Supreme Court Says Cities Can Sue Banks Over Predatory Loans

USA Today | May 1, 2017       The Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities can sue banks for discriminatory mortgage lending practices, but they must prove that predatory loans led to damages such as lost tax revenue and higher spending on municipal services.

The decision was a partial victory both for Miami, which sought standing to sue banks under the Fair Housing Act, and for Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which argued that the city's damages were too many steps removed from the original loans. The dispute now returns to lower courts for further action.

The 5-3 ruling was written by Justice Stephen Breyer and backed by the court's liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts. Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito — argued that the city had no right to sue under the landmark 1968 civil rights law in the first place. Newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the decision.  Read more here.

In Wells Fargo’s Bogus Accounts, Echoes of Foreclosure Abuses

The New York Times | September 21, 2016         John Stumpf, the chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, won a dubious achievement award from one of his interrogators during Tuesday’s scorching hearings on Capitol Hill. The bank’s yearslong practice of opening bogus accounts for customers and charging fees to do so, said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, had united the Senate Banking Committee on a major topic for the first time in a decade. “And not in a good way,” he added.

But this was not the first time problematic and pervasive activities at Wells Fargo succeeded in uniting a disparate group. After observing years of abusive mortgage loan servicing practices at the bank, an increasing number of judges hearing foreclosure cases after the financial crisis grew to understand that banks could not always be trusted in their pleadings.

This was a major shift: For decades, the nation’s courts had been largely pro-bank when hearing foreclosure cases, accepting what big financial institutions produced in documentation and amounts owed by borrowers.  Read more here.

Dallas Firm Put Black Homeowners at Higher Risk of Foreclosure, Suit Alleges

The Dallas Morning News|  August 19, 2016       Dallas equity firm Lone Star Funds is being sued by a group of black homeowners in New York who allege the company pushed them toward foreclosure by misleading them about their mortgages.

A 53-year-old plaintiff told a federal court that the company's mortgage servicer would call him almost every day — sometimes two or three times a day — threatening foreclosure and pressuring him to accept an unfavorable change to his loan.

Lone Star's mortgage servicer, Caliber Home Loans, disputed the allegations and called the lawsuit "without merit."

The federal suit filed last week also targets the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. At issue is the agency's sale of delinquent mortgages backed by the federal government to private investors such as Lone Star.  

Those sales leave homeowners with fewer protections and disproportionately harm black families because their share of government-insured mortgages in New York City is higher than that of white families, according to the suit. 

A HUD spokesman declined to comment. Meanwhile, Irving-based Caliber maintains that it treats borrowers fairly.

"Every Caliber loan modification is reviewed thoroughly without regard to race, gender, religious, or sexual orientation," executive vice president Marion McDougall said in a prepared statement.  Read more here.

Quicken Loans CEO Tells DOJ to Pound Sand on Mortgage Allegations

CNBC | May 9, 2016    Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson said Monday that the Detroit-based housing lender won't settle with the government over allegations of filing false claims on federally insured mortgages.

"For us, that's not something we can even begin to stomach," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box," saying he welcomes a jury trial. "[To] look our 12,000 team members in the eye and say, 'guess what, we committed fraud against the United States government' … we didn't. We won't say it."

Last year in a complaint, the Justice Department accused Quicken Loans of submitting or causing the submission of claims for hundreds of improperly underwritten loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration from September 2007 to December 2011. On the same type of issues, the DOJ has gone after many other lenders, which resulted in more than $100 million in mortgage settlements.  Read more here.

Rule on Arbitration Would Restore Right to Sue Banks

The New York Times | May 5, 2016      The nation’s consumer watchdog is unveiling a proposed rule on Thursday that would restore customers’ rights to bring class-action lawsuits against financial firms, giving Americans major new protections and delivering a serious blow to Wall Street that could cost the industry billions of dollars.

The proposed rule, which would apply to bank accounts, credit cards and other types of consumer loans, seems almost certain to take effect, since it does not require congressional approval.

In effect, the move by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the biggest that the agency has made since its inception in 2010 — will unravel a set of audacious legal maneuvers by corporate America that has prevented customers from using the court system to challenge potentially deceitful banking practices.

Honing their plan over decades, credit card companies, banks and other lenders devised a way to use the fine print of their contracts to push consumers out of court and into arbitration, where borrowers must battle powerful companies on their own. Without the ability to pool resources, most people abandon their claims and never make it to arbitration.

The new rules would mean that lenders could not force people to agree to mandatory arbitration clauses that bar class actions when those customers sign up for financial products. The changes would not apply to existing accounts, though consumers would be free to pay off their old loans and open new accounts that are covered.

And while those rules are not final yet — there will be a 90-day public comment period — financial industry lawyers say they are tough to derail.   Read more here.

Who Can Go After Banks for the Foreclosure Crisis?

Cities are arguing that they, too, were damaged by risky loans, and that they should be able to take the lenders to court to regain their losses.

The Atlantic | May 3, 2016     In the wake of the housing crisis, surprisingly few people or institutions have been held accountable for the risky lending practices that nearly wrecked the U.S. economy.  That’s partly because the people who were most damaged by the foreclosure crisis—the people who lost their homes—don’t have the resources to bring lawsuits.

But the families who lost their homes weren’t the only ones hurt by the foreclosure crisis. So there’s an argument to be made that they shouldn’t be the only ones who can go after the lenders. Cities, for example, lost tax revenue when homes sat vacant, and saw property values within their boundaries decrease when vacant and boarded-up homes sat empty. Cities had to pay for police and fire protection to keep those homes from being vandalized and to respond to reported break-ins and criminal activity at the houses.

So should cities be able to sue the banks, too?

That’s the question making its way through courts across the country after municipalities including Los Angeles, Miami, Oakland, and Providence all filed lawsuits against lenders under the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuits, which the banks are fighting to have dismissed, argue that the lending practices of these banks harmed the cities too. When lenders targeted minorities for risky loans, knowing that the borrowers would likely lose their homes, they knowingly deprived cities of tax revenue while making them shoulder the expenses of blocks of foreclosures, the lawsuits allege. Oakland, for instance, argues in its complaint against Wells Fargo that the city “has suffered economic injury based upon reduced property tax revenues resulting from (a) the decreased value of the vacant properties themselves, and (b) the decreased value of properties surrounding the vacant properties.” Last month a judge declined to dismiss the suit.

In these cases, the municipalities have accused lenders, including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, and Bank of America, of “redlining,” or the practice of denying credit to people in particular neighborhoods because of their race, and “reverse redlining,” or the practice of flooding a minority neighborhood with exploitative loan products. These practices, they say, violate parts of the Fair Housing Act.  Read more here.