October 31, 2014

RESPA Webinar: "Marketing Services Agreements in the New Era of RESPA Enforcement"

October Research has scheduled a webinar for Tuesday, November 18, 2014 from 2:00-3:30 PM EST in which Marx Sterbcow of the Sterbcow Law Group; Charles Cain who is the Senior Vice President Midwest Agency Manager of WFG National Title Insurance Company; and Phil Schulman who is a Partner with K&L Gates, will discuss the latest developments involving the use of Marketing Services Agreements (MSAs).

The webinar will provide insights into the latest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau CFPB enforcement action involving Lighthouse Title, HUD Audit of Cornerstone Mortgage, and litigation cases revolving around the use of MSAs. A review of RESPA Sections 8(a) and 8(c)(2) and HUD's 2010 RESPA Interpretive Rule, language terminology Do's & Don'ts for MSAs, and the likelihood of additional CFPB investigations and enforcement activity will be addressed in this 90 minute webinar.

September 30, 2014

CFPB ANNOUNCES RESPA MSA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced today, September 30, 2014, that they had entered into a Consent Order with Lighthouse Title, a Michigan title insurance agency, for entering into Marketing Service Agreements (MSAs) with various real estate brokers with the understanding that the companies would refer mortgage closing and title insurance business to Lighthouse Title.

The CFPB found that Lighthouse Title violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) which prohibits providing something of value to any person with an agreement or understanding that the person will refer real estate settlement services.

The CFPB noted that Lighthouse's MSA agreements made it appear as if the payments would be based on marketing services the companies were supposed to provide to Lighthouse Title. "Lighthouse actually set the fees it would pay under the MSAs, in part, by considering the number of referrals it received or expected to receive from each company." The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's investigation found that the companies on average referred significantly more business to Lighthouse Title when they entered into MSAs than when they did not enter into them.

The CFPB issued a civil money penalty against Lighthouse Title in the amount of $200,000.00; prohibited Lighthouse Title from entering into any Marketing Service Agreements in the future; ordered Lighthouse to terminate all existing MSAs; and Lighthouse must document for a period of five years all exchanges of things of value worth $5.00 or more with persons in a position to refer business.

Continue reading "CFPB ANNOUNCES RESPA MSA ENFORCEMENT ACTION" »

September 29, 2014

Wells Fargo announces RESPA-TILA Integrated Disclosure Form Plans

Wells Fargo announced that effective August 1, 2015 it will control the generation and delivery of the borrower's Closing Disclosure form in anticipation of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule. The new Closing Disclosure is a mix of the existing Truth-in-Lending (TIL) disclosure and the Settlement Statement (HUD-1). Wells Fargo stated in the Wells Fargo Settlement Agent Communications newsletter on September 24, 2014 they will be taking over this process in order to meet internal compliance and governmental regulator compliance expectations on the bank.

Wells Fargo said the reason they will be delivering the Closing Disclosure Form is because they want to maintain evidence the borrower received the disclosure at least three days prior to the closing since this is a critical compliance requirement they must meet. The bank disclosed that having readily accessible data for internal and external compliance audits was another major reason for this decision.

Wells Fargo disclosed that their view under the new rules is "...that the settlement agent continues to be responsible for the Seller's information and will prepare and deliver the Seller's Closing Disclosure. A copy must be provided [by the Settlement Agent] to Wells Fargo for our loan file in order to comply with the final rules."

One of Wells concerns in the newsletter is back to back closings or in situations where you have multiple closings all connected with different lenders and settlement agents which would encounter problems if the first closing experiences a disclosure form problem and a re-disclosure is required.

We are expecting numerous other banks and lenders to announce that they will also be generating and delivering their own Closing Disclosure forms due to litigation risks and enforcement concerns stemming from the RESPA-TILA Integrated Disclosure rules. How will this play out with Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) concerns? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appears to be ready to take on this issue and claim federal preemption in favor of the lending industry.

August 29, 2014

CFPB ENFORCEMENT: IS THE CFPB LOOKING AT RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGE ONLINE LEAD GENERATION COMPANIES?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau often provides subtle clues as to where they may be headed on the enforcement front and on November 6, 2013 they addressed the topic on their website about online Lead Generation and consumer safety involving payday loans. The topic "Is applying for a payday loan online safe?"

The CFPB stated that anytime a consumer gives out sensitive personal and financial information on the Internet there are risks involved to the consumer. They warned consumers that if a consumer applies online for a payday loan online, the consumer could be increasing their risk significantly. The CFPB stated the reason for this is because many websites that advertise payday loans are not lenders. They are businesses known as "lead generators" which make money primarily by finding customers for lenders.

The Bureau expressed concern that the online application or form that consumers filled out could be sold to a lender who offers to make the consumer a loan. The Bureau also indicated they have concerns as well that multiple lenders or other service providers could pay for this information causing the them to contact or email the consumer.

"Lead generators might not find you the lowest cost loans, and you should be cautious of sites that promise they will. Many consumers can also be confused about who actually made the loan, which makes getting help when the you [the consumer] need it harder."

They even provided a tip to consumers on what to look out for "Key phrases can help you spot a lead generator. It can be hard to tell if the website you click on is a lead generator or an actual lender. Lead Generators might disclose that they are not lenders somewhere on their site, but this information can be hard to find. In addition, look for phrases like "matching you with lenders," "connecting you with a network of participating lenders," or "something similar, as an indication that you [the consumer] is on a lead generator's site."

The CFPB also dropped another hint as to payday loan lead generators which should bear careful examination to everyone in the residential lending industry who is purchasing leads from an lead generation company. Another CFPB webpage titled "What is the difference between an online payday lender and one with a storefront?" said consumers need to make sure the online website is licensed to do business in the consumer's state and whether they follow the state's payday lending laws.

If the CFPB starts looking at online Lead Generation industry involving residential mortgage loans will they apply an even stricter standard to those lead generation companies who solicit mortgage information or a mortgage conversation from consumers and sell it or even pass it on to a lender? Will the CFPB take the position that the Lead Generation companies are violating the SAFE Act if they aren't licensed in the state they are operating in? And if they are licensed under the SAFE will they be violating the broadly defined Loan Officer Compensation Rule?

Will the Bureau deem website statements like "We can help you find a mortgage, call us!" by a Lead Generation company to be a advertising and soliciting a mortgage conversation from a consumer? In a number of states this could be considered a violation of the SAFE act even if no payment is made by the lender or loan officer to the Lead Generation company because this type of solicitation would trigger a license.

Even if the Lead Generation is properly licensed under a particular state's SAFE Act if they sell that lead to an unlicensed lender in that state then the CFPB could pursue an action against the Lead Generation company because the Lead Generation company assisted or facilitated a consumers information to be sold to an unlicensed entity under the various third party vendor management bulletins.

Some states already require Lead Generation companies collecting information be licensed as "mortgage brokers" such as Arizona and Virginia. Most of the payday lenders in Ohio for example have become Mortgage Brokers under the SAFE Act as it takes them out of the state usury statute for payday lenders.

What types of online Lead Generation companies could be issues of concern?
(1) those unlicensed lead generation companies who tell the consumer whether they are "Qualified for a Loan or Not";
(2) those online Lead Generation companies who collect any sort of non-public data (the definition of what non-public data is varies from state to state) and who fail to inform and obtain the consumers consent that their information will be shared with a third party; and
(3) those online Lead Generation companies where the lead generation company has spoken directly with the consumer and then transfers the "Live Handoff" over to the lender or Loan Officer (especially if the Lead Generation company is not licensed) If they act a "sub-mortgage broker" then it may be best to stay away because this could violate the Loan Officer Qualifying Rule effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Additionally, the CFPB has broad authority to enforce the Fair Lending Laws, Telemarketing Sales Rule, Mortgage Lending and Regulations, Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule, and the most important law the Unfair, Deceptive or Abuses Act or Practices (UDAAP).

So what might the CFPB examine if a lender or loan officer uses a lead generation company? They will look to see if the relationship is properly disclosed; review privacy and how the consumers data was shared; identify whether party is a third party provider or not; review the lead generation website or advertising portal itself; and they could to review all fees, terms, and conditions associated with the lead generation process.

So is the CFPB investigating Lead Generation companies involving residential loans? The answer is YES they are and any companies involved in the lead generation business should be on alert and actively assess the compliance risks associated with the online lead generation industry.

Sometimes the past provides a good glimpse of the future so remember the name Steven Antonakes when it comes to online Lead Generation and CFPB enforcement. Mr. Antonakes was the former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Banks. He is also on the governing board for the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS). When he was the Commissioner of Banks in Massachusetts he was involved number consent orders with unlicensed online Lead Generation companies.

Where is Steven Antonakes now? He is the Deputy Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau whose responsibility is supervision, enforcement, and fair lending.

August 15, 2014

CFPB CONSENT ORDER INVOLVING MORTGAGE ADVERTISING AND RESPA

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced they entered into a Consent Order (File No. 2014-CFPB-0010) with Atlanta-based Amerisave Mortgage Corporation; Novo Appraisal Management Corp.; and Patrick Markert on August 12, 2014 for violating a series of laws including Section 1031 and 1036 of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA), Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and the Mortgage Acts and Practices Rule (MAP Rule).

The CFPB found that Amerisave Mortgage Corp., which operates primarily as an online lender, designed its website to advertise and quote mortgage rate information in a deceptive bait and switch lending manner towards consumers. The Bureau stated that Amerisave advertised specific mortgage products online by listing specific mortgage rates in rate tables publicized through the website of an unrelated third-party company ("Rate Publisher") which compiles rate quotes and other information of mortgage lenders who use its service.

Amerisave advertised lower rates than they were actually providing to consumers but once the consumers contacted them for those rate the consumers wound up paying higher rates than what Amerisave advertised. Amerisave also ran banner or display ads on various websites advertising lower rates as well to consumers.


The CEO of Amerisave, Patrick Markert, also had an indirect beneficial ownership interest in both Amerisave and Novo Appraisal Management. The CFPB discovered that Amerisave required almost of all of its customers to use Novo for their home appraisal services. Amerisave referred and required consumers to use Novo more than 99% of the time which is a violation of RESPA Section 8(c)(2). RESPA's Required Use of an Affiliated Business prohibition.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that Amerisave and its CEO engaged in a marketing and advertising campaign that violated The Mortgage Acts and Practices Rule. The MAP Rule provides in part that "It is a violation of this part for any person to make any material misrepresentation, expressly or by implication, or any commercial communication, regarding any term of any mortgage credit product, including but not limited to misrepresentations about (a) The interest rate charged for the mortgage credit product....(b) the annual percentage rate, simple annual rate, periodic rate, or any other rate, or (c) the existence, nature, or amount of fees or costs to the consumer associated with the mortgage credit product..."

The "Rate Publisher" which was not named in the Consent Order periodically received Amerisave's mortgage interest rate information which the Rate Publisher published on its published rate tables. The CFPB said for a period of close to two years a systemic problem caused Amerisave to lower its mortgage rates lower than it was willing to honor on the Rate Publisher's rate tables for "jumbo conforming loans." Amerisave was aware that the rates they advertised were not accurate and misleading according to the Consent Order.

The Order also states that Amerisave failed to perform any sort of systemic due diligence or quality control to check the accuracy of its listed rates and that the Rate Publisher received consumer complaints about Amerisave and notified them of those complaints. The Rate Publisher also used mystery shoppers to audit the accuracy of Amerisave's rates to which Amerisave failed the Rate Publisher's test five times.

The interest rates Amerisave quoted on Rate Publisher also were problematic because they were based on consumers with credit scores of 800. The CFPB said the 800 credit score methodology they used to advertise and market their interest rates was not disclosed to consumers either. Additionally the advertised rates sometimes were based on consumers paying discount points as high as $10,000 which was not disclosed to consumers.

The CFPB's Consent Order and Stipulation are very detailed and well worth reviewing for all companies involved directly or indirectly in the residential real estate industry. This is a well written consent order by the CFPB which focuses on a myriad of different compliance issues.

Amerisave, Novo, and Patrick Markert agreed to pay $19.3 million dollars as a penalty.

If you have any questions about this Consent Order, need Lender Affiliated Business Arrangement compliance guidance, or have marketing & advertising compliance questions please don't hesitate to give us a call at the Sterbcow Law Group.

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 " »

June 12, 2014

CFPB: RESPA SECTION 8 CONSENT ORDER AGAINST TITLE AGENCY IN NEW JERSEY FOR ILLEGAL KICKBACKS AND UNEARNED FEES

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced today another consent order involving violations of Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act "RESPA". Administrative Proceeding File No. 2014-CFPB-0006 "In the Matter of Stonebridge Title Services, Inc." The CFPB reviewed the business practices of Stonebridge Title Services, Inc. of Parsippany, New Jersey and its two owners Bruce Dostal and Cesare Stefanelli operated the title agency to determine if Stonebridge Title was violating RESPA Section 8(a) "illegal kickbacks" and 8(b) "unearned fees". Stonebridge Title is an appointed title agent for several national title insurance underwriters who paid referral commissions of up to 40% of the title insurance premiums they received from consumers to Independent Salespeople for the referral of title insurance work to Stonebridge Title.

The CFPB stated the Independent Salespeople had or developed relationships with entities, typically law firms, and referred these entities to Stonebridge for title insurance and related services on behalf of consumers. The commission agreements Stonebridge utilized with the Independent Salespeople were structured in a way that commissions were paid on each title order placed by a firm that the Independent Sales person referred to Stonebridge. The commission payment amounts for title insurance orders were determined solely based on the value of the title insurance premiums multiplied by a previously agreed-to commission percentage according to the CFPB consent order.

The Independent Salespeople did not perform any title services for the consumers who paid the title insurance premiums to Stonebridge. The Independent Salespeople did not provide any non-referral services for Stonebridge for which they were to receive compensation according to the order.

The CFPB found Stonebridge guilty of violating Section 8(a) and 8(b) of RESPA.

One area we will focus more attention to in this consent order is page 5 section 17 which states "Although the Independent Salespeople received Form W-2s during this period of time, they were not "employees" covered by 12 CFR 1024.14(g)(1)(vii). Rather, they acted as independent contractors, and Stonebridge did not have the right or power to control the manner and means by which the Independent Salespeople performed their duties."

The CFPB noted in the consent order that in assessing the penalties against Stonebridge Title and its owners in this case that the amount was lower than it should have been but this is due to their belief that Stonebridge Title may now be financially insolvent. The CFPB ordered them to only pay $30,000.00 in this action but more importantly this consent decree solidifies the stance the CFPB has publicly touted that they will force companies out of business financially if they don't adhere to the rules. The language in the consent order insinuates that Stonebridge Title was financially shut down due to the bureau's enforcement action.

For more information about this consent decree or if your company is operating in this manner please contact the Sterbcow Law Group.

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" »

October 14, 2013

MARX STERBCOW TO SPEAK AT THE 2013 ANNUAL CONFERENCE FOR THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF STATE HOUSING AGENCIES

Marx Sterbcow, Managing Attorney of the Sterbcow Law Group LLC, has been selected to speak on a panel at the National Council of State Housing Agencies' 2013 Annual Conference & Showplace at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 from 9:30am-10:45am. The panel entitled "Dodd-Frank Update: Are You Ready?" will consist of Howard Zucker of Hawkins Delafield, Charles Carey of Mintz Levin, and will be moderated by Lee Ann Smith who runs the single family programs for the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency.

August 27, 2013

MARX STERBCOW AND CHARLES CAIN TO PRESENT AT LOUISIANA LAND TITLE ASSOCIATION'S (LLTA) ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON MARKETING SERVICES AGREEMENTS AND RESPA COMPLIANCE

Marx Sterbcow, Managing Attorney at Sterbcow Law Group, and Charles Cain, Of Counsel to Sterbcow Law Group and Senior Vice President to WFG National Title Insurance Company, have been selected by the Louisiana Land Title Association (LLTA) to speak at the LLTA's Annual Conference on the topic of real estate settlement procedures act (RESPA) compliance involving marketing service agreements. They will discuss the latest issues surrounding the use of Marketing Agreements and whether an enforcement action or guidance bulletin by the CFPB involving the use of these agreements may be forthcoming.

The presentation will discuss what a typical Marketing Agreement is; how the HUD interpretive rule on home warranties impacts Marketing Services Agreements, identifying red flags in MSAs, and the impact the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) third party social media compliance bulletin may have on your marketing agreement.

The LLTA Conference is being held at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans on Dec. 4-6, 2013.

May 17, 2013

CFPB RESPA ENFORCEMENT ACTION ALERT

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" ordered a Texas homebuilder, Paul Taylor, to pay $118,194.20 he received in kickbacks for referring mortgage origination business to Benchmark Bank and to Willow Bend Mortgage Company in violation of the real estate settlement procedures act "RESPA". The CFPB also prohibited Paul Taylor from engaging in future real estate settlement services, including mortgage origination.

The CFPB said Paul Taylor received illegal referral fees through partnerships with Benchmark Bank and Willow Bend Mortgage Company. Taylor and Benchmark Bank created and jointly owned Stratford Mortgage Services, LC, which claimed to be a mortgage originator. The CFPB stated that Taylor and Willow Bend were created and jointly owned a company called PTH Mortgage Company. The CFPB stated that both entities were shams designed to allow Taylor to receive the kickbacks. Pat Taylor's homebuilding company, Paul Taylor Homes, then referred mortgage origination business to the sham entities but the work was actually performed by Benchmark Bank and Willow Bend Mortgage Company. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said the kickbacks were passed through the sham entities back to Taylor through profit distributions and as a payment through a “service agreement.”

Of particular note is the CFPB's emphasis on payment via a "service agreement" in this settlement and of the language "employees in a position to refer customers or potential customers to settlement providers." This could be a hint at where the CFPB is headed next in their enforcement actions.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation "FDIC" referred the incident to the CFPB. The FDIC separately fined Benchmark Bank for violating RESPA. The CFPB settlement can be viewed by clicking here.

April 12, 2013

RESPA CONFERENCE: MARX STERBCOW TO PRESENT AT NATIONAL SETTLEMENT SERVICES SUMMIT IN CLEVELAND, OHIO

Attorney Marx Sterbcowof the Sterbcow Law Group will lead a panel presentation along with Attorney Jeff Arouh of McLaughlin & Stern at the October Research Corporation's National Settlement Services Summit being held at the Marriott at Key Center in Cleveland, Ohio on June 11, 2013. The session titled "Strategic Alliances and the Future of Affiliated Businesses" will offer practical guidance on the issues surrounding affiliated businesses and their future under the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage proposals under the Dodd-Frank Act and we will examine who the winners and losers are in the affiilated business industry. The session also discusses why lending compliance under the new federal rules and regulations may be fueling growth in the creation of new affiliated businesses even with the 3% lender affiliated business arrangement annual percentage rate (APR) cap on points and fees restriction.

For more information and on-line registration, please go to: 2013 National Settlement Services Summit.

March 12, 2013

MARX STERBCOW AND CHARLES CAIN TO PRESENT AT RESPA News' RESPA WEBINAR SERIES ON MAY 18, 2013

Marx Sterbcow, Managing Attorney at Sterbcow Law Group, and Charles Cain, Of Counsel to Sterbcow Law Group and Senior Vice President to WFG National Title Insurance Company, have been selected by RESPA News to co-present a webinar on the future of marketing agreements under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). We discuss way to prepare for and deal with the latest issues surrounding the use of Marketing Agreements (also known as Preferred Provider Agreements, Marketing Services Agreements, Advertising Agreements, or Co-Branding Agreements) and whether an enforcement action or guidance bulletin by the CFPB involving the use of these agreements may be forthcoming.

The presentation, entitled "Reviewing your Marketing Agreement and the Interpretive Rule Webinar" will cover issues such as the what a typical Marketing Agreement is; how the HUD interpretive rule on home warranties impacts their use, how to minimize your risks by looking for red flag language, and the impact the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) third party social media compliance bulletin may have on your marketing agreement. The FFIEC's social media bulletin will have a significant impact on the use of these agreements so this is a webinar event you do not want to miss.

This event is from 2:00-3:00 PM EST on Wednesday, May 18, 2013.

To register for Part 3 of the RESPA News Webinar Series please click here.

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.


July 9, 2012

RESPA: INTEGRATED MORTGAGE DISCLOSURES UNDER RESPA AND TILA PROPOSAL RELEASED

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" released the "Integrated Mortgage Disclosures under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (Regulation X) and the Truth In Lending Act" (Regulation Z) proposed rule today. The CFPB is asking the public to comment on the rule on or before November 6, 2012 with the exception of 12 CFR 1026.1(c) and 1024.4 in which comments are due on or before September 7, 2012. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act directed the CFPB to issue proposed rules and forms that combine certain disclosures that consumers recieve in connection with applying for and closing on a mortgage loan under the TILA and RESPA. The CFPB has proposed to amend Regulation X (RESPA) and Regulation Z (TILA) to establish new disclosure requirements and forms in Regulation Z for most closed-end consumer credit transactions secured by real property.

To read a copy of this proposed rule please click the link below. Warning the document is 1099 pages so becareful before hitting the print button on your computer!
http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=CFPB-2012-0028-0001

If you care to comment on the proposed rule the comment form can be accessed by clicking the link below:
http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=CFPB-2012-0028-0001

Continue reading "RESPA: INTEGRATED MORTGAGE DISCLOSURES UNDER RESPA AND TILA PROPOSAL RELEASED" »

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" »

November 7, 2011

RESPA: THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU UNVEILS SUPERVISION AND EXAMINATION MANUAL

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" recently released the Supervision and Examination Manual--Version 1.0 which is the Manual the CFPB will use to supervise and examine consumer financial service providers under its authority. The Supervision and Examination Manual "SEM" is divided up into three sections. Section I details the supervision and examination process. Section II outlines the compliance examination procedures. Section III is the risk assessment template which was designed to keep an eye on possible risks to consumers by CFPB supervised entities.

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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.

July 11, 2011

RESPA: HUD ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH FIDELITY NATIONAL TITLE OVER USE OF TRANSACTIONPOINT KICKBACKS AND ILLEGAL REFERRAL FEES

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development "HUD" announced a settlement with Fidelity National Financial (NYSE: FNF) in the amount of $4.5 million dollars for HUD's contention that Fidelity violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act "RESPA" when it paid real estate brokers and other settlement service providers illegal kickbacks and improper referral fees for referring business through an "Application Service Provider Agreement." The Application Service Provider Agreement provided real estate brokers and other settlement service providers with access to Fidelity's TransactionPoint closing software. TransactionPoint allowed real estate brokers and others to select real estate settlement service providers for a particular real estate transaction. The real estate brokerages would then enter into Sub-License Agreements with subsidiaries of Fidelity to enable Fidelity's subsidiaries to be listed in TransactionPoint as a provider of settlement services.

The settlement said Fidelity's subsidiaries would then in turn compensate the real estate brokerages a fee for each referral of real estate. Re-insider.com was the first to break this story and has extensive coverage on the topic for those who wish to learn more. It is important to note that HUD's Settlement Agreement only applies to Fidelity and not to the real estate brokerages who recieved the kickbacks and illegal referrals fees so it is possible that more settlements will be announced as it pertains to those companies who recieved the kickbacks and improper referral fees.

The settlement can be viewed by clicking this link: FIDELITY SECTION 8 RESPA SETTLEMENT

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" »

May 2, 2011

RESPA: NEW RESPA ROUNDUP QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS RELEASED BY HUD

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) Division released its latest RESPA ROUNDUP newsletter (Volume 5, April 2011). The newsletter asks and answers one question each on HUD-1 Line 803 tolerance violations, credit report charges, what happens if a loan originator fails to issue a Good Faith Estimate "GFE", and clarifies 4506-T "Tax Transcript Fees" disclosure.

Question #1. HUD-1 Line 803 tolerance violation

"Does zero tolerance for HUD-1 Line 803 (see “adjusted origination charges”; 24 CFR § 3500.7(e)(1)(iii)) mean that loan originators must double the cure of a tolerance violation of Line 801 or Line 802 because each tolerance violation on those Lines also results in an increase in the Adjusted Origination Charge on Line 803?

No. Correcting a Line 801 or Line 802 tolerance violation will serve to correct a tolerance violation that stems from the calculation of Line 803.

Loan originators should carefully monitor their own charges to avoid tolerance violations. However, if the loan originator fails to correct Line 801, 802 or consequently Line 803 tolerance violations before settlement, the loan originator can effectuate a cure within 30 days by listing and describing a credit in either the 200 Series on Page 1 or in a blank line in the 800 Series on Page 2. Whether the cure is shown in the 200 Series or 800 Series, the settlement agent should include a notation of P.O.C.(lender), to indicate that the lender has made a payment of a specified amount to correct a potential tolerance violation.

Whether the cure is shown in the 200 Series on Page 1 or the 800 Series on Page 2, a cure to correct a tolerance violation on Lines 801 and/or 802 will serve to correct the tolerance violation on Line 803.

After the revised HUD-1 has been prepared by the settlement agent, the settlement agent must provide the revised HUD-1 to the borrower and lender, and, as appropriate, to the seller."

Question #2. Credit Report Charges

"The regulations provide that the only charge that a loan originator may impose on a potential borrower before issuing a GFE is a charge limited to the cost of a credit report (see 24 CFR §§ 3500.7(a)(4) and (b)(4) “…the [loan originator] may, at its option, charge a fee limited to the cost of a credit report”). Only after a loan applicant both receives a GFE and indicates an intention to proceed with the loan covered by the GFE may the loan originator collect fees beyond the cost of a credit report.

For example, if the loan originator’s cost for a credit report is an $8.75 charge from a third party, the total amount that the loan originator can charge the borrower before the GFE is issued is $8.75. In this case, the actual charge of the credit report listed on Line 805 of the HUD-1 is $8.75.

Alternatively, pursuant to 24 CFR § 3500.8(b)(2), the loan originator’s cost for a credit report may also be calculated, charged, and disclosed on the GFE and HUD-1 as an average charge, as long as all of the requirements in 24 CFR § 3500.8(b)(2) are met. This section provides, in part: “The average charge for a settlement service shall be no more than the average amount paid for a settlement service by one settlement service provider to another settlement service provider on behalf of borrowers and sellers for a particular class of transactions involving federally related mortgage loans….”"

Question #2: What if the Loan Originator fails to issue a Good Faith Estimate "GFE"?

If a loan originator fails to deliver a GFE in clear violation of 24 CFR § 3500.7(a) and (b), the loan originator will have significant potential tolerance violations at settlement. See RESPA § 3500.7(e).

Where the loan originator has not provided the consumer with a GFE, when completing the HUD-1 comparison chart the loan originator’s instructions to the settlement agent must indicate that the settlement agent must fill in the GFE columns with $0 and the HUD-1 columns with the actual charges from Page 2 of the HUD-1. If this results in one or more tolerance violations, the loan originator may cure the tolerance violation(s) by reimbursing the borrower the amount by which the tolerance was exceeded at settlement or within 30 calendar days after settlement.

As with other compliance areas, loan originators should adopt policies and procedures to ensure that GFEs are delivered timely, in accordance with the requirements of RESPA.

Question #4: 4506-T "Tax Transcript Fees"

The fee for obtaining a tax transcript using IRS Form 4506-T, “Request for Transcript of Tax Return” is an administrative charge that is part of processing and underwriting that should be disclosed as part of Block 1, “Our Origination Charge,” on the GFE regardless of whether the charge is paid to a third party or directly to the IRS.

Continue reading "RESPA: NEW RESPA ROUNDUP QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS RELEASED BY HUD" »

March 14, 2011

STERBCOW LAW GROUP FILES LAWSUIT ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MORTGAGE BROKERS "NAMB" AGAINST THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM ON LOAN OFFICER COMPENSATION RULE

On March 9, 2011, Saul Ewing, LLP; Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar, and Sterbcow Law Group LLC, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB) against the Board of Governors Of The Federal Reserve System; Honorable Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; and Sandra F. Braunstein, Director,Division of Consumer Affairs, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, seeking temporary and preliminary restraints to delay the April 1, 2011 implementation of the loan originator compensation rule under the Truth-in-Lending Act.

The lawsuit, (Case 1:11-cv-00506-RLW) filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is based on the rule prohibiting mortgage brokers from paying their loan officers commissions from fees paid by the consumer, which will cause irreparable harm to small businesses. NAMB is seeking the Federal Reserve Board to avoid the effects of its rule by withdrawing this section of the rule and allowing the Consumer Financial Protection Board to perform its mandated responsibilities in this area.

Continue reading "STERBCOW LAW GROUP FILES LAWSUIT ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MORTGAGE BROKERS "NAMB" AGAINST THE FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM ON LOAN OFFICER COMPENSATION RULE " »

November 25, 2010

REAL ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES ACT (RESPA): HUD ISSUES RESPONSE TO PUBLIC COMMENTS ON HOME WARRANTY COMPANY PAYMENTS TO REAL ESTATE AGENTS AND BROKERS

On November 23, 2010, the Office of General Counsel's Helen Kanovsky with the Department of Housing and Urban Development "HUD" responded to public comments HUD received on the "Home Warranty Companies' Payments to Real Estate Brokers and Agents" Interpretive Rule it published on June 25, 2010. HUD's response was very clear that the interpretive RESPA rule they issued in June did not need to be changed. However, HUD did provide some clarification to the public by providing additional guidance relating to matters covered in the interpretive rule and from the public's comments. HUD's answered seven questions as listed below:

Continue reading "REAL ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES ACT (RESPA): HUD ISSUES RESPONSE TO PUBLIC COMMENTS ON HOME WARRANTY COMPANY PAYMENTS TO REAL ESTATE AGENTS AND BROKERS" »

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.