Key Provisions of the CARES Act Affecting Mortgage Servicers

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A&B ABstract:

In response to COVID-19, on Friday March 28, 2020, President Trump signed into law the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (the “CARES Act”). This is a monumental $2 trillion stimulus package intended to provide financial relief to businesses, individuals and public institutions affected by the coronavirus. The CARES Act addresses sweeping economic stabilization, small business lending and other direct financial support, tax provisions, healthcare, or other provisions. Below, we summarize the key provisions of the CARES Act affecting residential mortgage servicers.

Section 4021: Credit Protection During COVID-19

Section 4021 of the CARES Act amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681s-2(a)(1)) by adding a new section providing special instruction for reporting consumer credit information to credit reporting agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, this section provides that if a creditor or other furnisher offers an “accommodation” to a consumer affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in connection with a credit obligation or account, and the consumer satisfies the conditions of such accommodation, the furnisher must report the credit obligation or account as “current.” An “accommodation” as defined in this section includes relief granted to impacted consumers such as an agreement to defer a payment, make a partial payment, grant forbearance, or modify a loan or contract.

In the event that the credit obligation or account was delinquent before the accommodation, the furnisher is required to maintain the delinquent status during the effective period of the accommodation, or, if the consumer brings the account current during such period, then to report the account as current. The reporting requirements set forth in Section 4021 do not apply to charged-off accounts.

This section applies from January 31, 2020 through the later of 120 days after: (i) enactment of this section, or (ii) termination of the national emergency declaration.[1]

A&B Takeaway: It is important to recognize that this provision applies to borrower’s payment history starting on January 31, 2020. It also is important to recognize that state laws may also address the furnishing of credit information. To the extent the state law is inconsistent, it is generally preempted pursuant to section 1681t(b)(1)(C) of FCRA, with specific carve outs for California and Massachusetts law that may require specific attention.

Section 4022: Foreclosure Moratorium and Consumer Right to Request Forbearance

Section 4022 of the CARES Act grants forbearance rights and protection against foreclosure[2] to borrowers with a “federally backed mortgage loan”[3] including certain first or subordinate lien loans designed principally for the occupancy of from 1- to 4- families. Loans secured by greater than 4 families are addressed separately in Section 4023 of the CARES Act.

During the covered period, a borrower with a federally backed mortgage loan who is experiencing a financial hardship that is due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 emergency, may request forbearance on their loan, regardless of delinquency status, by submitting a request to their servicer and affirming that they are experiencing a financial hardship during the COVID-19 emergency.

Upon receiving a request for forbearance, a servicer must provide forbearance for up to 180 days, with no additional documentation required, other than the borrower’s attestation to a financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 emergency, and with no fees, penalties, or interest (beyond the amounts scheduled or calculated as if the borrower made all contractual payments on time and in full under the terms of the mortgage contract) charged to the borrower in connection therewith. The forbearance period may be extended for up to an additional 180 days, at the request of the borrower, provided that the borrower’s request is made during the covered period. The initial or extended period may also be shortened at the borrower’s request.

Additionally, except with respect to vacant or abandoned properties, a servicer of a federally backed mortgage loan may not initiate any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process, move for a foreclosure judgment or order of sale, or execute a foreclosure-related eviction or foreclosure sale for at least 60 days from March 18, 2020.

A&B Takeaway: While the law provides much needed relief for borrowers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it leaves a number of questions unanswered. First, the law does not appear to cover mortgage loans that are not federally insured or guaranteed or otherwise purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Thus, it is unclear whether a servicer of a non-federally backed mortgage loan would need to comply. Second, the law is silent as to whether borrower requests must be in writing, suggesting that oral requests for forbearance must be considered.[4] Third, while Section 4022 does not expressly define the “covered period,” Subsection (b)(1)(B) does provide that the borrower must attest to a financial hardship during the “COVID-19 emergency,” suggesting that borrower requests received outside of the “COVID-19 emergency” would not require the granting of forbearance. Subsection (a)(1) defines “COVID-19 emergency” as the national emergency declared by President Trump on March 13, 2020 by Executive Order pursuant to the National Emergencies Act (“NEA”). Under the NEA, unless the President requests an extension, an emergency declaration terminates if: (1) the President issues a proclamation rescinding it, (2) Congress, having met no later than six months after date of issuance to consider a joint resolution of termination, passes such joint resolution, or (3) automatically one year following date of issuance.[5] Accordingly, there appears to be an implied covered period associated with this section, namely, March 13, 2020 until the earlier of March 12, 2021 or action by either the President or Congress to terminate the emergency declaration, unless the President requests an extension in accordance with the NEA. Fourth, while Section 4022 provides that a servicer must grant forbearance for “up to 180 days,” it does not specify how a servicer is to determine the length of the forbearance period. Thus, it is unclear whether a servicer must simply rely on a borrower’s attestation to determine the length of the initial forbearance (and any extensions thereto) or whether the servicer has some discretion to provide an initial (or extended) forbearance period of less than 180 days. Finally, we note that the FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, the “Federal Agencies/GSEs”) all issued earlier guidance imposing a 60-day (as opposed to a 180-day) foreclosure moratoria in addition to guidance encouraging mortgage servicers to consider forbearance and other relief for borrowers affected by COVID-19. While the CARES Act appears to provide greater foreclosure protections than those mandated by the Federal Agencies/GSEs, mortgage servicers should carefully review and compare the existing guidance to the protections under the CARES Act to determine their obligations with respect to impacted borrowers.

Section 4024: Temporary Moratorium on Eviction Filings

Section 4024 provides for a temporary moratorium on eviction filings for tenants of certain single- and multi-family properties. Specifically, during the 120-day period following the enactment of the CARES Act (the “Moratorium Period”), the lessor of a “covered dwelling”[6] may not: (1) make, or cause to be made, any filing with the court of jurisdiction to initiate a legal action to recover possession of the covered dwelling from the tenant for nonpayment of rent or other fees or charges; or (2) charge fees, penalties, or other charges to the tenant related to such nonpayment of rent.

The lessor of a covered dwelling unit (1) may not require the tenant to vacate the covered dwelling unit until 30 days have passed from the date on which the lessor provides the tenant with a notice to vacate; and (2) may not issue a notice to vacate until after the expiration of the Moratorium Period.

A&B Takeaway:

Numerous states and localities also have issued temporary moratoriums on eviction files that provide greater protections to tenants.

[1] We note that this raises some unique questions regarding preemption of certain state consumer laws regarding consumer credit reporting.

[2] Note that, while outside the scope of this summary, Section 4023 of the CARES Act addresses foreclosure moratoria for certain multifamily loans.

[3] “Federally backed mortgage loan” means any loan which is secured by a first or subordinate lien on residential real property (including individual units of condominiums and cooperatives) designed principally for the occupancy of from 1- to 4- families that is (A) insured by the Federal Housing Administration under title II of the National Housing Act (12 U.S.C. 1707 et seq.); (B) insured under section 255 of the National Housing Act (12 U.S.C. 1715z-20); (C) guaranteed under section 184 or 184A of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992 (12 U.S.C. 1715z-13, 1715z-13b); (D) guaranteed or insured by the Department of Veterans Affairs; (E) guaranteed or insured by the Department of Agriculture; (F) made by the Department of Agriculture; or (G) purchased or securitized by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (i.e., Freddie Mac) or the Federal National Mortgage Association (i.e., Fannie Mae).

[4] Note that Section 4023 of the CARES Act provides that “a multifamily borrower…may submit an oral or written request for forbearance,” further suggesting that oral requests must be considered under Section 4022.

[5] See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1622(a)-(b), (d).

[6] The term “covered dwelling” means a dwelling that (A) is occupied by a tenant (i) pursuant to a residential lease; or (ii) without a lease or with a lease terminable under State law; and (B) is on or in a covered property. The term “dwelling” (A) has the meaning given the term in 42 U.S.C. 3602; and (B) includes houses and dwellings described in 42 U.S.C. 3603(b). The term “covered property” means any property that (A) participates in (i) a covered housing program (as defined in 34 U.S.C. 12491(a)); or (ii) the rural housing voucher program under 42 U.S.C. 1490r; or (B) has a (i) Federally backed mortgage loan; or (ii) Federally backed multifamily mortgage loan.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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