Marx Sterbcow of the Sterbcow Law Group will speak on "The Essentials IV -- CFPB Consent Orders for Compliance Officers" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, September 18, 2016 from 3:30 PM to 4:45 PM. The session will be a comprehensive overview of key Consumer Financial Protection Bureau consent orders and it will provide tips on how to apply the findings to your mortgage business.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" announced they entered into a consent order on May 26, 2016 with a now former Wells Fargo loan officer employee, David Eghbali, for engaging in a purported illegal mortgage fee-shifting scheme. The Consent Order is "In the Matter of: David Eghbali" File No. 2016-CFPB-0011. The CFPB stated that David Eghbali referred a large number of loan closings to New Millennium Escrow Inc., who in return shifted its fees from some customers to others at Eghbali's request. Eghbali benefitted from this relationship because he could manipulate loan costs which helped him increase the number of loans he closed which in turn increased his loan originator commission.
The CFPB has the authority to take action against institutions or individuals engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices "UDAAP" or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws. The CFPB found that this scheme violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act "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 stated from around November 2013 to February 2015, Eghbali had an arrangement with New Millennium Escrow which allowed him to manipulate the fees his customers would pay for escrow services. In California, escrow companies provides services such as document preparation and holding and transferring payments related to mortgage loan refinance transactions. Consumers who obtain a mortgage in California do not ordinarily have a preferred escrow company and often rely on their loan officers to recommend one.
In the CFPB's press release they said the investigation discovered that, based on the direction of Eghbali, New Millennium would reduce its fees for certain customers and make up for its loss by adding fees to loans for other customers. The arrangement helped Eghbali generate more business because it allowed him to offer "No-Cost" loans to price conscious consumers who might have gone to a competitor bank or lender to find a cheaper loan. Eghbali directed these fee reductions where borrowers' closing costs, including escrow fees, otherwise would have exceeded the credit available to them under Wells Fargo's pricing guidelines, given their chosen interest rates. Under the arrangement Eghbali referred nearly all of his more than 100 clients to New Millennium. New Millennium raised and lowered its fees on numerous occasions according to the Consent Order.
Eghbali received a top-producing loan officer award, the "President's Cup", from Wells Fargo from 2011 to 2014 which according to the CFPB meant that he also received a bonus on each loan he closed.
Eghbali received fees, kickbacks, or things of value under agreements or understandings that business incident to or a part of a real-estate-settlement service involving federally related mortgage loans would be referred to New Millennium, in violation of RESPA, 12 U.S.C. § 2607(a); 12 CFR § 1024.14(b).
Under the terms of the consent order David Eghbali is banned from the mortgage industry for a period of One (1) year and he must pay a civil penalty of $85,000.00 in installments to the CFPB's Civil Penalty Fund.
The CFPB did not disclose how they became aware of this matter or if it was self-reported by Wells Fargo but it does dispel any notion that the CFPB only targets large companies for activities they believe violate RESPA and/or UDAAP.
New Millennium Escrow, Inc. who would appear to be the giver under the definition of RESPA was not penalized under this Consent Order by the CFPB and it is unknown if they will also face their own Consent Order or Enforcement Action by the CFPB in conjunction with this matter.
RESPA Conference: Marx Sterbcow and Charles Cain to present at the 2016 National Settlement Services Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina
Marx Sterbcow, the Managing Attorney, of the Sterbcow Law Group, and Charles Cain, Vice President, Agency, WFG National Title Insurance Co. will present at the 2016 National Settlement Services Summit [NS3] at the Le Meridien & Sheraton Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday, June 8, 2016.
The session titled "Ethics: UDAAP, Reverse Vendor Oversight and Legal Malpractice" will discuss how Title agents and attorneys are expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards, and how Dodd Frank’s ban on Unfair, Deceptive or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAAP) have given the CFPB broad authority to root out questionable activities. Learn how UDAAP is requiring agents to gear up when it comes to ethical conduct, particularly in the area of RESPA compliance. The presentation will explain how UDAAP could make vendor management liability and oversight a two-way street through a new enforcement tactic known as "Reverse Vendor Management Oversight". Reverse Vendor Management Oversight could challenge the bounds of legal malpractice by requiring title agents, lawyers, and attorney notaries to be on the lookout for vendor compliance issues with their clients. Speakers will share real-world examples, and attendees will walk away with actionable tips for remaining UDAAP compliant in an increasingly active RESPA and UDAAP enforcement environment.
October Research Corporation has generously offered a Discount Code to attend NS3 for all friends and clients of the Sterbcow Law Group. To receive your Discount Code please contact the Sterbcow Law Group and we will send you the special discounted rate code to attend NS3.
RESPA CONSUMER CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST REALOGY, PHH CORP, TRG, NRT, AND OTHERS SURROUNDING THEIR AFFILIATED BUSINESS ARRANGEMENTS
A consumer class action RESPA lawsuit was filed on November 25, 2015 by Timothy L. Strader Sr., against PHH Corporation, REALOGY Holdings Corp., PHH Mortgage Corporation, PHH Home Loans LLC, RMR Financial LLC, NE Moves Mortgage LLC, PHH Broker Partner Corporation, REALOGY GROUP LLC, REALOGY Intermediate Holdings, Title Resources Group LLC, West Coast Escrow Company, TRG Services Escrow Inc., NRT LLC, REALOGY Services Group LLC, and REALOGY Services Venture Partner LLC in United States District Court for the Central District of California. (Case No. 8:15-CV-1973).
The allegations in this consumer class action lawsuit largely surround issues involving violations of Section 8(a) and Section 8(c)(4) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974, as amended, 12 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq ("RESPA"), and its implementing regulations, 12 C.F.R. §§ 1024.1 et seq. ("Regulation X"). RESPA – and, in particular, the prohibition on referral fees and kickbacks in 12 U.S.C. § 2607 – was explicitly designed to protect consumers “from unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices,” such as those described in this Complaint. 12 U.S.C. § 2601(a). As such, 12 U.S.C. § 2607(a) prohibits the giving or accepting of any “fee,” “kickback,” or “thing of value” in exchange for business incident to or part of a “settlement service” (as those terms are defined in RESPA and Regulation X) involving a federally related mortgage loan.
The complaints states the Defendants violated RESPA and distorted the market for title insurance and other settlement services in at least two different manners:
First, PHH and Realogy created an affiliated business arrangement called PHH Home Loans, which the Plaintiffs contend was a sham joint venture carefully engineered to facilitate and disguise the payment of unlawful referral fees and kickbacks in exchange for the referral of title insurance and other settlement services to Realogy's subsidiary, Title Resource Group ("TRG"). The allegations further state that prior to October 21, 2015, PHH was bound under a Strategic Relationship Agreement to refer all title insurance and settlement services to TRG. The consumers referred by PHH Home Loans paid approximately $1650 to TRG for title insurance and other settlement services. If this allegation is accurate it would violate Section 8(c)(4) under RESPA* which prohibits the "Required Use" of an affiliate if the consumer paid for those services.
Pursuant to the Strategic Relationship Agreement, PHH Home Loans is the exclusively recommended mortgage lender for Realogy's real estate brokerage network, which is operated by NRT, LLC (which operates such brands as Coldwell Banker, Sotheby's International Realty, ZipRealty, The Corcoran Group, and Citi Habitats.
The Plaintiffs also state that PHH receives a right of first refusal for the purchase of the mortgage servicing rights for PHH Home Loans originated mortgages, which permit PHH Home Loans to sell the servicing rights to PHH "on terms no less favorable" than those that could be obtained from an independent third party and that PHH owns a disproportionate share of the servicing rights for those mortgages relative to PHH's overall market share of residential mortgage servicing. The complaints states that the details of this relationship have not been publicly disclosed to consumers.
Second, the Plaintiffs allege that under a related Private Label Solutions ("PLS") model--in which PHH manages all aspects of the mortgage process for various large banking institutions that PHH directs the PLS Partners to refer title insurance and other settlement services to TRG without disclosing to consumers the existence of PHH's affiliation with TRG, nor the fact that PHH was required to cause the PLS Partners to refer title insurance and other settlement services to TRG under the terms of the Strategic Relationship Agreement.
The complaint further states that the undisclosed mandatory referral arrangement existed for over 10 years until October 21, 2015, when PHH and Realogy amended the Strategic Relationship Agreement to delete the mandatory referral provision. PHH filed their latest Form 10-Q with the SEC on November 5, 2015 and based on the exhibits it did not include the mandatory referral provision language. The Plaintiffs contend the reason that PHH deleted this provision is due to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. PHH Corporation enforcement action where the CFPB fined PHH $109 million dollars for its relationship with Atrium Reinsurance Corporation, an affiliate of PHH.
This is a RESPA class action case worth monitoring given the allegations, parties involved, and the CFPB's related case against Atrium now pending in Federal District Court. Judge Fernando M. Olguin is presiding over the case.
If you have any questions about how your company's affiliated businesses are structured please contact us to set up a consultation.
Marx Sterbcow, managing attorney with the Sterbcow Law Group, and James Milano, member with Weiner Brodsky Kider PC will speak on RESPA News's webinar series on the topic of Lead Generation Compliance. The webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, November 10, 2015 from 2:20-3:15 PM EST. The Editor of RESPA News, Justine Jones will moderate the webinar.
We will train participants on the regulations governing the real estate lead generation industry and what increased attention the CFPB, Federal Trade Commission, and other agencies mean for your business practices. The webinar will focus on how the CFPB expanded its authority with the use of UDAAP, the potential ramifications of Regulation Z's Loan Officer Compensation Rule, the dangers of co-marketing with other settlement service providers, and how to carefully vet lead generation companies.
Marx Sterbcow, managing attorney, of the Sterbcow Law Group, has been invited to speak at the Louisiana Bankers Association 2015 Bank Counsel Conference on the topic of "Who's Your Vendor? Secondary Market Compliance & Title Agent Vendor Management." The session will provide insight into how banks should be managing their vendors and what requirements they should be requiring their title agent vendors to have in place. The presentation will also focus on managing the third party vendor management risks in a Post-TRID world and the expectations the secondary market will be playing in this new changing regulatory landscape.
The 2015 Bank Counsel Conference will be held on December 10-11, 2015 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New Orleans.
Marx Sterbcow will appear Saturday, August 29th, 2015 on the Real Estate Mortgage Shoppe with Radio Host Jo Garner from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM CST on WREC 600 AM on iHeart Radio. The topic is "Ask The Expert--How the New Real Estate Lending Guidelines Affect You."
Marx Sterbcow, the managing attorney, of the Sterbcow Law Group, has been invited to speak to the Kansas Land Title Association, Mortgage Bankers Association of Greater Kansas City, and Missouri Land Title Association's Midwest TRID and Compliance Summit on September 23, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium, Tower Club East, One Arrowhead Drive, Kansas City, MO 64129.
The presentation "Vendor Management and the Secondary Market" will discuss the secondary market investors expectations for settlement agents and how you should be monitoring your third party and fourth party vendors.
Mr. Sterbcow will then moderate a Lender Panel where he will ask TRID and Vendor Management questions to Kate Steineman from Wells Fargo, Ruth Battle from Central Bank, and Amy Prater from Bank Midwest to help title agents understand what they need to do to get ready for the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure implementation date on October 3, 2015.
For more information and to register please check out the Midwest TRID and Compliance Summit page.
BREAKING: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Grants Class Certification in Edwards v. First American Corp RESPA Class Action
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued their 24 page Opinion today, August 24, 2015, in the Denise P. Edwards versus The First American Corporation; First American Title Insurance Company class action lawsuit. No. 13-55542 D.C. No. 2:07-cv-03796-SJO-FFM.
The Edwards v. First American class action lawsuit was originally filed on June 12, 2007 and has spent over 8 years bouncing from federal court to federal court.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and vacated in part the United States District Court for the Central District of California's order denying class certification in a case where the Plaintiffs alleged that First American Title engaged in a national scheme of paying title agencies things of value in exchange for the title agencies' agreement to refer future title insurance business to First American in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act "RESPA".
The Court of Appeals Panel held that in determining the proprietary of class certification, the district court erred in holding that the RESPA Safe Harbor in 12 U.S.C. §2607(c)(2) requires Edwards to prove that First American overpaid for its ownership interests in each of the title agencies.
The Opinion written by Judge Gould explained that the ownership goods purchased by First American are equity shares--not goods, services or facilities within the meaning of RESPA §2607(c)(2). The Panel also held that the district court abused its discretion in denying class certification on the grounds that 12 U.S.C. §2697(a) requires an individual inquiry, on each transaction, to determine whether First American's purchase prices of the ownership interests exceeded their fair market value.
The Court also held that cases involving illegal kickbacks in violation of RESPA §2607(a) are not necessarily unfit for class adjudication. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that Edwards need only prove the existence of an exchange involving a referral agreement, which does not require inquiry into individual facts across all 38 captive title agencies, and that the proposed class members also share common questions of fact.
The Panel concluded that the alleged common scheme, if true, presents a significant aspect of First American's transactions that warrant class adjudication: Whether First American paid a thing of value to get its agreement for exclusive referrals in violation of RESPA. The Federal Appeals Court vacated the District Court's denial of class certification in part to these transactions that involved the common scheme presented to First American's Board of Directors.
The Panel of Judges also disagreed with the District Court's holding that influences by third parties constitute individual issues that render RESPA class adjudication improper. The panel wrote that other sources of referral do not defeat the predominate common questions of fact, i.e. whether the title agencies have contractual obligations to refer their customers to First American.
The Court also held that the District Court erred in determining that individual inquiries are required in connection with twelve title agencies that are affiliated business arrangements and in connection with certain agencies that are majority-owned by First American.
First American however did score one small victory when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court that First American's transactions with newly formed title agencies do not raise common issues sufficient for class action adjudication, and affirmed the District Court's denial of certification as to the newly formed title agencies.
The CFPB announced on Feb. 12, 2015 another consent order for issues involving a lender mortgage origination advertising practices. Flagship Financial Group, LLC was alleged to have made material misrepresentations in commercial communications that improperly suggested that Flagship Financial was affiliated with a United States government entity and Flagship made material misrepresentations that it was endorsed or sponsored by a governmental program. This consent order is very similar to the American Preferred Lending consent order.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleged that Flagship disseminated advertisements promoting FHA streamline refinance loans and that the format & design of these advertisements looked like a government notice and implied that a governmental agency was the source of the advertisement.
The FHA streamline refinance mailers contained the heading “PURSUANT TO THE FEDERAL HOUSING ADMINISTRATION (FHA) HUD No. 12-045,” and “United States Housing and Urban Development 12-045 Program,” and instructed consumers to call their “assigned FHA loan specialist.” Flagships name appeared only on the back of the FHA streamline advertisement mailers in the disclaimer section that Flagship was not an agency of the federal government and wasn't affiliated with the borrower's current lender.
The CFPB also said Flagship disseminated advertisements which promoted VA guaranteed loans which included the text "HUD-Approved Flagship Financial Group has been directed to...," "Benefits Department," and "VETERANS BENEFITS IMPROVEMENT ACT Passed by Congress and signed into law by the President." The consent order said "the statements that the company “has been directed to” provide loans with certain features, in combination with the references to federal legislation and the references to the “Benefits Department,” imply that the Company has a specific and unique relationship with a government agency."
Flagship also described themselves as a HUD-Approved Lender but it has surrendered that approval in March of 2011. This description was inaccurate & misstated according to the CFPB because they were not approved yet they disseminated this message to over one million consumers.
Flagship agreed to pay $225,000 dollars and institute a comprehensive compliance plan which is to be designed to ensure that their advertising practices comply with all applicable federal consumer financial laws.
The CFPB also further ordered that Flagship shall create for at least 5 years the following business records:
1. All documents and records necessary to demonstrate full compliance with each provision of the consent order;
2. Copies of all advertisements including any such materials used by a third party on behalf of Flagship;
3. Records showing, for each service provider providing services related to direct mail marketing, the name of a point of contact, and that person's telephone number; email, physical postal address; job title or position; dates of service, and, if applicable, the reason for termination.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been sending strong messages across the real estate industry lately with its aggressive campaign against companies who they believe have made material misrepresentations which improperly suggested the lender was affiliated with a United States governmental entity or the company advertising its mortgage products was endorsed, sponsored by, or affiliated with a governmental program to consumers. The first consent order is American Preferred Lending.
On Feb. 12, 2015 the CFPB entered into a consent order with American Preferred Lending, Inc. whereby the bureau deemed American Preferred Lending violated Regulation N, 12 C.F.R. 1014.3(n) and UDAAP. The consent order found that American Preferred Lending disseminated direct-mail mortgage loan advertisements that improperly suggested that American Preferred Lending was affiliated with a governmental agency, and misrepresented that the advertised mortgage loan products were endorsed, sponsored by, or affiliated with a governmental program. The CFPB said the direct mail pieces appeared as if they were United States government notices.
The CFPB noted that "the overall format of the advertisements, including the use of plain text in labeled boxes and the title 'Payment' Reduction Notice,' evoked a government form." The advertisements were also not clearly marked so consumers could see they came from American Preferred and not the Government.
The bureau also noted that the envelopes American Preferred Lending sent to consumers included a reference to federal law but did not include a return address, and on the primary page of the advertisement American Preferred Lending's name appeared only in the small print disclosures.
Also of concern is advertisements American Preferred sent out to consumers contained the web address www.FHAdept.us which was designed to deceive consumers into thinking the communications came from a governmental entity. Some of the advertisements that were mailed also contained the FHA Approved Lending Institution logo which the CFPB deemed to be eerily similar to HUD's circular logo with the words "FEDERAL HOUSING COMMISSIONER APPROVED LENDING INSTITUTION" around the exterior.
Regulation N (the Mortgage Acts and Practices Advertising Rule) prohibits any person from making "any material misrepresentations, expressly or by implication, in any commercial communication, regarding any term of any mortgage credit product, including by not limited to misrepresentations" that "the provider is, or is affiliated with, any governmental entity," 12 CFR 1014.3(n)(1), or that the product "is or relates to a government benefit, or is endorsed, sponsored by, or affiliated with any government or other program, including but not limited to through the use of formats, symbols, or logos that resemble those of such entity, organization, or program." 12 CFR 1014.3(n)(2).
The consent order also said American Preferred Lending violated Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA stating the misrepresentations in connection with the advertising practices use for marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or sale of mortgage products was unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices which triggered a UDAAP violation.
American Preferred Lending agreed to pay a $85,000 penalty and must establish a compliance program.
The take-away from this consent order are:
1. Mortgage companies must ensure that their mailing pieces clearly and conspicuously identify themselves and not the government when they advertise.
2. Never use a website URL name which could mislead consumers into thinking they are on a government website.
3. Companies must have an internal compliance program in place to review all advertising and marketing campaigns.
4. Mortgage companies should never wrongfully depict their affiliation with the US Government in their direct mail or website advertisements.
Lastly, it should be noted the CFPB provided a lot more guidance in this enforcement action by providing more explicit examples in the consent order of what they found misleading in the advertisements and website.
The CFPB made a last minute surprise decision that they would be issuing a proposed amendment to delay the effective date of the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule "TRID" from August 1, 2015 to October 1, 2015.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" Director Richard Cordray issued the following statement with respect to the TRID delay proposal:
“The CFPB will be issuing a proposed amendment to delay the effective date of the Know Before You Owe rule until October 1, 2015. We made this decision to correct an administrative error that we just discovered in meeting the requirements under federal law, which would have delayed the effective date of the rule by two weeks. We further believe that the additional time included in the proposed effective date would better accommodate the interests of the many consumers and providers whose families will be busy with the transition to the new school year at that time.”
The financial services and real estate industry were growing increasingly concerned over the last few months with concerns about several LOS software systems not being ready by the August 1, 2015 deadline so this proposed delay would certainly provide some breathing room for their software integration activities.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" announced today they will delay "enforcement" of the new Truth In Lending-RESPA Integrated Disclosure "TRID" rule for an undefined period of time. Over two hundred members of Congress were pushing for an enforcement delay until December 31, 2015 but the CFPB did not place a definitive time frame for compliance thus leaving the date that CFPB enforcement starts very murky.
The CFPB also said they will apply a standard of "sensitivity" in their TRID enforcement oversight with companies who provide "good-faith efforts" to comply with TRID. However, the Bureau failed to define what "sensitivity" or "good-faith efforts" actually mean and how they will be applied.
The enforcement delay is certainly a good step because the CFPB clearly heard from the industry that a number software companies were unable to get their lending customers ready in time. The American Bankers Association recently conducted a study which said that 8 out of 10 bank members couldn't verify when their software system would be ready or were informed their software system wouldn't be ready before June. The Loan Originator System "LOS" troubles were discussed in a blog post we did in January.
Despite the CFPB's decision to delay enforcement of TRID for an unspecified period of time, TRID still goes into full effect on August 1, 2015 and loans that are originated after August 1 will still be required to comply with TRID because the real regulators of this rule will expect complete compliance. The real regulators in this case are the secondary market investors, mortgage insurance companies, and the plaintiffs bar. TRID loans will still be subject to representations and warranties by lenders who sell their mortgages to the secondary market. Additionally, the TRID enforcement delay at this point only pertains to the CFPB not other state and governmental agencies who also have oversight over TRID compliance.
So the single most important message from today's announcement by the CFPB is that nothing is really changing with TRID and that all companies need to ensure they are in compliance on August 1st. We hope this message does not get misinterpreted by the industry into thinking the CFPB has delayed the entire rule because it has not.
MARX STERBCOW AND CHARLES CAIN TO PRESENT AT THE 2015 NATIONAL SETTLEMENT SERVICES SUMMIT "NS3" CONFERENCE ON VENDOR MANAGEMENT FOR TITLE AGENTS
Marx Sterbcow, Managing Attorneyat Sterbcow Law Group, and Charles Cain, Of Counsel to Sterbcow Law Group and Senior Vice President to WFG National Title Insurance Company, will speak at the 2015 National Settlement Services Summit"NS3" Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on June 9, 2015. The presentation "Who's Your Vendor? Vendor Management for Title Agents" will provide in-depth analysis and guidance on how title agents can understand and monitor the risks associated with their vendor relationships. We will discuss third party vendor management expectations originating not just from the OCC/FFIEC/FDIC/CFPB but from the secondary market on closing and settlement providers.
Marx Sterbcow, managing attorney of the Sterbcow Law Group, and Jaime Kosofsky, Partner with Brady & Kosofsky, will speak at the Real Estate Service Providers Council "RESPRO" Annual Conference in San Diego, California's Andaz Hotel on April 21, 2015.
The presentation "Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Helping Your Retail Staff Understand the New Regulations" will discuss whether companies sales associates, loan officers, and settlement agents are familiar with the new TILA-RESPA integrated disclosures "TRID", RESPA Section 8 responsibilities under TRID, and other regulatory compliance logistic changes. The session will provide guidance on how to educate your retail staff on their new regulatory responsibilities in order to improve company-wide compliance and to enable them to better explain the new procedures to their clients.
Marx Sterbcow, Managing Attorney of the Sterbcow Law Group LLC, will be presenting on the ATS Secured & Advanced Bank Solutions Webinar Series on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 (1:30 PM - 2:30 PM CDT) on the topic of "RESPA Section 8: Understanding Marketing & Advertising Regulations." The webinar will cover the topics such as marketing agreements, advertising agreements, co-branding, lead generation, CFPB expectations on financial institutions, third party vendor management marketing concerns for financial institutions, and preparing your organization to remain RESPA compliant.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "CFPB" announced an update to the TILA-RESPA regulatory implementation materials today (3/19/2015) which modified the 2013 TILA-RESPA Final Rule.
The update to the TRID rule extends the timing requirement for revised disclosures when consumers lock a rate or extend a rate lock after the Loan Estimate is provided and permits certain language related to construction loans for transactions involving new construction on the Loan Estimate.
Section 8.7: May a creditor use a revised Loan Estimate if the rate is locked after the initial Loan Estimate is provided? (§ 1026.19(e)(3)(iv)(D))
Yes. If the interest rate for the loan was not locked when the Loan Estimate was provided and, upon being locked at some later time, the interest rate as well as points or lender credits for the mortgage loan may change. The creditor is required to provide a revised Loan Estimate no later than three business days after the date the interest rate is locked, and may use the revised Loan Estimate to compare to points and lender credits charged.
The revised Loan Estimate must reflect the revised interest rate as well as any revisions to the points disclosed on the Loan Estimate pursuant to § 1026.37(f)(1), lender credits, and any other interest rate dependent charges and terms that have changed due to the new interest rate. (§ 1026.19(e)(3)(iv)(D); Comment 19(e)(3)(iv)(D)-1)
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “CFPB” announced another Consent Order with NewDay Financial, LLC on February 10, 2015 where they agreed to settle allegations that NewDay engaged in deceptive acts or practices by failing to disclose payments to a veteran’s organization that endorsed NewDay for reasons other than for NewDay’s consumer service. The CFPB also said NewDay made payments to third parties in connection with the marketing of home loans that constituted illegal payments for referrals of mortgage origination business under section 1053 and 1055 of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA).
This CFPB Consent Order opens up new compliance territory with respect to consumer disclosure involving agreements between settlement service providers because it expands UDAAP into RESPA for the first time. However, this consent order is not the model of clarity that we were hoping for because it raises a number of new compliance issues outside of this particular arrangement.
The CFPB alleged that NewDay contracted with a third party marketing and lead generation company (i.e. “broker company”) whose business services included licensing the use of a Veterans’ Organization mailing list, logo, and other proprietary marks and managed the relationship between NewDay and the Veteran’s Organization. The members of the Veterans’ Organization learned about NewDay because of its contractual relationship with the marketing and lead generation company and Veterans’ Organization. NewDay purchased the Veterans’ Organization mailing list via the broker company and sent advertisements to the members of the Veterans’ Organization who in turn contacted NewDay for mortgage products.
NewDay according to the Consent Order is a mortgage lender who is in the business of originating refinance home loans through a program where the VA guarantees a portion of home loans taken out by service members, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses. NewDay also originated government insured reverse mortgage products to seniors.
The CFPB said NewDay advertised its mortgage products to consumers primarily through direct mail campaigns. NewDay sent over 50 million solicitations by postal and electronic mail to consumers offering reverse and forward mortgages. These advertising communications were typically sent to a pre-screened list of consumers, generally veterans and older Americans, selected due to various characteristics that NewDay believed made them more likely to be potential customers for NewDay’s offerings. Consumer members who were interested in learning more were invited by these mailings to call NewDay’s call center, during which calls NewDay’s Account Executives would answer questions, provide information, and take applications.
NewDay’s relationship with the Veterans’ Organization was arranged and coordinated by marketing and lead generation company, which contracted directly with NewDay on behalf of Veterans’ Organization and which paid Veterans’ Organization a portion of the fees it received from NewDay. Pursuant to agreements and understandings between and among NewDay, Veterans’ Organization, and the marketing and lead generation company, NewDay was designated as the exclusive lender of Veterans’ Organization, and NewDay drafted and sent advertising communications by postal and electronic mail to Veterans’ Organization members, with Veterans’ Organization’s approval, that were identified as being from Veterans’ Organization. These advertising communications promoted the relationship between NewDay and Veterans’ Organization, and encouraged and recommended the use of NewDay’s mortgage products to Veterans’ Organization members.
The fees paid pursuant to agreements and understandings between and among NewDay, Veterans’ Organization, and the marketing and lead generation company included:
(1) NewDay paid marketing and lead generation company a monthly “licensing fee” of $15,000;
(2) For each referred consumer member who contacted NewDay to inquire about a reverse mortgage and who completed mandatory counseling, NewDay paid Veterans’ Organization $75 as a “lead generation fee” and NewDay paid the marketing and lead generation company $100 as a “lead generation fee.”
(3) For each referred consumer member who contacted NewDay to inquire about a 100% loan-to-value (LTV) mortgage refinancing and had his/her credit report pulled, NewDay paid Veterans’ Organization $15 as a “lead generation fee” and NewDay paid the marketing and lead generation company $20 as a “lead generation fee.”
The CFPB stated that at no point were the Veterans’ Organization members made aware of the payments by NewDay to Veterans’ Organization and the marketing and lead generation company nor has this information been available publically.
Section 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA prohibits “unfair, deceptive, or abusive” acts or practices. 12 U.S.C. § 5536(a)(1)(B). A practice is “deceptive” when there is a representation or omission of information that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances, and that information is material to consumers.
“NewDay mailed advertising communications to Veterans’ Organization members, with Veterans’ Organization’s approval and that were identified as being from Veterans’ Organization, endorsing NewDay’s products. These advertising communications articulated reasons why Veterans’ Organization selected NewDay as its lender-of-choice. NewDay also made similar statements to Veterans’ Organization members during phone conversations. The affirmative reasons offered to members created the impression that there were no other connections between NewDay and Veteran’s Organization, when, in fact, NewDay was making regular undisclosed payments, both directly and indirectly, for these endorsements.”
The paid endorsements included language such as:
1. “Veterans’ Organization chose NewDay to be our exclusive Reverse Mortgage provider after spending significant time with the company’s management team and watching its loan professionals in action.”
2. “NewDay USA is [Veterans’ Organization’s] exclusive provider of home loan programs based on their high standards for service and the excellent value of their programs. If you need money, we recommend you give them a call at 1-800-995-4193. Even easier, click here and find out more!”
3. “NewDay is the EXCLUSIVE lender for [Veterans’ Organization]. We earned this because of our focus on helping veteran’s [sic] payoff their debt, lower their interest rates and payments, or get additional cash out as well.”
The CFPB consent order state the failure to disclose material connections between NewDay and Veterans’ Organization while making affirmative statements concerning a substantive basis for the endorsements likely would have been material to consumers evaluating the weight or credibility of Veterans’ Organization’s endorsement and whether to obtain a mortgage loan from NewDay, and likely would have been misleading to reasonable consumers. Thus, these communications constitute deceptive acts or practices in violation of sections 1031(a) and 1036(a)(1)(B) of the CFPA, 12 U.S.C. §§ 5531(a), 5536(a)(1)(B).
The Bureau alleged that the paid endorsements or recommendations violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act “RESPA”, 12 USC. 2607(a) which provides that no person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreements and understandings, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or a part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.
The CFPB said there was an agreement and understanding between and among NewDay, Veterans’ Organization, and the marketing and lead generation company, NewDay mailed advertising communications to individual members of Veterans’ Organization, with Veterans’ Organization’s approval, that were identified as being from Veterans’ Organization which was in violation of RESPA. These communications typically were sent to pre-screened members of Veterans’ Organization and referred recipients to NewDay by encouraging and recommending that members use NewDay for mortgage lending services.
The consent order say the agreements and understandings between and among NewDay, Veterans’ Organization, and the marketing and lead generation company, consumer members who called Veterans’ Organization’s call center for information on mortgage products were referred to NewDay. The CFPB also pointed out that the marketing and lead generation company (i.e. the “Broker Company”) maintained a website for Veterans’ Organization members (the marketing and lead generation website) which were linked to from the Veterans’ Organization website and that was identified as being part of the Veterans’ Organization website. Consumer Members who visited the marketing and lead generation website were referred to NewDay by text “recommend[ing]” NewDay as a source for home loans, along with hyperlinks to NewDay’s website and the phone number for the Veterans’ Organization’s call center.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stated they found more than 3,900 payments to the Veterans’ Organization and the marketing and lead generation company (in the form of both monthly payments and “lead generation fees”) for these referral activities. The referral mechanism set up resulted in close to 400 loans being originated.
The CFPB’s consent order prohibits NewDay from engaging any payment schemes where part of the compensation is for an endorsement. The CFPB also ordered NewDay to cease entering into any business relationship that would involve third party endorsements which might be inconsistent with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidance on endorsements which can be found in 16 C.F.R. part 255. NewDay is also prohibited from violating any aspect of Section 8 of RESPA and must submit a Compliance Plan to the CFPB.
NewDay was fined $2,000,000.00 for participating in this arrangement.
The TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule's implementation date is beginning to cause heightened concern and worry for those involved in the residential lending industry. One reason is the emerging news that a number of the 3rd party vendors engaged to write the loan originator system “LOS” software may not be able to do so until April, May, June, or even worse that some of the LOS systems that are rolled out may not be in compliance when the residential lender implements the LOS into their system. One reason for the delay by these vendors is that they were busy designing and creating other software to address the Qualified Mortgage "QM" rule that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014 and only now are the turning to the TILA-RESPA integration.
Kate Larson, Regulatory Counsel, with the Consumer Bankers Association wrote an article for InformationWeek on the "2015 Banking Regulatory Outlook" on Jan. 7, 2015 in which she stated "Despite their diligent efforts, many of our members are concerned their systems will not be ready by the August 2015 deadline because of the limited number of vendors in the market."
The downstream impact of a delayed LOS system integration is causing many banks and mortgage bankers to have to reassess their risks associated with their third party vendor management compliance obligations with respect to the TILA-RESPA Rule. Many banks and mortgage bankers to whom we have spoken will only be utilizing one title vendor because they are concerned about the integration timeline and do not want to be left shut down in whole or in part on or after August 1st, 2015 as a result of spreading their compliance across to many vendors.
There are simply to many lenders, banks, credit unions, mortgage brokers, and others who are relying on the limited number of mortgage software companies to integrate the new TILA-RESPA LOS system. Several of the TILA-RESPA disclosure task force groups we serve on are sensing real concern by the various trade associations.
On the title side of the business, many of the title software companies have finished or are finalizing their software systems to address the compliance of their title vendors. However, finalization of these systems depend on the mortgage LOS systems integration, testing that integration, and educating the employees of both the lenders and title vendors.
The CFPB has been adamant that they will not delay the implementation date of this rule and even if by some miracle the CFPB suspends enforcement for 6 months (similar to what HUD did with the 2010 RESPA Reform Rule) this will not provide sufficient safeguards because the secondary market may not purchase loans that are not in compliance with new TILA-RESPA Rule. In sum, if something is out of compliance then the lenders face claims by investors that they have violated the reps. and warrants under their repurchase agreements, thus leaving them exposed to future mortgage buy-back claims.
We are hearing that a few of the biggest banks will be completely ready by the end of Feb. 2015 as they went in-house and designed their LOS systems due to concerns about meeting the implementation rule deadline. However, let's hope the 3rd party LOS software companies can get their systems in place, integrated & tested with their title vendor(s), and all the staff trained well in advance of August 1st, 2015.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you care to comment on the proposed rule the comment form can be accessed by clicking the link below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.