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.