Articles Posted in RESPA SECTION 8(b): UNEARNED FEES

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 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;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

The Consumer Financial Protection BureauCFPB” and the United States Department of JusticeDOJ” formally entered into an Memorandum of Understanding AgreementMOU” 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.

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

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

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

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

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