On Thursday, September 24, 2015, the CFPB and DOJ filed a complaint and proposed consent order against Hudson City Savings Bank (“Hudson City”) alleging violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act. The complaint alleges that Hudson City discriminated against Black and Hispanic borrowers by redlining majority-Black-and-Hispanic neighborhoods (defined in the consent order as a census tract in which more than 50 percent of the residents are identified in the 2010 U.S. Census as either “Black or African American” or “Hispanic or Latino”) in its residential mortgage lending in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The complaint alleges that Hudson City engaged in redlining through its (1) location of branches and loan officers, (2) exclusion of Black and Hispanic census tracts from its Community Reinvestment Act (“CRA”) assessment area, (3) use of brokers outside of majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, (4) marketing directed at neighborhoods with relatively few minority residents, and (5) exclusion of residents from majority-minority counties from discounted home improvement loans for borrowers with low to moderate incomes.
Sometimes it is just not that easy to say “hello.” A recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit highlights the uncertainty mortgage servicers face with respect to Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) compliance when notifying borrowers of changes in loan servicing rights, as required by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). Often the first communication from a new servicer to a borrower is a RESPA transfer-of-servicing letter—sometimes referred to as a “hello” letter. Under the FDCPA, however, a debt collector—which can include a mortgage servicer when the loan serviced was in default at the time servicing rights were acquired—must provide a debt-validation notice within five days of the “initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of [a] debt.” See 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). Given the multiple regulatory obligations applicable to communications with borrowers, it is no surprise that litigation often ensues (often in the form of class action litigation for statutory damages), and courts struggle to make sense of the various (and sometimes competing) obligations imposed by the FDCPA and RESPA.
K&L Gates’ Consumer Financial Services team will speak at MBA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference 2015 in Washington, D.C. (September 20-22).
Ori Lev will speak at the “Litigation: CFPB Enforcement” session on Sunday, September 20, 2015. During this session, Ori and industry counsel will review cases brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and offer advice about possible defenses.
Melanie Brody will also speak on September 20, 2015 as part of the “Essentials: Fair Lending” session. This session will review fair lending requirements including those found in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), and Fair Housing Act.
By: Ori Lev
In the first court decision to opine on the “service provider” and “substantial assistance” provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, a federal district court in Georgia denied a motion to dismiss brought by payments processors who had been sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) for their role in an alleged phantom debt collection scheme. The decision addresses two novel areas of the CFPB’s jurisdiction – its ability to enforce the prohibition against unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices (“UDAAPs”) against “service providers,” and its ability to go after those individuals and entities that “knowingly or recklessly provide substantial assistance” to the commission of a UDAAP. While grounded in the specific facts pled in the CFPB’s detailed complaint, the opinion nevertheless provides insight into how the federal courts may interpret these provisions, and serves as a warning sign to companies about the importance of implementing robust compliance programs.
By: Amy L. Groff
The misclassification of employees as independent contractors continues to be a hot issue and to receive attention at the state and federal levels. Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”) published new guidance addressing misclassification, emphasizing the broad scope of employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and summarily concluding that most workers are employees covered by the FLSA. DOL plans to continue challenging these misclassifications through “robust” enforcement efforts across industries. Employers should expect scrutiny of their independent contractor classifications and should review their classifications to make sure they are appropriate.
If there is anything that galls servicers of government-insured loans, it is the forfeiture or curtailment of all accrued interest from mortgage insurance claims resulting from the failure to foreclose fast enough within artificially created state time lines. At first glance, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD” or the “Department”) listened to the complaints of servicers who argued that they should not be penalized for pursuing foreclosure avoidance options or experiencing delays in the legal system beyond their control. HUD’s proposed regulation regarding changes to the Federal Housing Administration’s (“FHA”) single-family mortgage insurance claim filing process includes proposals that pro rate the curtailment of interest based on actual delays caused by the servicer, proposing to eliminate the complete forfeiture of accrued interest for only one day of delay. So far, so good, but HUD did not stop there. HUD also proposed the complete extinguishment of an FHA insurance policy if the servicer does not complete foreclosure within a new set of artificial time lines. Read together, HUD’s reform is to provide servicers with more accrued interest if they do not foreclose fast enough, unless, of course, HUD invalidates the whole insurance policy—the loss of both principal and interest—by virtue of HUD’s subjective definition of unreasonable delays. Few servicers think that is progress.
This proposal raises significant questions and concerns for FHA mortgagees that hold and service FHA-insured loans, many of which could have a chilling effect on FHA lending and servicing activities if HUD were to implement the proposed claim filing deadline as proposed and without significant changes to HUD’s claim filing guidelines and procedures.
By: Ori Lev
Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a settlement with Springstone Financial, LLC, for deceptive practices related to enrolling consumers in deferred-interest credit products. Springstone administered a health-financing program through which consumers could finance various medical treatments, including dental treatments. Consumers could apply for credit either through Springstone’s website or at their medical provider’s office. In the case of the latter, the health care providers’ staff — who were trained and monitored by Springstone — would provide consumers with application materials and assist them in filling out the application before submitting it to Springstone on consumers’ behalf. The CFPB’s claim centered on these providers. “In some cases,” according to the CFPB, dental staff allegedly told consumers that the deferred-interest product was a no-interest loan and failed to mention that a 22.98 percent interest rate would apply from the date of the loan if the loan balance was not paid in full by the end of the promotional period. The CFPB found these practices deceptive and determined that more than 3,200 consumers “may have been” affected by them. As a result, Springstone was ordered to provide $700,000 in restitution to the 3,200 consumers who ended up paying deferred interest on a loan they applied for with a health-care provider’s assistance. The CFPB did not assess a civil money penalty.
Grab a flotation device – the final decision recently issued by Director Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) in the administrative enforcement proceedings against PHH Corp. (“PHH”) has rocked the boat for the real estate settlement services industry as portions of the decision run directly counter to decades of legal precedent, and the prior writings and Policy Statements issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) – the federal agency previously tasked with interpreting the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) and enforcing its provisions. As K&L Gates summarized in its June 22, 2015 Alert, the decision addresses a number of topics, including Director Cordray’s interpretation of several provisions of the federal RESPA. And while many of the CFPB’s views and interpretations attempt to expand the scope of RESPA’s reach and are subject to criticism, one of the most significant developments is Director Cordray’s conclusion that Section 8(c)(2) of RESPA is not the type of safe harbor that has long been widely accepted.
By: Ori Lev
In 2013, the CFPB filed a complaint against CashCall, Inc. and others, alleging that their conduct in collecting on payday loans that allegedly violated certain states’ usury and/or licensing requirements constituted unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices (UDAAPs) under federal law. Late last week, the CFPB struck again, filing suit against NDG Financial Corp. and others, making similar claims. The complaint against NDG, however, both expands the list of states where the CFPB alleges that collecting on a usurious and/or unlicensed payday loan is a UDAAP and changes the theory of abusiveness upon which the CFPB relies.
The original Payment Services Directive (2007/64/EC) (“PSD1”) was introduced to provide greater price transparency for users of payment services and to create a level, competitive playing field among providers of different types of payment service. Prior to implementation of PSD1, many types of payment service were not regulated, even if certain types of payment service provider, for example banks, were in some way regulated. However, since implementation of PSD1 in November 2009, the current regulatory regime has been unable to keep up with the pace of the fast moving payment services sector.