For years, state regulators have been considering whether the law that licenses residential mortgage loan servicers should be applied to entities that acquire and hold mortgage loan servicing rights (“MSRs”). As states enacted new laws to license mortgage loan servicers, one of the first questions we asked of regulators is whether the licensing obligation is applied to those who only hold the servicing rights for the mortgage loans. (For instance, Oregon’s new Mortgage Loan Servicer Practices Act, effective January 1, 2018, will require a license by those who hold mortgage loans servicing rights under certain conditions.) While states continue in that direction, they have not been quick to take action against companies that acquire and hold mortgage servicing rights without a license.

However, Arkansas recently joined California as a state prepared to sanction companies that acquire and hold MSRs without a license. On November 2, 2017, the Arkansas Securities Department, which administers the Arkansas Fair Mortgage Lending Act (“FMLA”), entered into a consent order with Aurora Financial Group, Inc. (the “Company”). The Department had concluded that Aurora was “operating as an unlicensed mortgage servicer in Arkansas by holding master servicing rights on 169 residential mortgage loans in Arkansas.” We understand this is the Department’s first such action. The fine was small, only $5,000, and the Company did not need to divest itself of its servicing rights, which may be because the Company self-reported its error. The Department required the Company to apply for a license under the FMLA and maintain its license until such time as it no longer conducts mortgage servicing activities under the FMLA.

Arkansas has licensed those who only hold MSRs without actually servicing mortgage loans since August 2013. At that time, amendments to the Arkansas FMLA became effective that changed the definition of “mortgage servicer” to mean a person that receives, or has the right to receive, from or on behalf of a borrower: (A) funds or credits in payments for a mortgage loan; or (B) the taxes or insurance associated with a mortgage loan. From our conversations with Arkansas regulators, we understand they apply the mortgage servicer licensing obligation to those that acquire and hold mortgage loans with the servicing rights, as well as those that only hold mortgage servicing rights.

Over 20 states now license entities that hold MSRs. The definition of a mortgage servicer under the Arkansas FMLA as a person that has the right to receive funds for a mortgage loan is a key component of the definition in some other states. However, other definitional language could impose a licensing obligation for holding mortgage loan servicing rights. For instance, in a few states (such as New Hampshire), the licensing obligation expressly applies to a person that holds mortgage servicing rights. Other states (such as Connecticut) define a mortgage loan servicer as a person that indirectly services a mortgage loan, and apply that definition and licensing obligation to a person that merely holds servicing rights. Then there is the California Department of Business Oversight, which has applied the licensing obligations of the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act (“RMLA”) to persons that only hold mortgage loan servicing rights, even though the RMLA defines “servicing” on the basis of receiving payments and performing services related to the receipt of those payments on behalf of the note holder.

It is unclear if the Arkansas action, and similar actions by California, signal that a long overlooked licensing obligation under the laws of many states may be coming into focus for enforcement actions. It is clear, though, that more states are moving to license entities that merely hold MSRs.

On Tuesday, a federal district court in the Southern District of New York issued an order dismissing a lawsuit brought by the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) regarding a proposal of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to issue federal charters to certain fintech firms. In dismissing the case, U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald held the NYDFS did not have standing to sue because the OCC had not yet officially decided to issue charters to fintech companies. Judge Buchwald explained that because the OCC had not made “a final determination” that it will issue such charters, the injuries alleged by the NYDFS are “too future-oriented and speculative” to support the lawsuit.

By way of background, in December 2016, the OCC announced plans to study whether it could issue special purpose charters to fintech firms. In March 2017, OCC Comptroller Thomas J. Curry announced the OCC would be issuing charters to fintech companies. In the same month, the OCC released a document describing how fintech companies could apply for a charter. In May 2017, Mr. Curry stepped down from his position, and President Trump named Keith Noreika Acting OCC Comptroller.

The NYDFS then sued the OCC regarding the proposal to grant charters to fintech companies. According to the NYDFS, the OCC did not have authority to issue a charter to fintech companies and should not allow such companies to operate in New York without complying with the state’s usury law and other consumer financial regulations. In the following months, Acting Comptroller Noreika stated several times that the OCC had not reached a final decision about whether to issue charters to fintech companies. Joseph Otting was then nominated by President Trump as permanent Comptroller of the Currency and was confirmed in November 2017. In Judge Buchwald’s decision, she noted that she was not aware of any statement by Mr. Otting indicating his position on fintech charters.

The Conference of State Bank Supervisors filed a similar lawsuit against the OCC in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The OCC filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit as premature, which motion is currently pending before the court.

The dispute over the CFPB acting director designation has moved into federal court.

In yesterday’s post, we explained why the President’s designation of Mick Mulvaney as acting CFPB director complies with the law, and why Mr. Mulvaney—rather than CFPB deputy director Leandra English—qualifies as the lawful acting director.

On the evening of November 26, Ms. English filed a lawsuit against President Trump and Mr. Mulvaney seeking a declaration that she is the lawful acting director.  (Note that Ms. English is represented by private counsel, not by CFPB lawyers.)

Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on November 25 issued an opinion supporting the President’s designation of Mr. Mulvaney as acting director.  Among other things, the opinion points out that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act—the statute invoked by President Trump—expressly does not apply to a number of specified positions (in 5 U.S.C. § 3349c), but that the CFPB director is not included in that list.

Finally, the CFPB’s general counsel agrees with the Justice Department’s analysis: Continue Reading CFPB Acting Director – The Controversy Escalates

Richard Cordray is no longer the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He resigned as of midnight on November 24.

But—as with so many events relating to the CFPB since its creation in 2010—there is a controversy about what happens next.

Before he resigned, Mr. Cordray appointed Leandra English—who had been serving as the agency’s chief of staff—to the position of deputy director.  And in a note to the Bureau’s employees, Mr. Cordray stated: “upon my departure, she will become the acting Director.”

Hours later, the White House announced that the President “is designating Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney as Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).” It stated that “Director Mulvaney will serve as Acting Director until a permanent director is nominated and confirmed.”

Is the New York Times correct in asserting that the Bureau now has “dueling directors, and there [is] little sense of who actually would be in charge Monday morning”? Continue Reading The CFPB’s Acting Director Is . . .

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently posted its Enforcement Policy and Procedures Manual (Manual) on its FOIA reading room website.  This is a welcome step in transparency, which was driven by the agency’s receipt of multiple FOIA requests for the Manual.  Other documents available in the FOIA reading room relating to the agency’s enforcement process now include the instructions and template for the memo sent to the Action Review Committee (ARC), which determines whether issues identified in the course of a CFPB examination warrant public enforcement action, and a template of the memo that staff send to the Director seeking authority to settle or sue at the conclusion of an enforcement investigation.  Hopefully, the CFPB will not wait for multiple FOIA requests to post other helpful documents on its website, such as a staff directory, which is available via FOIA request but is not currently posted on the CFPB website.

In an email to staff, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray announced on Wednesday, November 15, that he will be stepping down this month.  His departure was widely anticipated.  Because the CFPB is headed by a single director – as opposed to a 5-member commission – the agency’s director wields enormous power. Below we address some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Director Cordray’s resignation.

Continue Reading CFPB Director Richard Cordray to Step Down

On November 7, Texas voters will have the opportunity to make some significant changes to the state’s homestead equity loan restrictions. As summarized below, Texas Proposition 2 will, if approved: (1) revise the strict fee limits for such loans; (2) add to the list of lenders that are authorized to make the loans; (3) eliminate the “once-a-home-equity-loan, always-a-home-equity-loan” rule; (4) allow borrowers to sign an affidavit of compliance regarding certain new refinancings of such loans; and (5) allow advances on lines of credit up to 80% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio.

The Texas Constitution imposes strict limits on the types of loans that validly may be secured by Texas homestead property. For home equity loans (other than purchase-money loans or rate/term refinances), the Texas Constitution imposes a long list of limitations and requirements, the violation of which invalidates the lien and can result in the forfeiture of principal and interest. A lender or holder has an opportunity to cure at least some of those violations. Since the limitations are part of the state constitution, relief can come only through legislative resolutions on which the public must then have the opportunity to vote. Continue Reading Texas Voters Consider Big Changes to Home Equity Loan Restrictions

Is it possible for an investor to participate in the economics of agency residential mortgage servicing rights without being an approved holder of the servicing rights? Acquiring excess servicing fees is one way that investors are exploring to accomplish this objective.  Mayer Brown partners Larry Platt and Jon Van Gorp wrote an article for Bloomberg BNA’s Banking Report on the subject of acquisition of excess servicing fees for mortgage servicing rights, which can be found here.

New title insurance regulations in New York restrict the marketing practices of title insurance agencies and affect the operation of affiliated businesses.

The New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) issued two final regulations on October 17, 2017 that follow a DFS investigation into the marketing practices and fees charged by title insurance industry members. The DFS stated that the investigation revealed that members of the title industry spend millions each year in “marketing costs” provided to attorneys, real estate professionals, and mortgage lenders in the form of meals, gifts, entertainment, and vacations and then include those expenses in the calculation of future title insurance rates. The DFS had already implemented emergency regulations to address those practices. The recent final regulations represent permanent guidelines on certain behavior the DFS deems prohibited and permissible under the state’s title insurance statutes. Continue Reading New York Takes Aim at Title Insurance Marketing Practices

With Oregon scheduled to begin accepting mortgage loan servicer license applications through the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (“NMLS”) on November 1, 2017, we wanted to update our August 16, 2017 blog post for those who may be subject to the licensing requirements.

Temporary rules were issued on October 20, 2017 so that the licensing process can commence.  Rules applicable to the non-licensing requirements of the new Oregon Mortgage Loan Servicer Practices Act (the “Servicer Act”), will be proposed later this year or early 2018, and will be incorporated with the temporary rules when the final servicer rules are issued.

Licensing Obligations Under the Servicer Act

The new Oregon Servicer Act provides for a dedicated mortgage loan servicer license, separate from the license as a mortgage banker or mortgage broker obtained under Oregon’s Mortgage Lender Law.  Although the Oregon Servicer Act was effective upon Governor Katherine Brown’s signature on August 2nd, the legislation expressly provides that the Servicer Act will become operative on January 1, 2018, and that it will apply “to service transactions for residential mortgage loans that occur on or after [the] operative date.” Continue Reading Oregon Begins to License Residential Mortgage Loan Servicers