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  • HUD announces plan to seek public comment on Disparate Impact Regulation

    Federal Issues

    On May 10, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced its intention to seek public comment on whether the 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation (Regulation), which provides a framework for establishing legal liability for facially neutral practices that have a discriminatory effect under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), is consistent with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.  (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) The Supreme Court upheld the use of a disparate impact theory to establish liability under the Fair Housing Act, but according to HUD’s announcement, the Court only referenced the Regulation in its ruling but did not directly rule upon it.

    As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2017, the Treasury Department called on HUD to reconsider the Regulation as it relates to the insurance industry – specifically, to homeowner’s insurance.

     

    Federal Issues HUD FHA Disparate Impact Fair Lending U.S. Supreme Court Mortgages Mortgage Insurance

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  • Independent auditor agrees to $149.5 million settlement with DOJ over potential FCA liability

    Federal Issues

    On February 28, the DOJ announced a $149.5 million settlement with an independent auditor for potential False Claims Act (FCA) liability related to its auditing work of a failed mortgage origination company. According to the announcement, between 2002 and 2008, the company served as an independent auditor of a mortgage originator, which issued Fair Housing Administration (FHA) insured loans through HUD’s Direct Endorsement Lender program. The program requires mortgage companies to submit to HUD annual audit reports on financial statements and compliance with certain HUD requirements. The DOJ alleges that during that time, the now failed mortgage originator engaged in a fraudulent scheme, which, among other things, resulted in the originator’s financial distress to not be reflected in its financial statements. The DOJ alleges that the independent auditor “knowingly deviated from applicable auditing standards” and therefore, failed to detect the misleading financial statements and the originator’s allegedly fraudulent conduct, which allowed the originator to continue issuing FHA loans until it declared bankruptcy in 2009. The DOJ notes that the settlement relates to allegations only and there was no determination of actual liability against the independent auditor.

    Federal Issues DOJ False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgages FHA HUD

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  • President Trump releases 2019 budget proposal; key areas of reform include appropriation shifts, cybersecurity, and financial crimes

    Federal Issues

    On February 12, the White House released its fiscal 2019 budget request, Efficient, Effective, Accountable, an American Budget (2019 budget proposal), along with Major Savings and Reforms (MSR) and an Appendix. The mission of the President’s budget sets forth priorities, including imposing fiscal responsibility, reducing wasteful spending, and prioritizing effective programs. However, the 2019 budget proposal has little chance of being enacted as written and does not take into account a two-year budget agreement Congress passed that the President signed into law on February 9. Notable takeaways of the 2019 budget are as follows:

    CFPB. Under the MSR’s “Restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” section, Congress and the current administration would implement a broad restructuring of the Bureau to “prevent actions that unduly burden the financial industry” by restricting its enforcement authority over federal consumer law. Among other things, the proposed budget would cap the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) transfers this year at $485 million (an amount equivalent to its 2015 budget) and eliminate all transfers by 2020, at which point the Bureau’s appropriations process would shift to Congress.

    Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). As stipulated in the Appendix, the budget proposes legislation, which would authorize the CFTC to collect $31.5 million in user fees to fund certain activities and would bring the Commission’s budget to $281.5 million for 2019. According to the administration, if the authorizing legislation is enacted, it would be “in line with nearly all other Federal financial and banking regulators.”

    Cybersecurity. The 2019 budget proposal requests funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to execute efforts to counter cybercrime. The DOD funds would go towards efforts to sustain the Cyber Command’s 133 Cyber Mission Force Teams, which “are on track to be fully operational by the end of 2018.” Furthermore, the administration states it “will improve its ability to identify and combat cybersecurity risks to agencies’ data, systems, and networks.”

    Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). Currently FSOC (which is comprised of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies and monitors risk to the U.S. financial system) and the Office of Financial Research (OFR) (FSOC’s independent research arm) receive funding through fees assessed on certain bank holding companies with assets of at least $50 billion as well as nonbanks supervised by the Fed. However, the 2019 budget proposal would require FSOC and OFR to receive their funding through the normal congressional appropriations process. 

    Flood Insurance. Outlined in the MSR is a budget request that would reduce appropriations for the National Flood Insurance Program's flood hazard mapping program by $78 million. The funding reduction is designed to “preserve resources for [DHS]’s core missions”; however, the administration plans to work to “improve efficiency in the flood mapping program, including incentivizing increased State and local government investments in updating flood maps to inform land use decisions and reduce risk.” Additionally, contained within the Appendix is a proposal for a “means-tested affordability program” that would determine assistance for flood insurance premium payments based on a policyholder's income or ability to repay, rather than a home's location or date of construction.

    Government Sponsored Enterprises. Noted within the MSR, the budget proposes doubling the guarantee fee charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loan originators from 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points from 2019 through 2021. The proposal is designed to help “level the playing field for private lenders seeking to compete with the GSEs” and would “generate approximately $26 billion over the 10-year Budget window.” 

    HUD. The 2019 budget proposal eliminates funding for the following: (i) the CHOICE Neighborhoods program (a savings of $138 million),  on the basis that state and local governments should fund strategies for neighborhood revitalization; (ii) the Community Development Block Grant (a savings of $3 billion), over claims that it “has not demonstrated a measurable impact on communities”; (iii) the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (a savings of $950 million); and (iv) the Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program Account (a savings of $54 million). The budget also proposes reductions to grants provided to the Native American Housing Block Grant and plans to reduce costs across HUD’s rental assistance programs through legislative reforms. Rental assistance programs generally comprise about 80 percent of HUD’s total funding.

    SEC. As stipulated in the MSR, the budget proposes eliminating the SEC’s mandatory reserve fund and would require the SEC to request additional funds through the congressional appropriations process starting in 2020. According to the Appendix, the reserve fund is currently funded by collected registration fees and is not subject to appropriation or apportionment. Under the proposed budget, the registration fees would be deposited in the Treasury’s general fund.

    SIGTARP. As proposed under MSR, the 2019 budget would reduce funding for the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs.” According to the proposal, “Congress aligned the sunset of SIGTARP with the length of time that TARP funds or commitments are outstanding,” which, Treasury estimates, will be in 2023. This will mark the final time payments are expected to be made under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). As previously covered in InfoBytes, SIGTARP delivered a report to Congress last month, which identified unlawful conduct by certain of the 130 financial institutions in TARP’s Making Home Affordable Program as the top threat to TARP and, thus, the agency’s top investigative priority.

    Student Loan Reform. Under the 2019 budget proposal, a single income-driven repayment plan (IDR) would be created that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and subsidized loans will be eliminated, and reforms will be established to “guarantee that all borrowers in IDR pay an equitable share of their income.” These proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2019, with the exception of loans provided to borrowers in order to finish their “current course of study.”

    Treasury Department. Under the 2019 budget proposal, safeguarding markets and protecting financial data are a top priority for the administration, and $159 million has been requested for Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to “continue its critical work safeguarding the financial system from abuse and combatting other national security threats using non-kinetic economic tools. These additional resources would be used to economically isolate North Korea, complete the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Saudi Arabia, and increase sanctions pressure on Iran, including through the implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” The budget also requests a $3 million increase from 2017 to be applied to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s authority to administer the Bank Secrecy Act and its work to prevent the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and other financial crimes.  

    Federal Issues Budget Trump CFPB CFTC FSOC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Flood Insurance HUD SEC Student Lending Department of Treasury

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  • DOJ Announces Settlement With Mortgage Lender to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act Violations

    Lending

    The DOJ announced a $11.6 million settlement on December 8 with a Louisiana-based direct endorsement mortgage lender and certain affiliates to resolve allegations that the lender violated the False Claims Act by falsely certifying compliance with federal requirements in order to obtain insurance on mortgage loans from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). According to the DOJ’s press release, between January 2005 and December 2014, the lender (i) certified loans that failed to meet HUD’s underwriting and origination requirements for FHA insurance; (ii) paid incentives to underwriters in violation of the “underwriter commission prohibition,” and continued to make incentive payments even after HUD notified the lender of commission prohibition noncompliance in 2010; and (iii) failed to, in a timely manner, “self-report material violations of HUD requirements” or perform quality reviews. The settlement also fully resolves a False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit that had been pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

    Lending DOJ False Claims Act / FIRREA FHA Settlement HUD Courts

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  • Third Treasury Report Calls on HUD to Reconsider Application of Disparate Impact Rule to the Insurance Industry

    Federal Issues

    On October 26, the U.S. Treasury Department published a report outlining a number of recommendations for ways to manage systemic risk primarily within the asset management and insurance industry.  A section of the report, however, also discusses HUD’s potential application of the disparate impact rule to the insurance industry—specifically related to homeowner’s insurance. The report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities—Asset Management and Insurance,” is the third in a series of four the Treasury plans to issue in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13772 (EO), which mandated a review of financial regulations for inconsistencies with promoted “Core Principles.” (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert on the EO here and InfoBytes coverage on the first two reports here.)

    HUD is authorized to adjudicate housing discrimination claims and issue rules relating to the Fair Housing Act. According to the report, Treasury recommends that HUD reconsider the use of the disparate impact theory to the insurance industry. The report notes a number of problems and challenges that would arise from applying disparate impact to the insurance industry. In particular, the report identifies potential challenges because (i) “state insurance regulations ordinarily prohibit the consideration of protected characteristics in the evaluation and pooling of risk” and at least one state expressly prohibits the collection of this data; (ii) the rule could impose unnecessary burdens on insurers and lead to actions that are not actuarially sound in an effort to avoid underwriting practices that may result in disparate outcomes; and (iii) it may be inconsistent with the McCarran-Ferguson Act and other existing state laws.

    The report also recommends, among other things, that Congress clarify the “business of insurance” exception that generally excludes these services from the CFPB’s jurisdiction. The report recommends clarification to this exception to eliminate uncertainty about the CFPB’s jurisdiction and the potential overlap between the Bureau and state insurance regulators. A fact sheet accompanying the report further highlights Treasury’s recommendations to evaluate systemic risk, streamline regulations, rationalize international engagement, and promote economic growth.

    Federal Issues Department of Treasury FHA Asset Management HUD Disparate Impact CFPB Systemic Risk Insurance

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  • FinCEN Encourages Communication from Financial Institutions Affected by the California Wildfires; FDIC Offers Regulatory Relief; FHA Extends Foreclosure Moratorium

    Federal Issues

    California Wildfire Relief. On October 19, FinCEN announced that financial institutions affected by the California wildfires should contact FinCEN and their functional regulator regarding any delays in their ability to file Bank Secrecy Act reports and to keep FinCEN and the regulators apprised of subsequent changes in their circumstances.

    On October 20, the FDIC announced steps to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and facilitate recovery in areas of California affected by recent wildfires. The FDIC is encouraging banks to work constructively with borrowers affected by the wildfires, including extending repayment terms, restructuring existing loans, or easing terms for new loans. The FDIC noted that financial institutions may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration in support of disaster recovery and will consider regulatory relief from certain filing and publishing requirements.

    Hurricane Relief. On October 20, HUD issued an additional 90-day extension of the initial disaster foreclosure moratorium for FHA mortgaged properties located in specified areas impacted by the recent hurricanes. The foreclosure moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures and foreclosures already in process. The new extended dates are as follows: February 21, 2018 for Hurricane Harvey, March 9, 2018 for Hurricane Irma, and March 19, 2018 for Hurricane Maria.

    As previously discussed in InfoBytes, several federal agencies have announced regulatory relief for victims of recent natural disasters.

    Federal Issues Disaster Relief FinCEN Bank Secrecy Act FDIC FHA Foreclosure Mortgages HUD Mortgage Modification

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  • HUD Secretary Carson Testifies at House Financial Services Committee Hearing, Discusses Use of FCA Against FHA Lenders

    Federal Issues

    On October 12, Secretary of HUD, Ben Carson, testified at a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee. The hearing entitled “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” provided an update on HUD’s vision for federal housing policy and touched upon topics such as the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the agency’s role in hurricane disaster relief, and regulatory reform efforts. In his written testimony, Carson reaffirmed his personal interest, and that of the President Trump’s Administration, in working with the Committee on housing finance reform, specifically referencing the FHA mortgage insurance program and Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed security guaranty as “vital components” of the housing finance system. Towards the end of the three-hour-long hearing, Carson was asked by Representative Dave Trott (R-MI) about the federal government’s “unprecedented” use of the False Claims Act (FCA) as a means to “impose outrageous penalties against lenders for immaterial defects” in HFA loan originations, which, according to Rep. Trott, is turning lenders away from FHA lending and is resulting in increased costs to borrowers. Carson stated that his staff is already engaged in discussions with the DOJ staff and is “committed to getting that resolved, because it’s ridiculous, quite frankly.” Carson added, “I’m not exactly sure why there had been such an escalation previously, but the long-term effects of that escalation is obviously providing fewer appropriate choices for consumers, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”

    Federal Issues HUD House Financial Services Committee DOJ False Claims Act / FIRREA Mortgages FHA

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  • HUD IG Blames Ginnie Mae for Inadequate Supervision; HUD IG Concludes HUD Did Not Follow Requirements When Forgiving Debts

    Federal Issues

    On September 21, the HUD Inspector General (IG) released an audit report of Ginnie Mae’s oversight of nonbanks in the mortgage servicing industry. The report found that Ginnie Mae did not adequately respond to the growth in its nonbank issuer base; a base, the report notes, that tends to have more complex financial and operating structures than banking institutions. The IG found, among other things, that Ginnie Mae may not be prepared to identify problems with nonbank issuers prior to default, requiring additional funds from the U.S. Treasury to pay back investors in the event of a large default.

    On the same day, the IG also announced a report which found that HUD did not always follow applicable requirements when forgiving debts and terminating debt collections. The report determined that HUD’s review process for evaluating debt forgiveness or collection termination was not thorough enough to ensure that statutory, regulatory, and policy requirements associated with this process were met—such as ensuring DOJ approval was obtained when required.

    Federal Issues HUD OIG DOJ Ginnie Mae Mortgage Servicing Mortgages Debt Cancellation Nonbank Supervision Department of Treasury

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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • HUD Releases Mortgagee Letter Providing Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Servicing Implementation Guidance

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On August 24, HUD published Mortgagee Letter 2017-11, which provides directions for FHA-approved mortgagees to implement certain servicing policy changes outlined in the Federal Housing Administration: Strengthening the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Program Final Rule (HECM Final Rule), published in the Federal Register in January 2017. The HECM Final Rule’s servicing requirements (including the additional guidance set forth in Mortgagee Letter 2017-11), will take effect for all FHA case numbers assigned on or after September 19, 2017. The Mortgagee Letter furnishes additional details on the following areas of servicing policy included in the HECM Final Rule: (i) “Default for Unpaid Property Charges”; (ii) “Sale of Property Securing a Due and Payable HECM”; and (iii) “Cash for Keys Incentive and Relocation Incentive.”

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance HUD FHA Mortgage Servicing Federal Register Home Equity Loans HECM

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