Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) recently introduced Senate Bill 3401 to facilitate access to residential mortgage loans for consumers who are self-employed or otherwise receive income from nontraditional sources. The lawmakers indicated that lenders have shied away from loans to those consumers due to overly strict or ambiguous federal requirements for documenting the consumers’ income. The bill would, if enacted, provide mortgage lenders greater flexibility in documenting income during the underwriting process. They call the bill the Self-Employed Mortgage Access Act.

Federal regulations require that for most closed-end, dwelling-secured loans, a lender must make a reasonable and good faith determination that the consumer will have a reasonable ability to repay the loan, based on (among other factors) the consumer’s verified income. To take advantage of a presumption of compliance with that requirement, most lenders follow the regulations’ Qualified Mortgage (QM) guardrails, described in part in Appendix Q of the regulations. Appendix Q generally dictates the type of income documentation a lender must obtain.

For example, for a self-employed individual (any consumer with a 25 percent or greater ownership interest in a business), Appendix Q requires that a lender seeking to make a QM must get the consumer’s signed, dated individual tax returns, with all applicable tax schedules, for the most recent two years. For a corporation, “S” corporation, or partnership, the lender must get signed copies of the federal business income tax returns, with all applicable tax schedules, for the last two years. Finally, the lender must get a year-to-date profit-and-loss statement and a balance sheet. Appendix Q does not expressly provide for any flexibility in those documentation requirements. Continue Reading Qualified Mortgages for Self-Employed Borrowers; Bill on the Hill

Foreign statutory trusts that acquire delinquent residential mortgage loans are NOT required to be licensed under the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act (the “Act”), based on an opinion released today by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The opinion reverses lower court rulings that called for such licensing. According to the opinion, the Act’s plain language is ambiguous as to whether the Maryland General Assembly intended foreign statutory trusts, acting as a special purpose vehicle in the mortgage industry, to obtain a license as a collection agency. The court conducted a fulsome review of the original legislative history, subsequent legislation, and related statutes to discern legislative intent.

Finding that the original impetus for licensing was to address abuses in the debt collection industry, the court held that the General Assembly did not intend for foreign statutory trusts to obtain a collection agency license under the Act before their substitute trustees filed foreclosure actions in various circuit courts. As a result, the court held that the lower courts improperly dismissed foreclosure actions (which the courts had done simply because the two foreign statutory trusts that had acquired the delinquent mortgage loans were not licensed under the Act before the substitute trustees instituted the foreclosure proceedings).

Of particular interest in the opinion is the conclusion that a foreign statutory trust is not “doing business” as a collection agency. The court wrote:

 Applying that definition of “business” as used in [the Act] to the consolidated cases before us presents further ambiguity. Specifically, the foreign statutory trusts that own the mortgage loans in the cases sub judice do not have any employees or offices, do not have any registered agent, and do not have any specifically identified pursuit in the State of Maryland. Instead, [the trusts] both act solely through trustees and substitute trustees. Therefore, it would be hard for this Court in the first instance to conclude that the foreign statutory trusts engage, either directly or indirectly, in the business of a collection agency when it is hard to deduce if these entities are even conducting “business” under Funk and Wagnall’s definition.

The earlier, now overturned, opinions had set off a frenzy within the Maryland foreclosure bar and the delinquent loan holders they represent. Many foreclosure law firms simply were unwilling to pursue foreclosures unless the owner of a loan that had been acquired in a delinquent status was licensed as a collection agency, and Maryland had to create an entirely new process to license trusts. Underlying the confusion was the view that a trust simply is not “doing business” as a matter of law, and thus a state did not have jurisdiction to require the licensing of the trust. The earlier Maryland opinions followed a twisted logic that a trust may not be “doing business” in the state as a matter of Maryland law on foreign qualifications, but is “doing business” as a collection agency. The plain speaking Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that doing business means doing business, and not doing business means not doing business — a logical conclusion that is elegant in its simplicity.

On October 17, 2017, in response to an investigation concluding that title insurance companies and agents were spending millions of dollars a year in “marketing costs” provided to attorneys, real estate professionals, and mortgage lenders in the form of meals, gifts, entertainment, free classes, and vacations that ultimately were passed on to consumers through heightened title insurance rates, the New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) issued Insurance Regulation 208, in which it identified a non-exhaustive list of prohibited inducements and permissible marketing expenses. The new rule went into effect on February 1 of 2018. Five months later, on July 5th, 2018, the New York State Supreme Court (the state’s trial-level court) annulled the part of the DFS regulation addressing marketing practices, holding that any such rule must be issued by the state legislature, not a regulating agency. Continue Reading New York Court Annuls DFS Effort to Curb Unscrupulous Title Practices

On May 8, 2018, the House of Representatives used the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) to vote to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) March 2013 bulletin addressing indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”). That vote follows the Senate’s April 18 CRA vote to repeal the bulletin. President Trump is expected to sign the joint resolution (S.J. Res. 57) within 10 days.

In that bulletin, the CFPB (under the leadership of former director Richard Cordray) had stated that some indirect auto lenders may be subject to ECOA and Regulation B, and advised them to “take steps to ensure that they are operating in compliance” with those antidiscrimination principles. Most significantly, the bulletin noted that indirect auto lenders may have direct liability under ECOA for allegedly discriminatory pricing disparities. In an indirect auto lending arrangement, instead of providing financing directly to the consumer, the auto dealer facilitates financing through a third party. The CFPB bulletin stated that some indirect auto lenders have policies that allow dealers to mark up lender-established rates and then compensate dealers for those markups, which may result in pricing disparities on a basis prohibited under ECOA.

As explained in a prior Mayer Brown Legal Update, the CRA allows Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval of an agency rule within 60 legislative session days of the rule’s publication. Such a resolution, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President (or passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses to overcome a presidential veto), invalidates the rule. The CRA allows Congress to use expedited procedures that effectively prohibit filibusters in the Senate.

The 60-day clock for introduction of a disapproval resolution in Congress begins on the “submission or publication” date of the rule, which the CRA defines as the later of the date on which Congress receives the agency’s report related to the rule or the date the rule is published in the Federal Register, if it is published. Although the CFPB issued its indirect auto lending bulletin more than 60 days ago, the CFPB did not submit to Congress a report on the bulletin or publish it in the Federal Register, so arguably the 60-day clock did not begin in 2013.

Upon signing this resolution, President Trump will have used the CRA to invalidate 16 agency rules. Prior to the Trump administration, the CRA had been used only once to invalidate a rule. However, this resolution marks the first time Congress has used the CRA to invalidate agency guidance. Previously, Congress had used the CRA only to repeal rules that the respective agencies viewed as legislative rules or regulations subject to the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment requirements. Unlike those legislative rules, the CFPB’s indirect auto lending bulletin is informal guidance that, as the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) concluded, “offers clarity and guidance on the Bureau’s discretionary enforcement approach.” Nonetheless, the GAO found that the CFPB bulletin qualifies as a “rule” subject to the CRA. The GAO has responded to requests from members of Congress to opine on the status of agency issuances by consistently noting that the scope of the definition of a rule under the CRA is broad. In a 2012 letter, the GAO explained that the “definition of a rule has been said to include ‘nearly every statement an agency may make.’”

If the CRA is available to Congress to invalidate agencies’ non-rule guidance that was not reported to Congress or published in the Federal Register, it is unclear what, if any, timing boundaries apply. This novel approach could implicate a large swath of informal agency guidance issued since the CRA’s passage. Further, a CRA disapproval extends beyond the rule (or non-rule guidance) itself, and prohibits the agency from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the invalidated rule, absent subsequent statutory authorization.

It is unclear, however, what this means in the context of agency guidance. If agency guidance is an interpretation of existing statutes and regulations, and Congress repeals only the guidance/interpretation, but not the existing statutes (or regulations, if applicable), it is possible that an agency could simply attempt to return to its initial stance (for instance, a CFPB director could possibly refocus on indirect auto lenders, using an approach similar to that announced in the CFPB’s 2013 bulletin). Certainly, the actions of Congress under the CRA do not protect entities from scrutiny by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the states, which also have enforcement authority under ECOA, or from private plaintiffs, who have a cause of action.

In any event, Congress definitely has clarified that it is willing to use the CRA to invalidate both agency regulations and informal guidance, and it remains to be seen which additional Obama-era regulations or guidance documents may be the CRA’s next victim.

*Daniel Pearson is not admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia. He is practicing under the supervision of firm principals.

On March 15, 2018, the State of Washington enacted Senate Bill 6029 (“SB 6029”), titled the “Washington Student Education Loan Bill of Rights,” which takes effect June 7, 2018, and amends the state’s Consumer Loan Act (the “CLA”) to expand its scope to include student loan servicers. Whereas the CLA currently regulates and licenses consumer lenders (both mortgage and non-mortgage), and mortgage servicers, when SB 6029 takes effect the CLA will also regulate and license student loan servicers. As a license is needed under the CLA to make any student loans to residents of Washington, it seems reasonable that if state legislators believed student loan servicers should be licensed in Washington, the CLA should be amended to provide for such licensing rather than enact a new and separate licensing law.¹

With that legislation, Washington becomes the latest state to license student loan servicers, joining California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Illinois.² Continue Reading Washington Licenses Student Loan Servicers*

Characterized as “protecting veterans from predatory lending,” S.2155, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, passed by the United States Senate on March 14, 2018. If enacted, the bill would impose material conditions on the eligibility of non-cash-out refinancings for government guaranty under the Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program. While the legislation has received significant attention for the loosening of certain requirements under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act for banks and other depository institutions, this particular provision should be of significant interest to all lenders of government-insured or guaranteed residential mortgage loans.

Read More in Mayer Brown’s Legal Update.

Despite changes in leadership at numerous federal agencies, Washington D.C. continues to focus on lending to servicemembers. In December, Congress extended the time period for protections against foreclosure under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Otherwise, those protections would have expired at the end of 2017.

In addition, the Department of Defense recently amended its Military Lending Act interpretive rule. Among other topics, the amendments address loans to purchase a motor vehicle or other property, and the extent to which the Act’s requirements exempt loans that finance amounts in addition to the purchase price.

Read more in Mayer Brown’s Legal Update.

Pennsylvania became the latest state to impose a licensing obligation on mortgage loan servicers. It appears that the licensing obligation will apply not only to entities that conduct the typical mortgage loan servicing activities for others, but also to certain mortgage lenders servicing their own portfolio. In addition, the licensing obligation may apply to persons merely holding mortgage servicing rights. Pennsylvania regulators intend to issue guidance regarding the scope of the state’s new licensing obligation while the effective date is pending.

Read more in Mayer Brown’s Legal Update.

On December 22, 2017, Ohio Governor Kasich signed into law Ohio House Bill 199, which will make significant changes in how the state will license and regulate mortgage lenders and brokers. The bill takes effect 91 days after filing with the Ohio Secretary of State (which filing had not been made as of January 4, 2018).

The bill amends the Ohio Mortgage Brokers Act (the “OMBA”) to bring the registration of mortgage lenders and brokers, and the licensing of mortgage loan originators, together under a single statute. The amended statute will be called the Ohio Residential Mortgage Lending Act (“ORMLA”). Continue Reading Ohio Consolidates its Mortgage Finance Licensing Laws into a new Residential Mortgage Lending Act

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