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On October 15, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-18-23, requesting relief for homeowners impacted by Hurricane Michael. Among other things, the Circular encourages loan holders to (i) extend forbearance to borrowers in distress because of the storms; (ii) establish a 90-day moratorium from the date of the disaster on initiating new foreclosures on affected loans; (iii) waive late charges on affected loans; and (iv) suspend reporting affected loans to credit bureaus. The Circular is effective until October 1, 2019. Mortgage servicers and veteran borrowers are also encouraged to review the VA’s Guidance on Natural Disasters.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.
On September 27, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied certification of two proposed classes in a TCPA action against a national mortgage servicer, concluding that plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of demonstrating, under FRCP 23(b)(3), that common issues of fact or law predominated over any questions affecting only individual members. According to the opinion, plaintiff alleged the mortgage servicer contacted consumer phones, without express consent, using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) in violation of the TCPA. One of the four named plaintiffs sought to represent two classes of consumers who were contacted by the servicer two or more times between October 2010 and November 2014: (i) those who received calls or texts and told the servicer to cease contact; and (ii) those who received calls and told the servicer it had called the wrong number.
The court found the issue of consent was decisive in this action, relying on authority holding that individual issues of consent predominate where a defendant “provides specific evidence that a significant number of putative class members consented to contact . . . .” The opinion notes that mortgage servicer’s policies contained a process for flagging accounts that withdrew consent to be contacted and if an account was flagged, the autodialer would not initiate calls to that number. The mortgage servicer argued that many consumers gave permission, retracted it, and gave the permission to be contacted again. The court found the servicer had “put forth specific evidence establishing that a significant percentage of the putative class consented to receiving calls.” The court reviewed expert reports by both parties and ultimately concluded that the method for determining class members suggested by the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s expert did not “adequately identify a common way to address the individual variations of consent and revocation that occurred in this case.” The court determined that it would need to conduct an individualized consent inquiry for accountholders in each putative class.
On September 26, Fannie Mae issued SVC-2018-07, which includes changes to the foreclosure and third party sale program. In order to encourage more third-party foreclosure sales, Fannie Mae is now requiring the use of Fannie Mae vendors for foreclosure sale marketing services in certain jurisdictions and encouraging the use of Fannie Mae vendors for public foreclosure auctions in certain jurisdictions. Servicers must implement the requirements for all sales scheduled on or after January 1, 2019. Additionally, effective October 28, Fannie Mae will now allow servicers to accept payment changes with future effective dates.
Freddie Mac released Guide Bulletin 2018-16, which announces new and revised requirements to facilitate a secondary market for mortgages in support of affordable housing preservation and rural housing, including (i) allowing the sale of Community Land Trust Mortgages to Freddie Mac (effective November 5); (ii) updating requirements for mortgages secured by properties subject to resale restrictions (effective November 5); and (iii) revising the Home Possible mortgage requirements to permit sweat equity as a source of funds to cover the entire amount of cash to close for the down payment and/or closing costs (effective September 26).
On September 14, the California governor signed SB 818, which permanently reinstates and amends certain provisions of California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR), which expired on January 1, 2018. The revised and restored provisions of the HBOR, among other things, require entities that foreclosed on more than 175 first lien mortgages and deeds of trust on owner-occupied residences during the prior reporting year to: (i) stop foreclosure proceedings if a complete loan modification application is submitted and pending, a homeowner is in compliance with a foreclosure prevention alternative, or an appeal of a loan modification denial is pending; (ii) include in the notice of default a specified declaration regarding contact with a borrower; (iii) send a written notice of a loan modification denial, specifying the reasons for the denial and providing foreclosure prevention alternatives; (iv) assign a single point of contact to any borrower who requests foreclosure prevention assistance; (v) not charge fees in conjunction with applications for foreclosure prevention alternatives; and (vi) honor loss mitigation alternatives following servicing transfers. The legislation also adds a legislative intent clause that emphasizes that any amendment, addition, or repeal of an HBOR section will not have the effect to release, extinguish, or change any liability under a previous section that was in effect at the time of an action.
On September 18, Fannie Mae issued SVC-2018-06, which updates the Servicing Guide to include, among other things, changes to reduce servicer costs and risks and simplify certain loan modification options. Updates include: (i) relieving servicers of the responsibility for paying property taxes and ground rents on acquired properties, effective October 1, and co-op fees on properties acquired on or after October 1; (ii) effective immediately, removing the requirement for servicers to receive Fannie Mae approval when modifying a Texas Constitution Section 50(a)(6) loan under the Cap and Extend Modification for Disaster Relief policy (does not apply to reverse mortgages); (iii) clarifying servicing and subservicing transfer requirements, effectively immediately (iv) revising evaluation notices and solicitation letters, in alignment with Freddie Mac (described below), that take effect immediately but must be implemented by January 1, 2019; (v) adjusting maximum allowable foreclosure attorney fees for certain loans secured by properties in New Mexico and Hawaii for matters active as of September 18; and (vi) consolidating and aligning policies related to project liability and fidelity insurance to be implemented no later than January 1, 2019.
On the same day, Freddie Mac released Guide Bulletin 2018-14 announcing, among other things, servicing updates concerning (i) revised borrower evaluation notices and solicitation letters that take effect immediately but must be implemented by January 1, 2019; (ii) a new temporary servicer reimbursement process effective for property inspections related to insurance loss settlements conducted on or after September 1; (iii) changes to the Servicer Success Scorecard, effective July 1, 2019; and (iv) reporting requirements for third-party foreclosure sale redemptions, effective December 1.
On September 18, Fannie Mae updated the Reverse Mortgage Loan Servicing Manual with changes related to a servicer’s responsibilities for paying escrow-related expenses for certain properties in Fannie Mae’s REO inventory. According to RVS-2018-03, Fannie Mae will now pay property taxes for all acquired proprieties in REO inventory and servicers are no longer required, except when directed by Fannie Mae, to pay co-op fees and assessments or ground rents for certain properties in REO inventory. The update applies to all property taxes and ground rents for all acquired properties effective on October 1, and applies to co-op fees and assessments for all acquired properties with a foreclosure sale or mortgage release date occurring on or after October 1.
On September 6, the CFPB released its summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights, which outlines its supervisory and oversight actions in the areas of auto loan servicing, credit card account management, debt collection, mortgage servicing, payday lending, and small business lending. The findings of the report cover examinations that generally were completed between December 2017 and May 2018. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto loan servicing. The Bureau determined that billing statements showing “paid-ahead” status after insurance proceeds from a total vehicle loss were applied, where consumers were treated as late if they failed to pay the next month, were deceptive. The Bureau also found that servicers unfairly repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been canceled because the account was not coded correctly, or because an agreement with consumer was reached.
- Credit card account management. The Bureau found that companies failed to reevaluate accounts for eligibility for a rate reduction under Regulation Z or failed to appropriately reduce annual percentage rates.
- Debt collection. The Bureau found that debt collectors failed to mail debt verifications to consumers before engaging in continued debt collection, activities as required by the FDCPA.
- Mortgage servicing. The Bureau found that mortgage servicers delayed processing permanent modifications after consumers successfully completed their trial modifications, resulting in accrued interest and fees that would not otherwise have accrued, which the Bureau determined was an unfair act or practice.
- Payday lending. The Bureau found that companies threatened to repossess consumer vehicles, notwithstanding that they generally did not actually do so or have a business relationship with an entity capable of doing so, which the Bureau determined was a deceptive practice. The Bureau also found that companies did not obtain valid preauthorized EFT authorizations for debits initiated using debit card numbers or ACH credentials provided for other purposes, in violation of Regulation E.
- Small business lending. The Bureau found that some institutions collect and maintain only limited data on small business lending decisions, which it determined could impede the institution’s ability to monitor ECOA risk. The Bureau noted positive exam findings including, (i) active oversight of an entity’s CMS framework; (ii) maintaining records of policy and procedure updates; and (iii) self-conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments, which included small business lending.
The report notes that in response to most examination findings, the companies have already remediated or have plans to remediate affected consumers and implement corrective actions, such as new policies in procedures.
Finally, the report highlights, among other things, (i) two recent enforcement actions that were a result of supervisory activity (covered by InfoBytes here and here); (ii) recent updates to the mortgage servicing rule and TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule (covered by InfoBytes here and here); and (iii) HMDA implementation updates (covered by InfoBytes here).
6th Circuit holds that failing to report a trial modification plan can constitute incomplete reporting under FCRA
On August 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that a borrower met the requirements necessary for a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) claim to proceed when two mortgage servicers failed to report the existence of a trial modification plan when reporting the borrower was delinquent to reporting agencies. In 2014, a borrower brought an action against three credit reporting agencies and two mortgage servicers alleging, among other claims, violations of the FCRA due to payments being reported as past due while successfully making payments under a trial modification plan (also referred to as a Trial Period Plan, or “TPP”) and working towards a permanent modification. Regarding the FCRA claim, the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision granting the servicers’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the borrower met the statutory requirements for an FCRA claim because failing to report the existence of a TPP can constitute “incomplete reporting” in violation of the statute. The 6th Circuit rejected the servicers’ argument that the Home Affordable Modification Program guidelines “encouraged, but did not require” that they report a TPP. The court acknowledged this distinction but noted that “[r]eporting that [a borrower] was delinquent on his loan payments without reporting the TPP implies a much greater degree of financial irresponsibility than was present here.” The court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the servicers conducted a reasonable investigation after the borrower disputed the reporting.
On August 15, Fannie Mae issued SVC-2018-05, which updates the Servicing Guide to include, among other things, a streamlined mortgage insurance (MI) claims process with certain mortgage insurers to “reduce the operational burden and cost associated with the process for servicers.” While servicers will continue to submit claims in accordance with the MI policy, participating mortgage insurers will now process all claims using an algorithm named the “MI Factor.” Effective October 1, claims settled using the MI Factor will not be subject to the curtailment billing process and servicers will not be required to submit supplemental claim submissions and claim appeals to the mortgage insurer. Fannie Mae also updated its Servicing Guide to include (i) clarification of the servicer’s responsibilities for addressing urgent property conditions; (ii) policy reminders regarding insured loss repay inspection reimbursements; and (iii) notification thresholds and timing requirements regarding the transfer of default-related matters between law firms within a single state.
On August 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a company (defendant) that performed inspections for a mortgage servicer is not a “debt collector” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and was not liable for claims brought by a putative class of homeowners. According to the opinion, the defendant entered into a contract with the mortgage servicer to perform inspections to determine whether properties were still occupied for homes with defaulted mortgage payments of 45 days or more if the servicer was unable to contact the homeowner directly. When performing the inspections, the defendants left door hangers on the plaintiffs’ properties containing instructions to contact the mortgage servicer, which the plaintiffs claimed violated the FDCPA's disclosure requirements, including the requirement to disclose the creditor’s name, the amount owed, and that the debtor can dispute the debt. However, the lower court ruled—and the appellate court affirmed—that the defendant was not a “debt collector” for purposes of the FDCPA. The court found that the activities did not constitute direct debt collection because the door hangers did not demand payment and did not reference the underlying debt. The court also held that the defendant was not engaged in “indirect” debt collection, agreeing with the characterization of the lower court that the activities were more akin to those of a “messenger” than those of an “indirect” debt collector.