Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

Mortgage Loans

CFPB Issues Its Fall 2019 Rulemaking Agenda

A&B Abstract:

On November 20, 2019, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the “Bureau” or “CFPB”) published its Fall 2019 Rulemaking Agenda (the “Rulemaking Agenda”) as part of the Fall 2019 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. The Rulemaking Agenda sets forth the matters that the Bureau reasonably anticipates having under consideration during the period from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020.  The Rulemaking Agenda is the first Unified Agenda prepared by the CFPB since Director Kraninger embarked on her “listening tour” shortly after taking office in December 2018. Below we highlight some of the key agenda items discussed in the Rulemaking Agenda.

Implementing Statutory Directives

In the Rulemaking Agenda, the Bureau indicates that it is engaged in a number of rulemakings to implement directives mandated in the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act of 2018 (“EGRRCPA”), the Dodd-Frank Act and other statutes.  For example:

Truth in Lending Act

In March 2019, the Bureau published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) seeking public comment relating to the implementation of section 307 of the EGRRCPA, which amends the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”) to mandate that the Bureau prescribe certain regulations relating to “Property Assessed Clean Energy” (“PACE”) financing.  The Bureau indicated that it is reviewing the comments it has received in response to the ANPR as it considers next steps to facilitate the development of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”).

TRID Rule Guidance

The Bureau has also been engaged in several other activities to support its rulemaking to implement the EGRRCPA.  For example, the Bureau noted that it has (i) updated its small entity compliance guides and other compliance aids to reflect the EGRRCPA’s statutory changes; and (ii) issued written guidance as encouraged by section 109 of the EGRRCPA, which provides that the Bureau “should endeavor to provide clearer, authoritative guidance” on the CFPB’s TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule.

Implementation of Section 1071 of Dodd-Frank

Additionally, the Bureau is undertaking certain activities to facilitate its mandate to prescribe rules implementing Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which amended the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to require financial institutions to collect, report, and make public certain information concerning credit applications made by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses.  For example, on November 6, 2019, the Bureau hosted a symposium on small business data collection in order to facilitate a discussion with outside experts on the issues implicated by creating such a data collection and reporting regime.

We have previously issued an advisory in which we discuss the key mortgage servicing takeaways from the EGRRCPA.

Continuation of the CFPB’s Spring 2019 Rulemaking Agenda

The Rulemaking Agenda notes that the Bureau will continue with certain other rulemakings that were described in its Spring 2019 Agenda that are intended to “articulate clear rules of the road for regulated entities that promote competition, increase transparency, and preserve fair markets for financial products and services.”  Such rulemakings include:

HMDA and Regulation C

In May 2019, the Bureau issued a NPRM to (i) reconsider the thresholds for reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under the Bureau’s 2015 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”) Rule and to incorporate into Regulation C an interpretive and procedural rule that the Bureau issued in August 2018 in order to implement certain partial HMDA exemptions created by the EGRRCPA.  In summer 2020, the Bureau is expecting to issue an NPRM to follow-up on an ANPR issued in May 2019 related to data points and coverage of certain business- or commercial-purpose loans.  The Bureau also anticipates issuing a NPRM addressing the public disclosure of HMDA data in light of consumer privacy interests to allow the Bureau to concurrently consider the collection and reporting of data points and the public disclosure of those data points.

Proposed Regulation F

In May 2019, the Bureau issued a NPRM which would, for the first time, prescribe substantive rules under Regulation F, which implements the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, to govern the activities of debt collectors (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule would address several issues related to debt collection, such as (i) addressing communications in connection with debt collection; (ii) interpreting and applying prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices in debt collection; and (iii) clarifying requirements for certain consumer-facing debt collection disclosures.  The Bureau noted that it is also engaged in testing of consumer disclosures relating to time time-barred debt disclosure issues that were not part of the Proposed Rule.  The results of the CFPB’s testing will inform the Bureau’s assessment of whether to issue a supplemental NPRM seeking comments on any disclosure proposals related to the collection of time-barred debt.

We previously published a five-part blog series in which we discussed the provisions of the Proposed Rule that are under consideration. We will continue to monitor and report on any developments related to the Proposed Rule.

Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans (the “Payday Rule”)

The Bureau is expecting to take final action in April 2020 on the NPRM issued in February 2019 related to the reconsideration of the mandatory underwriting requirements of the 2017 Payday Rule.  That said, we note that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has stayed the Payday Rule’s August 19, 2019 compliance date. The parties before the court have a status hearing on December 6, 2019 which could affect the stay and the effective date of the Payday Rule.

Remittance Rule

In addition, the Rulemaking Agenda notes that the Bureau is planning to issue a proposal this year to amend the CFPB’s Remittance Rule to address the effects of the expiration in July 2020 of the Rule’s temporary exception allowing institutions to estimate fees and exchange rates in certain circumstances.

New Rulemakings and Review of Existing Regulations

Expiration of the “GSE Patch”

In January 2019, the Bureau completed an assessment of certain rules that require mortgage lenders to make a reasonable and good faith determination that consumers have a reasonable ability to repay certain mortgage loans and that define certain “qualified mortgages” that a lender may presume comply with the statutory ability-to-repay requirement. The “GSE Patch” is set to expire in January 2021, meaning that loans eligible to be purchased or guaranteed by GSEs that are originated after that date would not be eligible for qualified mortgage status under its criteria. In July 2019, the Bureau issued an ANPR to amend Regulation Z, regarding the scheduled expiration of the GSE Patch, and is currently reviewing the comments it received since the comment period closed on September 2019.

As noted in a previous blog post, the CFPB announced in its ANPR, that the Bureau does not intend to extend the GSE patch permanently. It will be interesting to see whether the Bureau will allow the patch to expire in January 2021 as planned of if the Bureau will use this as an opportunity to possibly extend the expiration date.

Addition of New Regulatory Agenda Items

In response to feedback received in response to the Bureau’s 2018 Call for Evidence and other outreach efforts, the Bureau is adding two new items to its long-term regulatory agenda to address concerns related to (i) loan originator compensation; and (ii) the use of electronic channels of communication in the origination and servicing of credit card accounts.

Review of Existing Regulations

The Rulemaking Agenda also highlights the Bureau’s active review of existing regulations.  For example, the CFPB will be assessing its so-called TRID Rule pursuant to Section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires the CFPB to publish a report assessing the effectiveness of each “significant rule or order” within five years of it taking effect.  The Bureau must issue a report with the results of its assessment by October 2020.

The Rulemaking Agenda further notes that, in 2020, the Bureau expects to conduct a 610 RFA review of the Regulation Z rules that implemented the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009.  Section 610 of the RFA requires federal agencies to review each rule that has or will have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities within 10 years of publication of the final rule.

Takeaway

The Bureau’s Rulemaking Agenda gives industry an advanced look at what to expect from the CFPB in the coming months. We expect the Bureau to be active in working through their agenda and will provide further updates as they become available.

* We would like to thank Associate, David McGee, for his contributions to this blog post.

Federal Court Inspects Maryland’s Restrictions on Inspection Fees

A&B Abstract:

Maryland’s inspection fee statute has been interpreted by the Maryland Court of Appeals and the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation (“OCFR”) to apply both at the time of origination and throughout the servicing of a residential mortgage loan.  More recently, a lower federal district court decision came to a different interpretation.

Maryland’s Inspection Fee Restriction

Maryland Commercial Law Section 12-121 provides that, subject to limited exceptions, a lender may not impose a “lender’s inspection fee” in connection with a loan secured by residential real property.   A “lender’s inspection fee” means a fee imposed by a lender to pay for a visual inspection of real property. A lender’s inspection fee may be charged only if the inspection is needed to ascertain the completion of (i) the construction of a new home; or (ii) repairs, alternations, or other work required by the lender.  A “lender” is defined as a licensee or a person who makes a loan subject to Maryland’s Interest and Usury subtitle. In turn, a “licensee” is defined as a person that is required to be licensed to make loans subject to Maryland’s Interest and Usury subtitle, regardless of whether the person is actually licensed.

Prior Guidance

Previously, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held, in Taylor v. Friedman, 689 A.2d 59 (Md. Ct. App. 1997), that, unless permitted by Section 12-121(c), the prohibition on inspection fees was not limited to inspections for closings, but extended to any inspections throughout the life of the loan. In 2014, the OCFR released an advisory opinion stating that Taylor remains good law in Maryland and applies to circumstances where a servicer orders a visual inspection of property following default on the terms of the mortgage.

Roos vs. Seterus

More recently, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Roos v. Seterus held, despite previous decisions indicating otherwise, that non-lenders may charge inspection fees to mortgagors.  The defendants in Roos argued that they did not charge illegal inspection fees because (1) the deed of trust specifically authorized inspection fees; (2) Section 12-121 is inapplicable to the defendants; and (3) Section 12-121 does not have a blanket prohibition on the imposition of inspection fees. The defendants believed that since they were a servicer, and the plain language of the statute only prohibited lenders from charging inspection fees, the statute did not prohibit them from charging inspection fees.  The court agreed with defendants that the plain meaning of the statute only prohibits a “lender” from imposing or collecting inspection fees. Although the court in Roos did not itself provide a definition of “lender,” the court pointed to a Montgomery Circuit Court case, Kemp v. Seterus, Inc., No. 441428-V, 2018 Md. Cir. Ct. LEXIS 9 (Md. Cir. Ct. Oct. 19, 2018), which addressed the issue. In that case, the court stated that “the meaning of the statute [wa]s plain; only ‘persons’ which make loans to ‘borrowers’ are lenders and thus covered by the statute.” The court in Roos adopted the Kemp court’s definition of lender, finding it well reasoned and applicable since it involved the same issue and defendant.

Takeaway

It is unclear if this decision will convince the OCFR to change its long-standing position or if plaintiffs will appeal this decision.  Moreover, we note that this decision was issued by a federal district court interpreting Maryland state law and, as such, will not have precedential value in Maryland state courts. While defendants may have prevailed in this federal district court case, servicers should still remain cautious in charging inspection fees when servicing a loan secured by residential real estate in Maryland.

* We would like to thank Associate, David McGee, for his contributions to this blog post.

Changes to the Department of Defense’s SCRA Website Database Could Impact Servicers

A&B ABstract: Servicers should be aware of changes being made to the Department of Defense’s (“DoD”) Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”) website in response to a complaint that the DoD failed to protect the privacy of servicemembers’ personal information.

Discussion

The SCRA provides certain financial and legal protections to active duty service members.  Servicers are encouraged to identify and verify eligible populations of active duty servicemembers to ensure they are obtaining the relief benefits to which they are entitled.  Under scrutiny for failing to protect the personal information of servicemembers, the DoD is making changes to the SCRA website database that may impact how servicers identify and verify eligible servicemembers.

The Complaint

The complaint alleged that the DoD’s SCRA website violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the federal Privacy Act of 1974 (which regulates how the federal government may collect, maintain, use and disseminate personal information about citizens and permanent residents).

Specifically, the Vietnam Veterans of America, New York State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 7, and Thomas Barden (“Plaintiffs”) alleged that the SCRA portal leaves a servicemember’s private information unprotected. (Private information on the site includes dates of active duty service; specific dates on which a reservist, guardsman or individual not currently on active duty has been called up for future active duty; the specific component of the military in which an individual served; and confirmation that the individual served on active duty.)  Further, Plaintiffs asserted that the DoD is violating the Federal Information Security Modernization Act by failing to comply with policies that strictly limit the use of social security numbers (“SSNs”).  Finally, Plaintiffs asserted that the SCRA website’s purpose is only to determine whether someone is protected by the SCRA; Plaintiffs had no objections to limited disclosure of information for legitimate SCRA purposes.

The Settlement Agreement

The parties reached a settlement agreement (“Agreement”) on October 1, 2019.  The Agreement requires the DoD to

make significant changes to the SCRA website to enhance security of the site and better protect the personal information of servicemembers while restricting access, pursuant to the website’s “Terms of Use,” to those individuals and entities who are using the website for its intended purpose, so as to ensure the website achieves its intended purpose.

On or before October 31, 2019, the Agreement requires all users to register for an account on the SCRA website in order to run searches (i.e., single-record or batch searches). DoD will collect the name, mailing address and company name of every user as part of the account creation process.

DoD Obligations under the Agreement

The Agreement also imposes a series of obligations on the DoD.   First, on or before October 31, 2019, the Agreement required the DoD to:

  • Implement analytics to monitor the use of the SCRA website in order to: (i) identify, among other things, patterns of misuse that would indicate a user is attempting to misuse the database; and (ii) flag accounts that are searching the same name against multiple SSNs (or vice versa); and
  • Adopt a procedure to investigate potential misuse and for deactivation of accounts.

Second, within three months after the date of the Agreement, the DoD will:

  • Implement Terms of Use Language as provided for in Appendix A of the Agreement (which restricts the purposes for which the site may be accessed, and sets penalties for violations), and require users to agree to the terms and certify under penalty of perjury that they are using the website for permissible purposes;
  • Add language to the SCRA website to discourage collection of SSNs for third-party users of the SCRA website, where the sole purpose for using the website is for SCRA verification; and
  • Post a reasonable notification on the SCRA website stating that changes are made to prohibit misuse, including for non-SCRA commercial purposes, with the language set forth in Appendix C of the Agreement.

Finally, the Agreement requires DoD to:

  • Publish a new Systems of Records Notice in the Federal Register that specifies the circumstances in which information may be disclosed through the SCRA website; and
  • Subject to applicable laws and regulations, provide quarterly reports to Plaintiffs for two years.

Specifically, the required reports must list: (i) the company name of active users, (ii) information on volumes of searches per active user, (iii) the number of suspected and terminated accounts, (iv) the company names of suspended and terminated accounts, so long as those company names would not identify individuals, and (v) a description of the back-end analytics that have been implemented, and the results thereof.

Takeaways

Based on the Terms of Use reflected in the Agreement, servicers may only use the SCRA website for purposes of ensuring that servicemembers receive SCRA protections.  Servicers may run multiple searches in the SCRA website throughout the life of a loan.  In fact, some investors require searches on a quarterly basis.  While servicers should be permitted to continue good faith searches conducted for purposes of ensuring SCRA protections are afforded, it is unclear whether excessive searches (even if conducted for good faith purposes) could nevertheless constitute misuse of the website and result in account termination.

To the extent that the DoD publishes the procedures it is obligated to adopt for investigation of potential misuse, such procedures should provide additional clarity.  In the meantime, servicers should review their existing policies and procedures for conducting SCRA searches to ensure appropriate guardrails are in place to prevent the unintentional misuse of the SCRA website.

CFPB Issues Final HMDA Rule Incorporating Reporting Exemptions

A&B ABstract:  In a final rule issued on October 10, 2019, the CFPB amended Regulation C under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act to incorporate exemptions created by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, among other changes.

Discussion:

Effective January 1, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a final rule under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”), addressing certain exemptions from HMDA’s reporting requirements.

Threshold Exemption for Reporting on Open-End Loans

The CFPB has extended to January 1, 2022, an increased threshold for reporting HMDA data on open-end loans.  Specifically, the rule maintains the threshold of 500 transactions below which a lending institution is not required to report loan data.  (Thus, an entity originating fewer than 500 transactions is exempt.)   However, if a financial institution that is under the 500-transaction threshold chooses to report any excluded applications for, or originations or purchases of open-end lines of credit, it must report all such transactions.

Incorporation of Partial Exemptions Under the Regulatory Relief Act

The final rule incorporates into Regulation C provisions of an August 2018 interpretive and procedural rule adopted pursuant to the Regulatory Relief Act.  Specifically, an insured depository institution or credit union covered by a partial exemption may report exempt data fields as long as it reports all data fields within any exempt data point for which it reports data.  Section 1003.3(d) makes a partial exemption available to an entity that, in each of the preceding two calendar years, originated fewer than 500 closed-end mortgage loans or 500 open-end lines of credit.

The final rule also include clarifications:

  • That only loans and lines of credit that are otherwise reportable under HMDA count towards the thresholds for the partial exemptions;
  • Of which data points the partial exemptions cover; and
  • On the applicability of the partial exemptions to insured depository institutions with less-than-satisfactory CRA examination histories.

Takeaway:

In its rule announcement, the CFPB indicated that it will address permanent coverage thresholds for both closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit in a separate final rule.  We will continue to monitor the rulemaking process.

South Carolina Revisiting Borrower Preference Requirements

A&B ABstract: The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs  (“Department”) announced that it is soliciting comments on proposed Regulation 28-75, which would provide mortgage lenders with additional guidance on the state’s attorney and insurance agent borrower preference requirements.

Determination of Borrower Preferences

Section 37-10-102 of the South Carolina Consumer Protection Code requires a creditor to ascertain and comply with the consumer’s preference as to the legal counsel the consumer wants to hire to conduct the transaction. The requirement is not new – it was enacted in 1976 and amended in 1996 – but it is vigilantly enforced by state regulators.  Despite the Department’s issuance of numerous guidance documents (most recently in February 2017, as discussed in a previous client advisory), the requirement still presents compliance challenges to mortgage lenders.

According to regulators, satisfying Section 37-10-102 requires: (i) providing consumers the notice of the right to select an attorney and insurance agent within three days of an application; (ii) ascertaining these preferences before loan closing; and (iii) assuring that the borrower-chosen providers execute the loan closing. ‘

The Department recognizes a safe harbor, of sorts, if the lender provides the borrower with a form (based on Consumer Protection Code Administrative Interpretation 10.102(a)-8302) and the form is fully completed and signed and dated by the borrower.

The statute is designed to ensure that lenders do not improperly force or steer borrowers to an attorney. But what happens when a borrower states his or her preference to the lender, rather than including it on the form? Or if the borrower truly doesn’t have a preference?  Must a lender require a borrower to select an attorney when the borrower doesn’t have a choice?  The Department is poised to provide additional clarity to the industry. However, the Department’s announcement is light on details, merely noting that a future regulation may clarify creditors’ responsibilities and provide definitions.

Takeaway

Additional guidance from the Department is a welcome development.  Interested parties should submit written comments by 5 p.m. on October 29, 2019 to Kelly Rainsford, Deputy of Regulatory Enforcement, South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 5757, Columbia, SC 29250.