Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

Archives for April 26, 2024

Appraisal Bias Settlement: Potential Roadmap

What Happened?

The lender and consumers reached a settlement in an appraisal bias case, Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott v. Shane Lanham, 20/20 Valuations, LLC, and, LLC, filed in Maryland District Court, that gained the attention of the CFPB and DOJ. While some of the terms in the settlement are already industry standard, there appear to be some newer obligations that could be a template for other lenders to follow.

Why it Matters?

The settlement is important – both for what it does and what it doesn’t do. Unfortunately, the settlement does not address the question of whether a lender is responsible for the actions of an appraiser who is neither an employee nor an agent of the lender.

By way of background, in response to the Great Financial Crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act established new rules to ensure appraisal independence and address issues of inflated appraisals or overvaluation. More recently, however, partially due to changes in the market, consumers have lodged complaints of undervaluation, alleging that discrimination resulted in the appraisal coming in too low.

Given this increase in complaints and the Administration’s focus on racial equity, regulators have been grappling with how best to address and eliminate appraisal bias. Prior to the settlement, the CFPB and DOJ jointly made arguments in a statement of interest that would hold lenders liable for the actions of an appraiser who is neither an employee nor an agent of the lender.

In response, the MBA issued an amicus brief requesting that the Court recognize that there is no existing legal authority to hold a lender liable for the alleged actions of an independent appraiser. The resulting settlement is silent on this point.

The settlement does, however, impose several obligations on the lender and its and appraisal management companies (AMCs), providing insight into what the mortgage industry could do to combat appraisal bias.

In particular, the settlement requires mortgage loan applications be provided with information on how to raise concerns with a valuation sufficiently early in the valuation process so that issues or errors can be resolved before a final decision on the application is made, including:

  • The right to request a reconsideration of value (ROV) as soon as possible;
  • A description of the process to obtain an ROV (which may not create unreasonable barriers or discourage applicants from making ROV requests) and a description of the lender’s evaluation process;
  • If the ROV is denied or the value is unchanged, a written explanation of the lender’s evaluation of the submitted material;
  • The standards that trigger a second appraisal; and
  • The applicant’s right to file a complaint with the CFPB or HUD, as part of the ROV process.

Further, the settlement requires the lender to:

  • Conduct statistical analysis tracking appraisal outcomes by protected class and neighborhood demographics including whether the loan was denied, whether a second appraisal was ordered, and whether there was a change in the valuation as a result of the ROV process. Such analysis must track individual appraisers including appraisal outcomes, ROV requests, and bias complaints.
  • Not utilize appraisers who, according to the statistical analysis, received multiple complaints from minority applicants in minority neighborhoods alleging appraisal bias, or who have a pattern of undervaluing homes owned by minority applicants or homes in minority neighborhoods, or who have been found to have discriminated in an appraisal.
  • Clearly outline internal stakeholder roles and responsibilities for processing an ROV request.
  • Ensure that ROV requests of valuation bias or discrimination complaints across all relevant business channels are escalated to the appropriate channel for research or a response.
  • Adhere to ROV timelines for certain milestones.
  • Review appraiser response to ROV requests for completeness, accuracy, and indicia of bias and discrimination.
  • Establish standards for offering a second appraisal which at a minimum must include when the first appraisal has indicia of bias or discrimination is otherwise defective.
  • Ensure that the applicant’s interest rate will remain locked during the ROV process.
  • Ensure that ensure applicants are not charged for the cost of an ROV or second appraisal.
  • Include on its website educational information on how to understand an appraisal report and contact information for questions on the appraisal report.
  • Update its fair and responsible lending policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination in violation of state and federal fair lending laws on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, disability, marital status, or age.
  • Provide training annually and for new employees on discrimination in residential mortgage lending and appraisals, and on all policies related to the ROV process, appraisal reviews, and the use of value adjustments.
  • Not utilize appraisers who previously were found by a regulatory body or court of law to have discriminated in an appraisal.

Finally, the settlement requires that AMCs and appraisers doing business with the lender contractually agree to:

  • Represent that appraisers will receive fair lending training; and
  • Certify that appraisers have not been subject to any adverse finding related to appraisal bias or discrimination, or list or describe any findings.

What to do now?

Lenders should carefully review the settlement and compare it to existing policies and procedures. While the settlement is only binding on the parties to the agreement, others should take interest. Historically, lenders conduct fair lending statistical testing for underwriting, pricing, and redlining risk. It might be time to consider adding appraisal risk.