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 7th Street, SW Room 10276, Washington, D.C. 20410-0500

April 9, 2010

RESPA: DEPUTY DIRECTOR IVY JACKSON IS SHUFFLED OUT OF RESPA DIVISION

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made a number of surprising management changes last month including the shuffling of Ivy Jackson, the Director of the Office of RESPA and Interstate Land Sales to the Office of Insured Health Care Facilities. Ivy Jackson's departure took the real estate industry by surprise and created uncertainty for state regulators who were relying on her to educate them the new RESPA regulations this year.

The Sterbcow Law Group would like to thank Ivy Jackson for her contributions over the years at RESPA. She will always be remembered as a federal regulator who was fair to the real estate industry and to consumer interests while at RESPA. Ms. Jackson's work ethic, honesty, and experience will be missed.

HUD promoted Teresa Baker Payne to the position of Assistant Deputy Assistant Secretary and Barton Shapiro was named Acting Director of RESPA and Interstate Land Sales. Ms. Payne and Mr. Shapiro both bring experience to their new positions. Ms.Payne and Mr. Shapiro both are excellent choices for their respective roles at HUD.

Continue reading "RESPA: DEPUTY DIRECTOR IVY JACKSON IS SHUFFLED OUT OF RESPA DIVISION" »

January 29, 2010

RESPA: UPDATED RESPA RULE FAQs RELEASED ON JAN. 28, 2010

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) Division released new updated FAQs on Jan. 28, 2010. The new RESPA frequently asked updated question and answers (FAQs) are in bold.

One of the new questions asks whether a loan originator can require the use of its affiliate company for the tax or flood certificate. The updated RESPA guidance says that the loan originator may not require the use of its affiliate for the tax service or flood certificate, but a loan originator may require the use of a non-affiliated provider.

November 13, 2009

RESPA: HUD OFFICIALLY DELAYS "HUD ENFORCEMENT" OF NEW RESPA REFORM RULE

HUD announced today a delay in "HUD ENFORCEMENT" on the new RESPA Rule which goes into effect on Jan. 1st, 2010 on FHA loans. We need to highlight the fact that only HUD Enforcement of the new RESPA rule has been delayed for 120 days on FHA loans. Civil litigation on the new RESPA Rule goes into effect on Jan. 1st, 2010 and therefore is not delayed.

We applaud HUD for delaying enforcement of the new rule for 4 months it still exposes companies that do not implement the new changes to potential civil litigation issues for not complying with the new rule.

Another RESPA attorney said it best: "Better pin on your badge and strap on your gun looks like HUD will look to the plaintiff's bar to bring the heat in the first 4 months."

Below is a copy of the HUD press release:

Continue reading "RESPA: HUD OFFICIALLY DELAYS "HUD ENFORCEMENT" OF NEW RESPA REFORM RULE" »

July 13, 2009

THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION AGENCY (CFPA) PROPOSAL INCLUDES RESPA AND TILA REGULATORY GOVERNANCE

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank officially introduced legislation to create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The legislation, which is backed by the Obama Administration, would consolidate the consumer protection powers of the fifty various federal financial regulatory agencies by creating a single regulatory agency. The creation of this single regulatory agency is the single most important aspect of the proposed 229 page Consumer Financial Protection Agency proposal.

The current financial governing system encourages abuses in the industry to take place because of the loopholes created by an inefficient and ineffective regulatory structure. The loopholes are exploited even further by the mass infighting that many of the governmental regulatory bureaucracies regularly display. The consolidation of these various federal agencies into one rule-making and investigative federal division should provide more uniform rules for those in the real estate industry and for consumers of real estate products.

The CFPA will have sole authority to draft and interpret regulations under the existing consumer financial services and fair lending statutes. The recent Good Faith Estimate/HUD-1 Settlement Statement forms developed by HUD and the Truth In Lending Act form is a prime example of decisions being made by one federal agency without input from a completely different agency. The biggest benefit consolidation presents to the industry and to the consumer is that this will increase the number of enforcement investigators. The consolidation of regulatory investigators is crucial because quite often investigators in one agency stop investigating abuses that relate to other agencies due to a myriad of reasons.

Continue reading "THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION AGENCY (CFPA) PROPOSAL INCLUDES RESPA AND TILA REGULATORY GOVERNANCE" »

May 22, 2009

RESPA: THE FINANCIAL PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION ACT OF 2009

The Obama Administration is pushing new legislation which would create a financial services regulatory commission. The commission would be called "The Financial Product Safety Commission" and it would regulate all mortgages, credit cards, and mutual funds. The Washington Post's Zachary A. Goldfarb, Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho wrote an article on May 20, 2009.

The Senate version of this bill under Section 10: Enforcement has some very strong criminal and civil money penalties that could further strengthen consumer protections against businesses. The current senate & house versions of the bill could add considerable consumer protections against loan servicing companies which under Section 6 of RESPA offer consumers very little protection from some mortgage servicing companies abusive practices. This is definitely one of those bills to keep an eye on as the ramifications could be huge for businesses and consumers.

Continue reading "RESPA: THE FINANCIAL PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION ACT OF 2009" »

January 29, 2009

RESPA: 2009 NATIONAL COMPLIANCE SUMMIT TO FEATURE CHARLES C. CAIN AS GUEST SPEAKER IN LAS VEGAS

October Research has selected Charles C. Cain to be a speaker at the 2009 National Compliance Summit on February 19-20, 2009 at The Westin Casuarina Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Spa. Charles Cain is Of Counsel to the Sterbcow Law Group LLC in New Orleans, Louisiana and is President of Alliance Solutions LLC based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

February 12, 2005

RESPA's AFFILIATED BUSINESS (AfBA) ARRANGEMENT DISCLOSURE FORM

The RESPA Affiliated Business Arrangement (AfBA) Disclosure form is required whenever a settlement service provider involved in a RESPA covered transaction refers the consumer to a provider with whom the referring party has an ownership or other beneficial interest.

The referring party must provide the AfBA disclosure to the consumer at or prior to the time of referral. The affiliated business arrangement disclosure must describe the business arrangement that exists between the two providers and give the borrower an estimate of the second provider's charges.

Except in cases where a lender refers a borrower to an attorney, credit reporting agency or real estate appraiser to represent the lender's interest in the transaction, the referring party may not require the consumer to use the particular provider being referred.

Continue reading "RESPA's AFFILIATED BUSINESS (AfBA) ARRANGEMENT DISCLOSURE FORM" »

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