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.
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.