Last week, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Inc. filed a complaint against Liberty Bank in Connecticut federal district court alleging that the Bank engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.  The complaint describes the Bank as “the eighth-largest conventional home purchase lender and eleventh-largest refinancer in Connecticut.”

The complaint alleges that the Bank violated the FHA by engaging in the following conduct:

  • According to the complaint, the Bank deliberately drew its CRA assessment area so as to exclude and thereby avoid CRA scrutiny of its banking and lending activities in certain towns with racially diverse populations and generates a disproportionately low number of mortgage loans within its assessment area from non-white applicants, making “significantly fewer than expected loans than nearly all its peers in majority-non-white census tracks, even when controlling for underwriting criteria like income and whether the borrower will live in the property.”  The Bank is also alleged to over-concentrate its branches in white census tracts and, compared to its leading competitors, to have an insufficient number of branches in majority-non-white and racially diverse census tracts.  The complaint alleges that to test for redlining, the plaintiff “used a statistical measure called a shortfall.”   This measure “assumes that the number of loans is constant across the region and then estimates what the distribution of loans would be if they were made solely according to the income of loan applicants rather than some other factor like composition of neighborhood or race of the applicant.”  It then “allows a comparison between expected lending patterns and actual lending patterns for a single mortgage lender, and tests whether differences in origination volume are a result of applicant characteristics or variables such as discrimination against a protected class.”
  • Discrimination in extending credit.  The complaint alleges that the bank denies African-American and Latino loan applicants at a substantially higher rate than substantially similar white applicants after controlling for income and other neighborhood features.
  • Discouraging applications.  The complaint alleges that Bank representatives made statements that would discourage African-American and Latino applicants from applying for loans, provided significantly less information about the home-buying process to African-American and Latino applicants than white applicants, and offered loan terms to African-American and Latino applicants that were inferior to those offered to white applicants.  In support of these allegations, the complaint describes six different tests in which African-American, Latino, and white testers were allegedly sent by the plaintiff to various Bank locations to meet with a loan officer or obtain copies of advertising materials for mortgages.

The complaint serves as a reminder that while fair lending enforcement may appear to no longer be emphasized by the CFPB under Acting Director Mulvaney, lenders should keep fair lending issues front of mind.  In addition to private plaintiffs, state regulators continue to pursue initiatives to enforce fair lending laws.

 

The FDIC’s Center for Financial Research has issued a research paper that discusses the use of the information contained in a “digital footprint,” meaning the information that people leave online by accessing or registering on a website, for predicting consumer default.

The researchers considered ten digital footprint variables that included:

  • The device type (e.g. tablet or mobile)
  • The operating system (e.g. iOS or Android)
  • The channel through which a customer comes to a website (e.g. search engine or price comparison site)
  • Two pieces of information about the user’s email address (e.g. includes first and/or last name and includes a number)

According to the researchers, the results of their research suggest that “even the simple, easily accessible variables from the digital footprint proxy for income, character and reputation are highly valuable for default prediction.”  For example, ownership of an iOS device was found to be one of the best predictors for being in the top quartile of income distribution, customers coming from a price comparison website were found to be almost half as likely to default as customers directed to the website by search engine ads, and customers having their names in the email address were found to be 30% less likely to default.  The researchers also found that digital footprint information complements rather than substitutes for credit bureau information, suggesting that a lender that uses information from both sources can make superior lending decisions.

The researchers observe that “digital footprints can facilitate access to credit when credit bureau scores do not exist, thereby fostering financial inclusion and lowering inequality.”  They indicate that their results “suggest that digital footprints have the potential to boost financial inclusion to parts of the currently two billion working-age adults worldwide that lack access to services in the formal financial sector.”

The researchers also comment that regulators are likely to closely watch the use of digital footprints, noting that U.S. lenders using digital footprint information “are likely to face scrutiny whether the digital footprint proxies for [borrower characteristics such as race and gender that may not be considered under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act] and therefore violate fair lending laws.”

 

Ballard Spahr attorneys Chris Willis, Scott Pearson, and Taylor Steinbacher discuss recent noteworthy developments in California law. Chris, who chairs Ballard’s Consumer Financial Services Litigation Group, and Scott, a partner in the Consumer Financial Services group, discuss the recently decided California Supreme Court De La Torre case, which makes licensed lenders vulnerable to claims that high-interest rate loans over $2,500 may be unconscionable. Chris and Taylor, an associate in the Consumer Financial Services group, discuss the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, a statute giving substantial new privacy rights to California consumers. Finally, Scott and Chris discuss reactions to, and the effects of, the 2017 California Supreme Court McGill case. That case limits the ability to enforce arbitration clauses in cases requesting public injunctive relief.

To listen and subscribe to the podcast, click here.

The CFPB’s newly-released Summer 2018 edition of Supervisory Highlights represents the CFPB’s first Supervisory Highlights report covering supervisory activities conducted under Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s leadership.  The Bureau’s most recent prior Supervisory Highlights report was its Summer 2017 edition, which was issued in September 2017.

On October 10, 2018, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “Key Takeaways from the CFPB’s Summer 2018 Supervisory Highlights.”  The webinar registration form is available here.

Noticeably absent from the new report’s introduction and the Bureau’s press release about the report are statements touting the amount of restitution payments that resulted from supervisory resolutions or the amounts of consumer remediation or civil money penalties resulting from public enforcement actions connected to recent supervisory activities.  (The report does, however, include summaries of the terms of two consent orders entered into by the Bureau, including its settlement with Triton Management Group, Inc., a small-dollar lender, regarding the Bureau’s allegations that Triton had violated the Truth in Lending Act and the CFPA’s UDAAP prohibition by underdisclosing the finance charge on auto title pledges entered into with consumers.)

The report confirms that the Bureau’s supervisory activities have continued without significant change under its new leadership.  It includes the following information:

Automobile loan servicing.  The report indicates that in examinations of auto loan servicing activities, Bureau examiners focus primarily on whether servicers have engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices prohibited by the CFPA.  It discusses instances observed by examiners in which servicers had sent billing statements to consumers who had experienced a total vehicle loss showing that the insurance proceeds had been applied to the loan so that the loan was paid ahead and the next payment was due months or years in the future.  The CFPB found the due dates in these statements to be inconsistent with the terms of the consumers’ notes which required the insurance proceeds to be applied to the loans as a one-time payment and any remaining balance to be collected according to the consumers’ regular payment schedules.  According to the CFPB, sending such statements was a deceptive practice.  The CFPB indicates that in response to the examination findings, servicers are sending billing statements that accurately reflect the account status after applying insurance proceeds.

The Bureau also found instances where servicers, due to incorrect account coding or the failure of their representatives to timely cancel the repossession, had repossessed vehicles after the repossession should have been cancelled because the consumer had entered into an extension agreement or made a payment.  This was found to be an unfair practice.  The CFPB indicates that in response to the examination findings, servicers are stopping the practice, reviewing the accounts of affected consumers, and removing or remediating all repossession-related fees.

Credit cards.  The report indicates that in examinations of the credit card account management operations of supervised entities, Bureau examiners typically assess advertising and marketing, account origination, account servicing, payments and periodic statements, dispute resolution, and the marketing, sale and servicing of add-on products.  The Bureau found instances where entities failed to properly re-evaluate credit card accounts for APR reductions in accordance with Regulation Z requirements where the APRs on the accounts had previously been increased. The report indicates that the issuers have undertaken, or developed plans to undertake, remedial and corrective actions in response to the examination findings.

Debt collection.  In examinations of larger participants, Bureau examiners found instances where debt collectors, before engaging in further collection activities as to consumers from whom they had received written debt validation disputes, had routinely failed to mail debt verifications to such consumers. The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the collectors are revising their debt validation procedures and practices to ensure that they obtain appropriate verifications when requested and mail them to consumers before engaging in further collection activities.

Mortgage servicing.  The report indicates that in examinations of servicers, Bureau examiners focus on the loss mitigation process and, in particular, on how servicers handle trial modifications where consumers are paying as agreed. In such examinations, the Bureau found unfair acts or practices relating to the conversion of trial modifications to permanent status and the initiation of foreclosures after consumers accepted loss mitigation offers.  In reviewing the practices of servicers with policies providing for permanent modifications of loans if consumers made four timely trial modification payments, the Bureau found that for nearly 300 consumers who successfully completed the trial modification, the servicers delayed processing the permanent modification for more than 30 days.  During these delays, consumers accrued interest and fees that would not have been accrued if the permanent modification had been processed.  The servicers did not remediate all of the affected consumers ,did not have policies or procedures for remediating consumers in such circumstances, and attributed the modification delays to insufficient staffing.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the servicers are fully remediating affected consumers and developing and implementing policies and procedures to timely convert trial modifications to permanent modifications where the consumers have met the trial modification conditions.

The Bureau also identified instances in which servicers, due to errors in their systems, had engaged in unfair acts or practices by charging consumers amounts not authorized by modification agreements or mortgage notes.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the servicers are remediating affected consumers (presumably by refunding or credit the unauthorized amounts) and correcting loan modification terms in their systems.

With regard to foreclosure practices, Bureau examiners found instances where mortgage servicers had approved borrowers for a loss mitigation option on a non-primary residence and, despite representing to borrowers that they would not initiate foreclosure if the borrower accepted loss mitigation offers in writing or by phone by a specified date, initiated foreclosures even if the borrowers had called or written to accept the loss mitigation offers by that date.  The Bureau identified this as a deceptive act or practice. The Bureau also found instances where borrowers who had submitted complete loss mitigation applications less than 37 days from a scheduled foreclosure sale date were sent a notice by their servicer indicating that their application was complete and stating that the servicer would notify the borrowers of their decision on the applications in writing within 30 days.  However, after sending these notices, the servicers conducted the scheduled foreclosure sales without making a decision on the borrowers’ loss mitigation application.  Interestingly, while the Bureau did not find that this conduct amounted to a “legal violation,” it did find that it could pose a risk of a deceptive practice.

Payday/title lending.  Bureau examiners identified instances of payday lenders engaging in deceptive acts or practices by representing in collection letters that “they will, or may have no choice but to, repossess consumers’ vehicles if the consumers fail to make payments or contact the entities.”  The CFPB observed that such representations were made “despite the fact that these entities did not have business relationships with any party to repossess vehicles and, as a general matter, did not repossess vehicles.”  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, these entities are ensuring that their collection letters do not contain deceptive content.  Bureau examiners also observed instances where lenders had used debit card numbers or Automated Clearing House (ACH) credentials that consumers had not validly authorized them to use to debit funds in connection with a defaulted single-payment or installment loan.  According to the Bureau, when lenders’ attempts to initiate electronic fund transfers (EFTs) using debit card numbers or ACH credentials that a borrower had identified on authorization forms executed in connection with the defaulted loan were unsuccessful, the lenders would then seek to collect the entire loan balance via EFTs using debit card numbers or ACH credentials that the borrower had supplied to the lenders for other purposes, such as when obtaining other loans or making one-time payments on other loans or the loan at issue.  The Bureau found this to be an unfair act or practice.  With regard to loans for which the consumer had entered into preauthorized EFTs to recur at substantially regular intervals, the Bureau found this conduct to also violate the Regulation E requirement that preauthorized EFTs from a consumer’s account be authorized by a writing signed or similarly authenticated by the consumer.  The Bureau indicates that in response to the examination findings, the lenders are ceasing the violations, remediating borrowers impacted by the invalid EFTs, and revising loan agreement templates and ACH authorization forms.

Small business lending. The Bureau states that in 2016 and 2017, it “began conducting supervision work to assess ECOA compliance in institutions’ small business lending product lines, focusing in particular on the risks of an ECOA violation in underwriting, pricing, and redlining.”  It also states that it “anticipates an ongoing dialogue with supervised institutions and other stakeholders as the Bureau moves forward with supervision work in small business lending.”  In the course of conducting ECOA small business lending reviews, Bureau examiners found instances where financial institutions had “effectively managed the risks of an ECOA violation in their small business lending programs,” with the examiners observing that “the board of directors and management maintained active oversight over the institutions’ compliance management system (CMS) framework.  Institutions developed and implemented comprehensive risk-focused policies and procedures for small business lending originations and actively addressed the risks of an ECOA violation by conducting periodic reviews of small business lending policies and procedures and by revising those policies and procedures as necessary.”  The Bureau adds that “[e]xaminations also observed that one or more institutions maintained a record of policy and procedure updates to ensure that they were kept current.”  With regard to self-monitoring, Bureau examiners found that institutions had “implemented small business lending monitoring programs and conducted semi-annual ECOA risk assessments that include assessments of small business lending.  In addition, one or more institutions actively monitored pricing-exception practices and volume through a committee.”  When the examinations included file reviews of manual underwriting overrides at one or more institutions, Bureau examiners “found that credit decisions made by the institutions were consistent with the requirements of ECOA, and thus the examinations did not find any violations of ECOA.”  The only negative findings made by Bureau examiners involved instances where institutions had collected and maintained (in useable form) only limited data on small business lending decisions.  The Bureau states that “[l]imited availability of data could impede an institution’s ability to monitor and test for the risks of ECOA violations through statistical analyses.”

Supervision program developments.  The report discusses the March 2018 mortgage servicing final rule and the May 2018 amendments to the TILA-RESPA integrated disclosure rule.  With regard to fair lending developments, it discusses recent HMDA-related developments and small business lending review procedures.  With regard to small business lending, the Bureau highlights that its reviews include a fair lending assessment of an institution’s compliance management system (CMS) related to small business lending and that CMS reviews include assessments of the institution’s board and management oversight, compliance program (policies and procedures, training, monitoring and/or audit, and complaint response), and service provider oversight.  The CFPB indicates that in some ECOA small business lending reviews, examiners may look at an institution’s fair lending risks and controls related to origination or pricing of small business lending products, including a geographic distribution analysis of small business loan applications, originations, loan officers, or marketing and outreach, in order to assess potential redlining risk.  It further indicates that such reviews may include statistical analysis of lending data in order to identify fair lending risks and appropriate areas of focus during the examination.  The Bureau states that “[n]otably, statistical analysis is only one factor taken into account by examination teams that review small business lending for ECOA compliance. Reviews typically include other methodologies to assess compliance, including policy and procedure reviews, interviews with management and staff, and reviews of individual loan files.”

In the CFPB’s RFI on its supervision program, one of the topics on which the CFPB sought comment is the usefulness of Supervisory Highlights to share findings and promote transparency.  The new report indicates that the Bureau “expects the publication of Supervisory Highlights will continue to aid Bureau-supervised entities in their efforts to comply with Federal consumer financial law.”  Presumably, this means that we will now again be seeing new editions of Supervisory Highlights on a regular basis.

 

The American Bankers Association jointly with state bankers associations, the American Financial Services Association, and the Mortgage Bankers Association are urging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make significant changes to its 2013 Disparate Impact Rule (Rule) in light of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.  The trade groups’ views are set forth in comment letters submitted to HUD in response to its advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on the need for revisions to the Rule following Inclusive Communities.  The ANPR’s comment period ended on August 20.

The Rule provides that liability may be established under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) based on a practice’s discriminatory effect (i.e., disparate impact) even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent, and that a challenged practice may still be lawful if supported by a legally sufficient justification.  Under the Rule, a practice has a discriminatory effect where it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.  The Rule also addresses what constitutes a legally sufficient justification for a practice, and the burdens of proof of the parties in a case asserting that a practice has a discriminatory effect under the FHA.

While the Supreme Court held in Inclusive Communities that disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA, it also set forth standards, safeguards, and limitations on such claims that “are necessary to protect potential defendants against abusive disparate impact claims.”  In particular, the Supreme Court indicated that a disparate impact claim based upon a statistical disparity “must fail if the plaintiff cannot point to a defendant’s policy or policies causing that disparity” and that a “robust causality requirement” ensures that a mere racial imbalance, standing alone, does not establish a prima facie case of disparate impact, thereby protecting defendants “from being held liable for racial disparities they did not create.”

The trade groups assert that in promulgating the Rule, HUD had improperly rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 Wards Cove disparate impact standard in favor of the standard that applies to claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The trade groups argue that in Inclusive Communities, the Supreme Court confirmed the continuing applicability of Wards Cove to disparate impact claims brought under statutes other than Title VII.  They further argue that the Rule needs to be amended to reflect the standards, safeguards, and limitations on disparate impact claims articulated by the Supreme Court in Inclusive Communities.

In contrast, a group of 16 state Attorneys General and the AG for the District of Columbia sent a comment letter to HUD urging it not to make any changes to the Rule, arguing that it is “fully consistent” with Inclusive Communities and that any changes would be “susceptible to meritorious legal challenge.”  The states whose AGs signed the comment letter were North Carolina, California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Although Inclusive Communities did not resolve the question of whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), HUD’s approach to the Rule could have significance for ECOA disparate impact claims.  CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has indicated that the CFPB plans to reexamine ECOA requirements in light of Inclusive Communities.

 

 

The CFPB’s Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity has announced that it will hold a day-long symposium, “Building a Bridge to Credit Visibility,” to “explore challenges many consumers face in accessing credit.”

The CFPB has indicated that the symposium “will convene a diverse set of stakeholders to explore challenges in overcoming barriers to expand fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory access to credit for individuals and communities” and will include perspectives from industry, academia, trade associations, government, community groups, research, and think tank organizations.  Although the agenda is not yet available, the CFPB has also indicated that symposium sessions “will highlight strategies and innovations to overcome barriers and expand consumer credit access.”

The CFPB’s announcement includes a link to register for in-person attendance at the symposium (and encourages registration as soon as possible because space is limited.)  The registration link will close at midnight on Friday, September 7.  The event will also be livestreamed on the CFPB’s website.

To our knowledge, this is the first time that the CFPB has conducted a symposium in order to obtain input from all stakeholders.  We applaud the CFPB for holding a symposium focused on fair lending.  Ironically, consumer advocates have heavily criticized the Bureau for taking steps to diminish the importance of fair lending, most notably for Acting Director Mulvaney’s reorganization of the CFPB’s Office of Fair Lending.

 

 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that it will “formally seek the public’s comment on whether its 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation is consistent with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.

As we reported previously, the regulation provides that liability may be established under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) based on a practice’s discriminatory effect (i.e., disparate impact) even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent, and that a challenged practice may still be lawful if supported by a legally sufficient justification.  Under the regulation a practice has a discriminatory effect where it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.  The regulation also addresses what constitutes a legally sufficient justification for a practice, and the burdens of proof of the parties in a case asserting that a practice has a discriminatory effect under the FHA.

While the Supreme Court held in its Inclusive Communities Project opinion that disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA, it also set forth limitations on such claims that “are necessary to protect potential defendants against abusive disparate impact claims.”  In particular, the Supreme Court indicated that a disparate impact claim based upon a statistical disparity “must fail if the plaintiff cannot point to a defendant’s policy or policies causing that disparity” and that a “robust causality requirement” ensures that a mere racial imbalance, standing alone, does not establish a prima facie case of disparate impact, thereby protecting defendants “from being held liable for racial disparities they did not create.”  Significantly, while the Inclusive Communities Project opinion held that liability may be established under the FHA based on disparate impact, the disparate impact claim against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs was later dismissed by the District Court based on the limitations on such impact claims prescribed by the Supreme Court in its opinion.

We have previously reported on a challenge to the HUD regulation by the American Insurance Association and National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies in the federal district court for the District of Columbia.  The trade associations assert that the regulation is not consistent with the limitations on disparate impact claims set forth by the Supreme Court its Inclusive Communities Project opinion.  A status conference was held on May 10, 2018, and HUD filed a notice with the court advising of its intent to solicit comment on the regulation.  The upcoming HUD request for comment will provide the opportunity for the mortgage industry and other interested parties to address whether the regulation reflects the limitations set forth by the Supreme Court and other concerns with the regulation.

We will report on the HUD request for comment once it is released, and hold a webinar on the request following its release.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced earlier this week that it has reached an agreement with KleinBank, a state-chartered Minnesota bank, to settle the redlining lawsuit that the DOJ filed against the bank in January 2017, only a week before President Trump’s inauguration.  The agreement represents the first fair lending settlement entered into by the DOJ under the Trump administration.

The DOJ’s complaint, which related to the bank’s residential mortgage lending business, alleged that KleinBank violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by engaging in a pattern or practice of unlawful redlining of the majority-minority neighborhoods in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.  From 2010 to at least 2015, the bank was alleged to have avoided serving the credit needs of individuals seeking residential mortgage loans in majority-minority census tracts in the Metropolitan Statistical Area encompassing Minneapolis and St. Paul (MSA).

The redlining claim was based, in part, upon an allegation that KleinBank established and maintained a discriminatory Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) assessment area that was “horseshoe-shaped,” “include[d] the majority white suburbs, and carve[d] out the urban areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul that have higher proportions of minority populations.”  Specifically, the complaint alleges that the bank’s main CRA assessment area excluded 78 of 97 majority-minority census tracks in the MSA, “all but two of which are located in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.”  The DOJ alleged that, in addition to the main CRA assessment area of the bank, the “proper CRA assessment area would include the entirety of Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.”

Unlike other redlining lawsuits that the DOJ had recently filed when it sued KleinBank, the DOJ’s action against KleinBank was contested by the bank which issued a statement in which it vigorously disputed the alleged redlining claims and called them an “unprecedented reach by the government.”  Although supported by the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers Association, the Minnesota Bankers Association, and forty other state bankers associations, the bank’s motion to dismiss the complaint was unsuccessful.

Under the settlement agreement, the DOJ agrees to jointly stipulate with KleinBank to the dismissal of the lawsuit and KleinBank agrees to take various actions including:

  • Opening one full-service brick and mortar office within a majority-minority census track within Hennepin County
  • Continuing to develop partnerships with community organizations to help establish a presence in majority-minority census tracks in Hennepin County
  • Employing a full-time Community Development Officer who is a member of management to oversee the development of the bank’s lending in majority-minority census tracks in Hennipin County
  • Spending a minimum of $300,000 on advertising, outreach, education, and credit repair initiatives over the next 3 years
  • Providing at least 2 outreach programs annually for real estate brokers and agents, developers, and public or private entities already engaged in residential and real estate-related business in majority-minority census tracks in Hennepin County to inform them of the products offered by KleinBank
  • Investing a minimum of $300,000 over 3 three years in a special purpose credit program that will offer residents of majority-minority census tracks in Hennepin County home mortgage  and home improvement loans on a more affordable basis than otherwise available from KleinBank, with such more affordable terms to be provided through one or more of the following means:
    • Originating or brokering a loan at an interest rate that is at least 1/2 of a percentage point (50 basis points) below the otherwise prevailing rate
    • Providing a direct grant of a portion of the loan amount for the purpose of down payment assistance, up to a maximum of 3.5%
    • Providing closing cost assistance in the form of a direct grant of a minimum of $500 and a maximum of $1,500
    • Paying the initial mortgage insurance premium on loans subject to mortgage insurance
    • Using other means approved by the DOJ

Most notably, unlike previous redlining settlements, such as those involving Hudson City Savings Bank and BankcorpSouth Bank, the KleinBank settlement does not require the bank’s payment of a civil money penalty.

In a blog post entitled “How S.2155 (the Bank Lobbyist Act) Facilitates Discriminatory Lending” Professor Adam Levitin claimed that “This bill functionally exempts 85% of US banks and credit unions from fair lending laws in the mortgage market.”  The claim was set forth in bold and italic text.  If the intent was to draw attention to the claim, it worked.  Members of this firm saw the claim.  In short, the claim greatly mischaracterizes the limited implications of the amendment.

The Professor is referring to an amendment that S.2155 would make to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) for insured banks and insured credit unions that satisfy certain conditions.  First, I will address what the amendment would not do.  The amendment:

  • Would not exempt any institution from the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Housing Act or any other substantive fair lending law.
  • Would not exempt any institution from the mortgage loan data reporting requirements of HMDA that were in effect before January 1, 2018.
  • Would not prevent bank and credit union regulators from obtaining any information on the mortgage lending activity of institutions that they supervise.

What the amendment would do is exempt small volume mortgage lenders from the expanded HMDA data reporting requirements that became effective on January 1, 2018 if they met certain conditions.  The conditions are that:

  • To be exempt from the expanded data reporting requirements for closed-end mortgage loans, the bank or credit union would have to originate fewer than 500 of such loans in each of the preceding two calendars years
  • To be exempt from the expanded data reporting requirements for home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), the bank or credit union would have to originate fewer than 500 of such credit lines in each of the preceding two calendars years.
  • The bank or credit union could not receive a rating of (1) “needs to improve record of meeting community credit needs” during each of its two most recent Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) examinations or (2) “substantial noncompliance in meeting community credit needs” on its most recent CRA examination.

The exemption for HELOC reporting would have no implications initially, and perhaps longer.  For 2018 and 2019 the threshold to report HELOCs is 500 transactions in each of the preceding two calendar years.  The 500 HELOC threshold was implemented by a temporary rule adopted by the CFPB under former Director Cordray in August 2017, which amended the HMDA rule adopted by the CFPB in October 2015 to revise the HMDA reporting requirements.  The October 2015 rule for the first time mandated the reporting of HELOCs, and set the reporting threshold at 100 HELOCs in each of the two preceding calendar years.  The CFPB indicated in the preamble to the temporary rule that it had evidence that the number of smaller institutions that would need to report HELOCs under the 100 threshold may be higher than originally estimated, and that the costs on those institutions to implement reporting may be higher than originally estimated.  The temporary rule allows the CFPB time to further assess the appropriate threshold.

While Professor Levitin inaccurately claims that the S.2155 amendment creates a functional exemption from the fair lending laws for small volume lenders, the statement that 85% of banks and credit unions would be covered by the exemption mischaracterizes the scope of lending activity subject to HMDA reporting requirements.  Based on the data used by the CFPB to assess the 2015 rule, the change from the 100 to 500 threshold would reduce the number of institutions reporting HELOCs from 749 to 231, but would reduce the percentage of HELOCs reported only from 88% to 76%.  Additionally, 2016 HMDA data reflect that while credit unions and small banks comprised over 73% of HMDA reporting entities, the institutions received under 15% of the reported applications for the year.  While the CFPB now acknowledges it may have underestimated the number of institutions that would be covered at the 100 HELOC threshold, these statistics reflect that focusing on the percentage of institutions subject to reporting, and not the percentage of transactions subject to reporting, paints an inaccurate picture of lending activity subject to HMDA reporting requirements.

Even for institutions that would qualify for the exemption from reporting the expanded HMDA data, the CFPB and financial institution regulators will still receive the traditional HMDA data from these institutions.  And regulators can use that information to assess whether they should take a closer look at the mortgage lending activity of any institutions.  Of great significance, as noted above, the S.2155 amendment would not limit the amount of information on mortgage lending that bank or credit union regulators can obtain from institutions that they supervise.

While the expansion of the HMDA data is intended to permit regulators to better assess the mortgage lending of an institution before having to request additional information from the institution, even the expanded data does not provide for a conclusive assessment of whether or not a given institution has engaged in discrimination when evaluating mortgage loan applications.  In fact, even with data that is more comprehensive than the expanded HMDA data, a statistical analysis still does not provide for a conclusive determination regarding underwriting determinations.  You have to get your hands on the actual loan files.

The main impact from the S.2155 amendment would be the reduction of some HMDA information from small volume lenders that will be made available to the public.  With new leadership at the CFPB, we don’t know what parts of the expanded HMDA data will be released to the public.  However, even under Director Cordray, the CFPB did not plan to issue credit score information, which is an important item of information to conduct a fair lending analysis.  A significant concern of the mortgage industry regarding the expanded HMDA data is that members of the public will improperly use the data that is released to claim that the data conclusively show that the institutions engaged in discrimination.  Given that Professor Levitin paints an inaccurate picture of the impact of the HMDA amendment under S.2155, those concerns appear to be warranted.

The 10-3 en banc decision in Zarda v. Altitude Express issued earlier this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is likely to be relied on by regulators and private plaintiffs alleging violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act based on sexual orientation discrimination.  In Zarda, the Second Circuit held that the prohibition on employment discrimination on the basis of sex in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.  As a result, regulators and private plaintiffs are likely to use the decision as support for the argument that the ECOA’s prohibition against credit-related discrimination on the basis of “sex” also includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Second Circuit’s decision follows an April 2017 Seventh Circuit decision that held that discrimination based on sexual orientation was actionable under Title VII as sex-based discrimination.  The Second and Seventh Circuit decisions are at odds with a March 2017 Eleventh Circuit decision. The widening circuit split could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to resolve the issue if a petition for certiorari is filed in Zarda.

The Department of Justice had filed an amicus brief in Zarda.  In its brief, the DOJ argued that based on Title VII’s plain text and precedent, the prohibition does not encompass sexual orientation discrimination “as a matter of law” and observed that “whether it should do so as matter of policy remains a question for Congress to decide.”  The DOJ’s position in the amicus brief is at odds with that of former CFPB Director Cordray, who had attempted to use Title VII cases to support the CFPB’s position that the ECOA’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of “sex” includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Under Mr. Cordray’s leadership, the CFPB signaled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation might be a focus of fair lending supervision and enforcement.  Since Mr. Cordray’s resignation and President Trump’s appointment of Mick Mulvaney as Acting Director, the CFPB has not yet taken a position on this issue.  However, in light of Mr. Mulvaney’s statements that the CFPB would no longer “push the envelope” in its enforcement efforts, it seems likely that the CFPB will retreat from any efforts to extend ECOA protections to sexual orientation.

Regardless of the positions of the CFPB and DOJ, companies should be mindful of the fact that numerous state laws already prohibit discrimination in credit transactions on the basis of sexual orientation.  Companies should therefore continue to consider revising their policies, procedures and fair lending analyses to incorporate discrimination based on sexual orientation.