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.

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

No AfBA disclosure — no safe harbor!

By Consent Order dated September 27, 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action against Meridian Title Corporation for violating Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 by failing to furnish affiliated business arrangement (AfBA) disclosures to consumers. Meridian, an Indiana title and settlement agent, referred over 7,000 customers to its affiliated title insurer, Arsenal Insurance Corporation, without providing written AfBA disclosures notifying consumers of the entities’ affiliation and consumers’ rights. It also received compensation above and beyond its standard allowable commission set forth in the companies’ agency agreement. Under the Consent Order, Meridian agreed to disclose its affiliation with Arsenal, implement certain compliance measures, and set aside $1.25 million for affected consumers, with any portion of that amount not ultimately provided to consumers to be paid to the CFPB.

As indicated above, the underlying basis for action in this case was Meridian’s failure to provide written AfBA disclosures to consumers it referred to Arsenal. The disclosure requirement is black and white – payments under an AfBA cannot qualify for RESPA’s Section 8(c)(4) exception to the anti-kickback and fee-splitting provisions unless the referring entity provides written disclosures to customers meeting certain form and content requirements. Failure to furnish the disclosures leaves payments between the entities subject to scrutiny to determine whether they constitute payments for referrals or qualify for some other exception, Continue Reading CFPB Requires Title Agent to Pay Up To $1.25 Million to Consumers Referred to Affiliated Title Insurer

UPDATE June 8:
The House of Representative approved the Financial CHOICE Act, with a vote largely on party lines of 233 to 186.  While the Senate Banking Committee is and has been considering financial reform proposals, it is unlikely that the Financial CHOICE Act as passed by the House will progress in the Senate.

UPDATE June 7:
As expected, House Rules Committee approved a rule on June 6 allowing 90 minutes of general debate that will permit the Republicans to offer 6 amends. Floor consideration expected to start this afternoon or first thing tomorrow morning.

The House Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting on the CHOICE Act for 5:00 PM Tuesday, June 6, to consider the amendments that have been submitted as well as a rule for floor consideration. It is expected that the Committee will issue a rule to bring the bill to the House floor on Wednesday, and that rule is likely to provide for debate and floor consideration of amendments.

There is some speculation that Democratic members may withdraw their amendments in a show of opposition to the bill, similar to their decision last Congress not to participate in the Committee mark-up.  We understand that the Majority Whip, Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), has placed the bill on the calendar for Wednesday, June 7th, subject to the Rules Committee completing its work. Depending on the final number of amendments to be considered (if any), and the time provided for debate, it is possible that the bill could pass as early as Wednesday evening.

*John Mirvish is not admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia.

The long awaited en banc oral argument in the PHH v. CFPB appeal was heard this morning.  Based upon the questions asked by the judges, and with the caveat that such questioning is not always an indicator of how a court will rule, it seems likely that the D.C. Circuit will not find the CFPB to be unconstitutionally structured.  While Judge Kavanaugh, author of the roughly 100-page 3-judge panel decision last October, tried mightily to defend his position that a single director removable only for cause thwarts the President’s Article II authority, most of the judges did not seem to share his views.  Some judges, like Judge Griffith, implied that the Court was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, which upheld the constitutionality of removal-for-cause provisions as pertains to the multi-member Federal Trade Commission.  Other judges appeared to believe there was sufficient accountability for the CFPB Director because he or she can be removed for cause.  Judge Pillard defended the independence of financial regulatory agencies such as the CFPB.  On the whole, fewer judges seemed inclined to declare the for-cause provisions unconstitutional than to keep the status quo.

Notably, only about 60 seconds of the 90 minute oral argument addressed RESPA concerns, in particular Section 8(c)(2).  The judges’ RESPA-related questions concerned whether the industry had notice that RESPA prohibited the conduct in question (which had been blessed by a 1997 Letter from HUD permitting captive reinsurance if the Section 8(c)(2) safe harbor provisions were met) and whether the CFPB was bound by RESPA’s 3-year statute of limitations.  Questions about both issues were directed to CFPB counsel.  He stated that the statute itself provided ample notice of its prohibitions in Sections 8(a) and 8(c)(2). He also said the Bureau was bound by the generally-applicable 5-year statute of limitations at least insofar as penalties are concerned, but he did not concede the Bureau was otherwise bound by RESPA’s limitations period in an administrative proceeding.  That said, given how little attention was directed to the RESPA questions, it is likely that the full 11-member panel will affirm the 3-judge panel’s views on RESPA expressed last October.

It would appear that Director Cordray will remain at his desk until his term expires in July 2018.  He may, however, need to revise his interpretation of Section 8(c)(2).

 

After leaving residential mortgage lenders guessing for many years, the California Department of Business Oversight (“DBO”) finally provided the industry with some guidance on the documentation licensees may use to verify compliance with the state’s per diem statutes.

The California per diem statutes (Financial Code § 50204(o) and Civil Code § 2948.5) prohibit a lender from requiring a borrower to pay interest for more than one day prior to the disbursement of loan proceeds, subject to some limited exceptions.

In 2007, the DBO issued Release No. 58-FS (the “2007 Release”), which provided guidance on acceptable evidence of compliance with Financial Code § 50204(o):

  • A final, certified HUD-1 that reflects the disbursement date;
  • Written or electronic records of communications between the licensee and the settlement agent verifying the disbursement date of loan proceeds and identifying the name of the settlement agent providing the information and the electronic or business address used to contact the settlement agent; or
  • Contemporaneous written or electronic records of oral communications between the licensee and the settlement agent verifying the disbursement date of loan proceeds and identifying the name and telephone number of the settlement agent providing the information.

Of course, much has changed since 2007, including the enactment and implementation of TRID, which replaced the HUD-1 with the Closing Disclosure.  Continue Reading Carpe Per Diem Redux — California Clarifies How to Document Compliance

Dealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) another setback, on April 21, 2017, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals refused to enforce a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued by the CFPB. The decision is likely to have broad implications for how the CFPB identifies the nature and scope of its investigations in its CIDs, which to date have provided investigation subjects with little information about the nature of the CFPB’s concerns. More precisely defined investigations could provide significant benefits to CID recipients, as well as establish a basis to challenge the requests set forth in CIDs. To learn more about the ruling and its implications, read our Legal Update.

 

The California Department of Business Oversight* (“DBO”) appears to have backed off of its pronouncement late last year that lenders may not deliver per diem disclosures to all borrowers.

California’s infamous per diem statutes (Fin. Code § 50204(o)Civ. Code § 2948.5) have been the basis of scores of licensing agency examination findings and actions for many years now, resulting in significant refunds and penalties. In fact, just last week the DBO announced that a lender had agreed to pay a settlement of $1.4 million for per diem violations. That is just one of many such settlements that often run into the many hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. One reason for this is the lack of certainty in agency interpretation. Just one example of that uncertainty was addressed by the DBO at the California Mortgage Bankers Association’s (“CMBA’s”) Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference this past December.  Continue Reading Carpe Per Diem Disclosure — California Department of Business Oversight Clarifies its Position

On January 20, the Ninth Circuit handed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) a victory in one of the first cases challenging the CFPB’s investigative authority — although that victory seems tied to the particular facts of the case.

The court held that the CFPB has the authority to investigate the activities of for-profit, small-dollar lenders created by three Indian tribes (the Tribal Lending Entities). Given the unique facts of the case, however, the decision may provide scant guidance for the other pending cases challenging the CFPB’s authority to issue administrative subpoenas known as Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs).

The case before the Ninth Circuit involved CIDs issued to the Tribal Lending Entities as part of an investigation into whether small-dollar online lenders were violating federal consumer financial laws. Unlike the other pending challenges to the CFPB’s investigative authority, the Tribal Lending Entities did not claim that the nature of their activities (lending money) was outside the scope of the CFPB’s authority. Instead, they argued that the CFPB’s investigative powers – which are limited to sending CIDs to “persons” – did not authorize the agency to send such demands to tribal entities. The Ninth Circuit disagreed. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Affirms CFPB Authority to Investigate Tribal Lenders