Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

Mortgage Servicing

House Financial Services Committee Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Holds Hearing on Mortgage Servicers and CARES Act Implementation

A&B Abstract:

 On July 16, 2020, the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services’ (the “Committee”) Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (the “Subcommittee”) held a hearing to discuss mortgage servicers and their implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability Act (“CARES Act”). On May 4, 2020, Chairwoman of the Committee, Maxine Waters, sent a request for information (“RFI”) to eleven servicers, requesting information on their forbearance procedures and overall compliance with the CARES Act. The hearing focused on the data received through the RFI, as well as questions directed to witnesses regarding how COVID-19 has affected vulnerable communities and what additional steps Congress should take to provide borrowers with further relief.

Implementation of the CARES Act

 Subcommittee Chairman, Al Green, opened the hearing by noting that the information received from the eleven servicers in response to the Committee’s RFI indicated that over two million forbearance requests had been received since March 27, 2020.  However, Subcommittee Chairman Green raised concerns that some borrowers may not have been made aware of their right to the full 180 days (plus an additional 180 days) of forbearance provided under the CARES Act. Ranking Member Andy Barr acknowledged that mortgage servicers experienced “hiccups” in implementing the CARES Act’s forbearance and foreclosure provisions, but noted that the data received from the eleven servicers suggested that servicers were generally doing a “good job” in implementing and complying with the CARES Act.

Committee Chairwoman Waters and Subcommittee Chairman Al Green identified areas where servicers struggled to effectively implement the CARES Act’s protections. Specifically, both the Committee’s majority staff memorandum and Subcommittee Chairman Green noted that, in some cases, servicers failed to properly offer or inform borrowers about the full 180-day initial forbearance period available to borrowers under the CARES Act and only offered initial forbearance of 90-days.

Subcommittee Chairman Green noted that he believed the intent of the CARES Act was to ensure borrowers receive the full 180-day initial forbearance period, with the right to shorten forbearance upon request. Additionally, Chairman Green noted that in certain cases servicers advised borrowers that a lump sum repayment would be required at the end of the forbearance period, which could discourage borrowers from taking advantage of the CARES Act’s forbearance protections, and is inconsistent with federal agency guidance prohibiting servicers from requiring a lump sum repayment. That said, Representative Nydia Velazquez acknowledged that a HUD Office of Inspector General report found that the FHA may have provided incomplete, inconsistent data and suggested that additional guidance from the FHA is needed.  A similar sentiment was echoed in the Committee’s majority staff memorandum, wherein the majority staff noted that “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have at times provided inconsistent and potentially confusing guidance regarding the CARES Act forbearance protections.”

Witnesses Marcia Griffin, founder and president of Homefree USA, and Donnell Williams, President of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, acknowledged that servicers’ implementation of the CARES Act has improved since the start of the pandemic, but also noted certain areas for improvement.  For example,  Ms. Griffin and Mr. Williams both noted that servicers experienced a delay in implementing the CARES Act and in providing appropriate training to employees regarding the CARES Act’s protections as well as the post-forbearance loss mitigation options that would be available to impacted borrowers exiting forbearance. Furthermore, Ms. Griffin and Mr. Williams advocated for better training for customer service employees, more support for housing counselors, and more extensive borrower outreach.

Post Forbearance Measures and the Health Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (“HEROES”) Act

Members of the Subcommittee also questioned witnesses regarding what further measures should be taken by Congress to provide additional relief to impacted borrowers to ensure they can remain in their homes after their forbearance ends. Ranking Member Andy Barr noted that the HEROES Act, recently passed by the House, would require automatic forbearance and mandate certain post-forbearance loss mitigation options.  However, both he and Representative Lee Zeldin cautioned that mandating certain loss mitigation options may impact servicers’ ability to work effectively with impacted borrowers, and that it is best for servicers to speak with borrowers to determine the best option available for each borrower. Representative Rashida Tlaib and Subcommittee Chairman Green also indicated that Congress is considering whether to provide additional direct payments to borrowers.  Representative Zeldin noted that while mortgage servicers have a vital role to play in helping impacted borrowers, they cannot shoulder all of the associated financial burden without increased liquidity.

Alys Cohen, Staff Attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, supported providing protections similar to the CARES Act for borrowers with non-federally backed mortgages, including a requirement to provide automatic forbearance.  However, Dr. DeMarco cautioned that automatic forbearance may not be an appropriate tool. Dr. DeMarco indicated that rather than automatic forbearance, borrowers should communicate with their servicers before being put into forbearance so that the servicer and borrower can work together to determine the best path forward. While Ms. Cohen agreed that borrowers should try to speak with their servicers, she noted that more borrowers are missing payments than requesting forbearance.

Representative William Timmons asked witnesses to comment on whether certain temporary policies adopted in response to COVID-19, such as remote online notarization and additional flexibility regarding appraisals, should be made permanent.  Mr. Williams indicated, without specificity, that some of these temporary policies should be made permanent. Dr. Demarco supported extending the temporary flexibility around remote online notarization. Finally, Ms. Cohen noted that there was room for these temporary polices to be made permanent, but that appraisals should remain accurate.

Addressing Racial Disparities

Certain members of the Subcommittee’s majority caucus, including Subcommittee Chairman Green, Committee Chairwoman Waters, and Representative Velazquez highlighted the fact that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities. Of the witnesses, Ms. Cohen and Mr. Williams, in particular, suggested that people of color were less likely to receive a forbearance than their white counterparts. For example, Mr. Williams noted that there is currently a 13% gap between Black and White homeowners who receive forbearance. Ms. Cohen, Ms. Griffin, and Mr. Williams all noted that more communication from the federal government regarding forbearance protections, and additional funding to support Black and Latinx communities, such as funding for legal aid and housing counseling services, would help mitigate some of this apparent disparity.

Takeaway

The Subcommittee hearing suggested that servicers have been largely effective in implementing the CARES Act and communicating with borrowers, but that additional work is still needed.  Subcommittee Chairman Green, in particular, noted that additional legislation as well as further communication by servicers is needed to ensure all borrowers receive clear and consistent guidance regarding available relief options. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it will be interesting to see what further legislation is promulgated to provide additional relief to borrowers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Delaware Governor Issues Order Modifying Restrictions on Residential Foreclosures and Evictions

A&B Abstract:

On June 30, 2020, Delaware Governor, John Carney, issued a Twenty-Third Modification (the “Order”) to the Declaration of a State of Emergency (the “State of Emergency”), initially issued on March 12, 2020. The Order became fully effective July 1, 2020. The Order addresses a number of issues that impact residential mortgage loan servicers, including restrictions on residential foreclosure and evictions and certain fees or charges, which modifies guidance issued under the Sixth Modification of the State of Emergency (the “Sixth Modification”), which we previously discussed.

Restrictions on Late Fees and Excess Interest for Missed Payments

Under the Sixth Modification, with respect to any missed payment on a residential mortgage occurring during the State of Emergency, no late fee or excess interest could be charged or accrued on the account for such residential mortgage during the State of Emergency. Under the Order, these provisions have been removed in their entirety.

Foreclosure Restrictions

The Order continues to impose restrictions on a mortgage servicer’s ability to initiate or complete a foreclosure action or sale, however, the Order replaces Paragraph C of the Sixth Modification and makes certain other significant changes thereto.

Notably, the Order lifts the stay of deadlines in any action pursuant to paragraphs C.2, C.3, and C.4 of the Sixth Modification.  Paragraph C.2 of the Sixth Modification had extended all deadlines in residential mortgage foreclosure actions, including those related to the Automatic Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program established pursuant to § 5062C of Title 10 of the Delaware Code.  Paragraph C.3 prohibited residential properties subject to a residential mortgage foreclosure action, for which a judgment of foreclosure was issued prior to the State of Emergency, from proceeding to a sheriff’s sale until 31 days after the State of Emergency.  Paragraph C.4 prohibited any residential property that was the subject of a residential mortgage foreclosure action, and which was sold at sheriff’s sale, from being subject to an action of ejectment or write of possession until 31 days following the termination of the State of Emergency. The Order lifts these restrictions, unless a court determines that a longer period is needed in the interest of justice.

With the lift of the stay of deadlines, the Order allows a party to act to remove individuals from residential properties, subject to a residential mortgage foreclosure action, where a judgment of foreclosure was issued prior to the declaration of the State of Emergency. However, individuals still cannot act to, and sheriffs, constables, and their agents, cannot remove individuals from their homes unless a judgment of foreclosure was obtained before March 13, 2020. All other provisions of Chapter 49 of Title 10 of the Delaware Code remain in effect in accordance with their terms.

Restrictions on Evictions

Similarly, with respect to evictions, the Order replaces paragraph B of the Sixth Modification and makes significant additional changes thereto.

The Order now provides that actions for summary possession may be filed with respect to any residential unit located within Delaware, but must be stayed to permit the Justice of the Peace Court to determine whether the parties would benefit from court supervised dispute resolution. Previously, no party could bring an action for summary possession for any residential rental unit located in Delaware. Actions that were brought before the State of Emergency, for which no final judgment had been entered, are further stayed.

Sheriffs, constables, and their agents continue to be prohibited from removing individuals from residential properties during the time the Order is in effect, unless a court determines on its own motion, or upon the motion of the parties, that it is necessary in the interest of justice. Additionally, the Order continues to prohibit the charging late fees or interest with respect to any past due balance for any residential unit during the State of Emergency.

Takeaway

The Order makes significant changes to the Sixth Modification to the Declaration of the State of Emergency, which significantly impacts mortgage servicing in Delaware. Servicers should carefully review the Order to fully determine their rights and obligations with respect to Delaware borrowers.

State Courts Require Strict Compliance with Foreclosure Procedures

A&B ABstract: In response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, state executives and legislatures have seriously restricted residential foreclosures and evictions.  These restrictions have included requiring forbearance for private mortgage loans and placing moratoria on foreclosures.

While these restrictions generally apply to residential mortgages lapsed in the wake of the global pandemic, they do not protect consumers who were facing foreclosure prior to the crisis.  To pick up the slack in this area, various state judiciaries are tightening the reigns on mortgage servicers, demanding servicers’ strict compliance with the notice provisions of mortgage agreements and state foreclosure procedures.  Courts have even gone so far as to void foreclosure actions where the breach notices sent to consumers were technically deficient but substantively sound.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals Decision

In June 2020, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals voided a foreclosure sale because of a servicer’s failure to strictly comply with the notice provision in the mortgage agreement.  In Barnes v. U.S. Bank N.A., as Trustee for NRZ Pass-Through Trust V, No. CV-17-901127, the mortgage agreement required any notice of default to inform the borrower of “the right to bring a court action to assert the non-existence of a default or any other defense of Borrower to acceleration and sale” of the mortgaged property.

The servicer’s notice, however, employed equivocal language concerning the borrower’s rights, informing the borrower only that they “may have the right” to challenge the default.  As a result, the court found the foreclosure sale was void, cementing the law in Alabama that a defect in the form of a default notice vitiates the legality of an ensuing foreclosure.

Rhode Island Supreme Court Decision:

Similarly in June 2020, in a matter of first impression, the Rhode Island Supreme Court vacated a foreclosure because the notice of default did not strictly comply with the requirements set forth in the mortgage agreement.  In Woel v. Christiana Trust, as Trustee for Stanwhich Mortgage Loan Trust Series 2017-17, et al., No. 2018-347-Appeal (PM 16-921), the mortgage agreement contained a nonuniform covenant developed for Rhode Island mortgages.  According to the covenant, in the event of a default, the mortgagee must provide a notice of default informing the borrower of “the right to reinstate after acceleration.”

The borrower defaulted and received a notice of default informing the borrower that they had “the right to cure the default after acceleration,” not the specific right to reinstate.  Based on this minor discrepancy in language, the Rhode Island Court concluded that there had not been strict compliance with the covenant’s notice requirements, rendering the foreclosure a nullity.

New York Appellate Division Decision:

Finally, in July 2020, the Second Department of the New York Appellate Division reversed a judgment of foreclosure and sale because the notice the borrowers received did not strictly comply with New York’s Real Property Actions and Proceeds Law (“RPAPL”).  The version of RPAPL at issue required notices to provide a list of five housing counseling agencies serving the region where the borrowers reside.  The notice to the borrower, however, included three agencies serving the region and two agencies serving different regions.

Even though there was no evidence that any of the three compliant agencies denied the borrowers service, the Appellate Division held that under a strict compliance standard, a technical deficiency in the notice was dispositive, regardless of its substantive effect.

Takeaway:

These decisions are not necessarily groundbreaking, as courts have generally required strict compliance in the foreclosure context.  However, the above decisions indicate a growing willingness among the judiciary to prevent foreclosure on even the narrowest technical grounds.  As such, servicers should ensure that any notice of default sent to a borrower strictly complies with the terms of the mortgage agreement and state foreclosure proceedings because in a post-COVID-19 world, any technical deficiency will likely be fatal to a servicer’s efforts.

Fannie Mae Updates COVID-19 FAQ’s Related to Servicing

A&B ABstract: On June 30, Fannie Mae updated its “COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions” as part of an ongoing effort to provide guidance to lenders and servicers in connection with the ongoing COVID-19 national emergency.

The updates address retention workout options and incentive fees, among other topics.

Foreclosure Suspension

Fannie Mae has updated Question 3 to reflect the extension of the foreclosure moratorium through August 31, 2020, in accordance with Lender Letter 2020-02, as well as the COVID-19 payment deferral retention workout option (recently announced in Lender Letter 2020-07).  The payment deferral option would permit a forbearance of up to 12 months.

Payment Deferral

Fannie Mae has added new Question 30 to discuss the requirements for the new COVID-19 payment deferral option, including the application of additional principal payments.

The question clarifies that a servicer  must apply curtailment to the interest-bearing unpaid principal balance (UPB) if the curtailment is less than the interest-bearing UPB.  If a principal curtailment is greater than or equal to the interest-bearing UPB, the servicer must apply the curtailment to the non-interest-bearing balance, if any; and then to the interest-bearing UPB.

Claims

 Fannie Mae has added new Question 30 to clarify that a servicer can submit request for expense reimbursement through a 571 claim as soon as an expense is incurred. Although Fannie Mae does not limit the number of supplemental claims, it recommends that servicers consult the Servicing Guide E-5-01, Requesting Reimbursement for Expenses prior to submitting any request for expense reimbursement.

Incentive Fees

Addressing incentive fees, Fannie Mae has added new Questions 39 and 40.

 Question 39 addresses the eligibility of a servicer to receive incentive fees if it receives a mortgage loan from a transferor servicer.  Because incentive fees are tied to the mortgage loan (rather than the servicer), if the transferor servicer has met the cumulative cap for receiving such fees, the transferee is not eligible to receive any additional incentive fees.

Question 40 makes clear that the cap on incentive fees does not apply in connection with a servicer’s completion of a Fannie Mae Extend Modification for Disaster Relief or a Fannie Mae Cap and Extend Modification for Disaster Relief.

Takeaway

These updates to the FAQs reflect Fannie Mae’s ongoing efforts to provide needed clarification and guidance to servicers in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Servicers should continue to monitor Fannie Mae guidance for further updates.

New York Laws Require Forbearance for Private Mortgage Loans During COVID Emergency

A&B ABstract

On June 17, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law two measures, effective immediately, providing for mortgage forbearances for privately backed residential mortgage loans during the COVID-19 emergency. Senate Bill 8243 (2020 N. Y. Laws 112) amends the N. Y. Banking Law by adding new Section 9-x, “Mortgage Forbearance.”  Senate Bill 8428 (2020 N. Y. Laws 126) relates to state disaster emergency and, among other provisions, amends Section 9-x as added by Senate Bill 8243. These measures apply during the covered period, beginning on March 7, 2020 and ending when no Executive Order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic relating to restricting public or private businesses or required postponement or cancellation of all non-essential gatherings of individuals apply in the county of the borrower’s residence.

Mortgage Forbearance

New Section 9-x of the Banking Law imposes new requirements on any New York regulated banking organization, including banks, trust companies, private bankers, savings banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, and investment companies) and regulated mortgage servicers  (collectively, “regulated entities”)subject to supervision by the New York Department of Financial Services (the “Department”).

First, regulated entities must make applications for forbearance widely available to any qualified mortgagor who, during the covered period is in arrears or on a trial period plan or who has applied for loss mitigation. A qualified mortgagor is a natural person who (i) demonstrates financial hardship as result of COVID-19 during the covered period, (ii) whose loan is from or serviced by a regulated entity, and (iii) whose loan meets the following criteria: the loan is incurred for personal, family or household purposes, s secured by mortgage on a 1-4 family property located in New York, and is the borrower’s primary residence.  Forward and reverse mortgage as well as co-operative units are within scope.

Second, regulated entities must grant forbearance of all monthly payments due on a New York residential mortgage secured by a qualified mortgagor’s primary residence for up to 180 days with the option to extend the forbearance for up to an additional 180 days provided the borrower continues to demonstrate a financial hardship. Such forbearances may be backdated to March 7, 2020.

Third, any mortgage forbearance granted by a regulated entity to a qualified mortgagor as a result of a financial hardship pursuant to Executive Order 202.9 the regulation promulgated thereunder (3 NYCRR Part 119) or Section 9-x of the Banking Law subject to post forbearance repayment requirements. Specifically, the qualified mortgagor shall have the following four options:

  • Extend the term of the loan for the length of the period of forbearance with no additional interest or late fees or penalties incurred on the forborne payment
  • Have the arrears accumulated during the forbearance period payable on a monthly basis for the remaining term of the loan without being subject to penalties or late fees as a result of the forbearance
  • Negotiate a loan modification or any other option that meets the changed circumstances of the borrower, or
  • If the borrower and regulated entity cannot reasonably agree on a mutually acceptable loan modification, the regulated entity must offer to defer arrears accumulated during the forbearance period as a non-interest bearing balloon loan payable at the maturity of the loan, or at the time the loan is satisfied through a refinance or sale of the property.  Late fees accumulated as a result of the forbearance must be waived.

The measure prohibits a regulated entity from reporting negatively to any credit bureau that the borrower has exercised any of the four post forbearance options

Significantly, Section 9-x of the Banking Law does not apply to any mortgage loan made, insured, purchased or securitized by: (i) any agency or instrumentality of the United States (such as FHA, VA or USDA); (ii) any government sponsored enterprise  (such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac); (iii) a federal home loan bank;  (iv) a corporate governmental  agency of the state constituted as a political subdivision and public benefit corporation; or (iv) “the rights and obligations of any lender, issuer, servicer or trustee of such obligations, including servicers for” Ginnie Mae.

Privately backed mortgage loans are also subject to New York Executive Order 202.9, which modified Subdivision two of Section 39 of the Banking Law to provide that it is an unsafe and unsound business practice for any financial institution subject to the jurisdiction of the Department to, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, fail to grant a forbearance to any person or business who has a financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic for a period of ninety days. The Executive Order also directed the Superintendent of the Department to promulgate emergency regulations to require that the application for such forbearance be made widely available for consumers, and such application shall be granted in all reasonable and prudent circumstances solely for the period of such emergency. These regulations are set forth in new Part 119 to 3 NYCCR. The covered period of Executive Order 202.9 was extended by subsequent executive order to be valid through July 6, 2020, unless further extended.

Capital and Liquidity

New Section 9-x of the Banking Law provides that the obligation to grant the forbearance relief required by Section 9-x is subject to the regulated entity “having sufficient capital and liquidity to meet its obligations and to operate in a safe and sound manner.” If a regulated entity determines it is not able to offer the forbearance to any qualified mortgagor, it must notify the Department within five business days of making such determination. Any such notice filed with the Department must include: (1) information about the mortgagor; (2) the reason the regulated entity determined that it was unable to offer any forbearance relief pursuant to Section 9-x; (3) information about the institution’s financial condition supporting the its determination; and (4) any other information required by the Department. Additionally, when such a notice is provided to the Department, the regulated entity must advise the mortgagor that the application for relief was denied and provide a statement that the applicant may file a complaint with the New York state department of financial services at 1-800-342-3736 or http://www.dfs.ny.gov if the applicant believes the application was wrongly denied.

Defense to Foreclosure

Section 9-x of the Banking Law, provides that adherence with Section 9-x is a condition precedent to commencing a foreclosure action stemming from missed payments which would have otherwise been subject to this section, and that a defendant may raise the violation of this section as a defense to such a foreclosure action commenced on the defendant’s property.

Takeaway

These New York measures provide protections to New York borrowers who aren’t otherwise covered by the CARES Act.  Servicers should take note of these provisions as well as similar ones in other states, such as the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Oregon.  In the immediate term, servicers will need to quickly operationalize these new protections.  In the longer term, questions may be raised as to whether these types of measures infringe upon any private investors’ rights.