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.
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