The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday issued a proposal that would broadly halt foreclosure initiations on principal residences from August 31, 2021 until 2022, and change servicing rules to promote consumer awareness and processing of Covid-relief loss mitigation options. Although the proposal would give servicers some flexibility in streamlining the modification process, most already have been offering many of these types of modifications since the early days of the pandemic. The proposal also would create new and detailed obligations for communicating with borrowers to ensure they are aware of their loss mitigation options for pandemic-related hardships.
The CFPB indicated that a final rule implementing the proposal will take effect Aug. 31 — a tight timeline to address public comments, which are due May 10. The proposal comes as the housing market is strengthening, loans in Covid-related forbearance are dropping, the unemployment rate is ticking down, and the nation’s vaccination program is gathering momentum.
Restrictions on foreclosure initiation through Dec. 31 for principal residences
The CFPB proposes prohibiting servicers from making the first notice or filing for foreclosure from the effective date on Aug. 31, 2021 until after Dec. 31, 2021, on all principal residences, regardless of whether the loan default was related in any way to the Covid-19 pandemic. Regulation X currently requires a servicer to generally refrain from making the first notice or filing to initiate foreclosure until the borrower reaches the 120th day of delinquency. Although the CFPB has previously taken the position that a borrower generally is not obligated to make a lump sum payment upon expiration of the forbearance period (See for example: Slides - Housing Counseling Webinar Forbearance Options and Resources - March 22, 2021 (hudexchange.info)), the proposal acknowledges that borrowers who enter forbearance programs and do not make payments during the forbearance period become increasingly delinquent on their mortgage obligation. As a result, without additional action, servicers likely would have a right under Regulation X to initiate foreclosure in the event a borrower comes off of a forbearance plan and does not cure the delinquency through reinstatement, deferral, or some other loss mitigation alternative to foreclosure. The proposal said a temporary foreclosure prohibition would address this concern.
The CFPB indicated it is considering creating exemptions from this restriction that would allow for the commencement of foreclosure proceedings if the borrower is not eligible for any nonforeclosure loss mitigation options or has failed to respond to servicer outreach.
It is possible that loan investors who had expected to instruct servicers to foreclose on defaulted loans will raise a legal challenge to the broad proposed foreclosure restriction, which appears to be principally based upon the CFPB’s authority to issue regulations creating mortgage servicer obligations as “appropriate to carry out [the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act’s] consumer protection purposes.” It is an open question whether a blanket prohibition on foreclosures — including those unrelated to the pandemic — and applicable to all mortgage servicers is within the CFPB’s statutory authority under RESPA or the Dodd-Frank Act
Modifications based on evaluation of an incomplete loss mitigation application
The proposal also would allow servicers to offer borrowers with a Covid-19 related hardship a loan modification based on an incomplete application, as long as the modification met the following criteria:
- Term and payment limitations: The modification may not cause the borrower’s principal and interest payment to increase and may not extend the term of the loan by more than 480 months from the date of the modification.
- Non-interest-bearing deferred amounts: Any amounts that the borrower may delay paying until the loan is refinanced, the property is sold, or the loan modification matures, must not accrue interest.
- Fee restrictions: No fees may be charged for the loan modification and all existing late charges, penalties, stop-payment fees, and similar charges must be waived upon acceptance (the CFPB said it was aware that certain agencies, including the Federal Housing Administration, only require waiver of fees incurred after the beginning of the pandemic, and that such modifications would not fall within this safe harbor).
- Covid-related hardship: The loan modification is made available to borrowers experiencing a Covid-19-related hardship, which is very broadly defined in the regulation as “a financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the Covid-19 emergency.”
- Delinquency cure: The modification must be designed to end any preexisting delinquency.
Interestingly, investors and agencies have largely eliminated documentation requirements in response to the pandemic, and servicers have been successfully offering streamlined loan modifications under Regulation X’s current requirements. The lack of documentation requirements has seemingly blurred the lines of what constitutes a complete loss mitigation application.
Additional borrower outreach required
The proposed rule would require servicers, for one year after the effective date, to give borrowers Covid-forbearance-related information regarding the current Regulation X early intervention requirements, as follows:
- For borrowers not currently in forbearance, when live contact is made with the borrower, and the investor makes available to that borrower a Covid--related forbearance program, the servicer must inquire whether the borrower has a Covid-related hardship, then list and briefly describe available programs and actions the borrower must take to be evaluated for them. The CFPB noted that this could include listing federal, state, and/or investor-specific options.
- If the borrower is on forbearance, during the last live contact made pursuant to the early intervention rules prior to the program’s expiration, the servicer must inform the borrower of the date on which the current forbearance period ends and each type of post-forbearance option that is available to the borrower to resolve the post-forbearance delinquency, along with the actions that must be taken to be evaluated for such options. Importantly, this list would include all available loss mitigation options—not simply Covid-specific options.
The proposed rule would also require a servicer to contact the borrower no later than 30 days before the end of the forbearance period to determine if the borrower wishes to complete the loss mitigation application and proceed with a full loss mitigation evaluation. If the borrower requests further assistance, the servicer must exercise reasonable diligence to complete the application before the end of the forbearance program period.
The compliance requirements the proposal contemplates seems likely to present additional complexity and liability for mortgage servicers as they gear up to address the upcoming wave of delinquent borrowers who will be coming out of Covid-related forbearances.