Thursday, April 18, 2024

September 2023 OBA Legal Briefs

OK Legislation 2023

By Pauli D. Loeffler

Oklahoma Uniform Consumer Credit Code Title 14A

Sec. 1-106 of the Oklahoma Uniform Consumer Credit Code  in Title 14A (the “U3C”) is the section that determines when and how much dollar limits under Title 14A are subject to change. These changes are based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

Legislation enacted in the last session modified Subsection (4)(a) of § 1-106 removing the 3% increase cap on increased amounts. The amendment became effective April 23, 2023, and is part of the notification by the Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit of changes in dollar amounts effective July 1, 2023. I covered these changes in the June 2023 OBA Legal Briefs. The OK DOCC notice can be accessed here.   It is also accessible on the OBA’s Legal Links page under Resources. In order to gain access to the Legal Briefs online archive and the Legal Links, you will need to create an account through the My OBA Member Portal if you have not done so already.

  • 3-508A Loans

This section of the “U3C” sets the maximum annual percentage rate for certain loans. It provides three tiers with different rates based on unpaid principal balances that may be “blended.” It also has an alternative maximum rate that may be used rather than blending the rates. Effective for loans consummated on or after November 1, 2023, § 3-508A is amended to read:

(2) The loan finance charge, calculated according to the actuarial method, may not exceed the equivalent of the greater of either of the following:

(a) the total of:

(i) thirty-two percent (32%) plus the federal funds rate per year on that part of the unpaid balances of the principal which is Seven Thousand Dollars ($7,000.00) or less;

(ii) twenty-three percent (23%) plus the federal funds rate per year on that part of the unpaid balances of the principal which is more than Seven Thousand Dollars ($7,000.00) but does not exceed Eleven Thousand Dollars ($11,000.00); and

(iii) twenty percent (20%) plus the federal funds rate per year on that part of the unpaid balances of the principal which is more than Eleven Thousand Dollars ($11,000.00); or

(b) twenty-five percent (25%) plus the federal funds rate per year on the unpaid balances of the principal…

(7) As used in this section, the “federal funds rate” means the rate published by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in its statistical release H.15 Selected Interest Rates [Click HERE] and in effect as of the first day of each month immediately preceding the month during which the loan is consummated.

Title 60 O.S. § 121 – Alien ownership of Oklahoma real estate

I covered loans to non-U.S. citizens in the January 2016 OBA Legal Briefs. Effective November 1, 2023, § 121 is amended as follows:

  1. No alien or any person who is not a citizen of the United States shall acquire title to or own land in this state either directly or indirectly through a business entity or trust, except as hereinafter provided, but he or she shall have and enjoy in this state such rights as to personal property as are, or shall be accorded a citizen of the United States under the laws of the nation to which such alien belongs, or by the treaties of such nation with the United States, except as the same may be affected by the provisions of Section 121et seq. of this title or the Constitution of this state. Provided, however, the requirements of this subsection shall not apply to a business entity that is engaged in regulated interstate commerce in accordance with federal law.
  2. On or after the effective date of this act, any deed recorded with a county clerk shall include as an exhibit to the deed an affidavit executed by the person or entity coming into title attesting that the person, business entity, or trust is obtaining the land in compliance with the requirements of this section and that no funding source is being used in the sale or transfer in violation of this section or any other state or federal law. A county clerk shall not accept and record any deed without an affidavit as required by this section. The Attorney General shall promulgate a separate affidavit form for individuals and for business entities or trusts to comply with the requirements of this section, with the exception of those deeds which the Attorney General deems necessary when promulgating the affidavit form.

The affidavit is only required for deeds transferring ownership of real estate on or after the November 1, 2023, effective date. It does not apply to deeds filed of record prior to that date nor does it apply to leases or personal property. If the bank is making a purchase money loan for real estate on or after the effective date, it will require that the affidavit be executed by the purchaser and recorded with deed. (Updated November 1, 2023)

I reached out to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office regarding the affidavit. Drafts of the affidavit are currently being circulated. They anticipate the affidavit form will be finalized shortly and will be available to view next month. Expect an update with the link to the affidavit in a future article.

Title 12 – Garnishment Forms

Effective November 1, 2023, the Oklahoma garnishment forms, i.e., affidavits, pre- and post- judgment garnishment summonses, garnishee’s answer, etc., will be under the purview of the Oklahoma Bar Association rather than the Administrative Office of the Courts. Inasmuch as the garnishment statutes themselves did not have any substantive changes, there should be no changes in the forms themselves.

I worked with the Administrative Office of the Courts in amending the forms in 2011 when the Garnishment of Accounts Containing Federal Benefits rule became effective. I was also involved in changes to the garnishment summonses with regard to the amount and time of payment of the garnishment fee when a federally regulated financial institution is the garnishee as provided under § 1190 of Title 12 in regard to legislation effective November 1, 2016, and November 1, 2022. I have reached out to the Oklahoma Bar Association to find out who specifically is in charge of the forms.

Title 43A O.S. § Section 10-111.1 – Vulnerable Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Report

Elder financial exploitation has been the topic of three OBA Legal Briefs articles: July 2006, June 2007, and July 2008. These are available to read online on the OBA website.

  • 10-111.1 was added to the Oklahoma statutes in 2018. The statute as amended requires the Office of the Attorney General to maintain the Vulnerable Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Report accessible to the public on the Internet in an electronic format that is easily and readily searchable to include persons found guilty by a court of law or who have entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (Latin for “no contest”) to a charge of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. The Report will provide the full name of the offender, information necessary to identify the individual, information regarding the case regarding convictions and confessions made in a court of law, and the date the offender was convicted or pled guilty or no contest. The Report is required to be updated quarterly.

The Oklahoma Uniform Power of Attorney Act that became effective November 1, 2021, which is covered in the September and October 2021 OBA Legal Briefs, requires banks to accept an acknowledged Power of Attorney (signed by the principal in the presence of a notary). There are six exceptions, one of which stated in § 3020 of the Act:

The person makes, or has actual knowledge that another person has made, a report to the Adult Protective Services office stating a good-faith belief that the principal may be subject to physical or financial abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment by the agent or a person acting for or with the agent.”

Title 58 O.S. § 1252 – Transfer-on-death (“TOD”) deeds

Oklahoma has allowed Transfer-on-Death-deeds since November 1, 2008, (see August 2008 OBA Legal Briefs), but the statute has had a few amendments over the years. Additional changes were made this last legislative session. The amendments are effective November 1, 2023.

TOD Deeds convey any estate or interest in, over or under land, including surface, minerals, structures and fixtures. The signature, consent, or notice to a beneficiary or beneficiaries is not required prior to the owner’s death.

Subsection C. is amended and provides:

A designated grantee beneficiary may accept real estate pursuant to a transfer-on-death deed only on behalf of himself, herself, or a legal entity over which he or she has proper authority. A beneficiary shall not accept such real estate on behalf of another designated beneficiary.

Subsection D. is amended to require:

Each designated grantee beneficiary wishing to accept real estate pursuant to a transfer-on-death deed shall execute an affidavit affirming:

  1. Verification of the record owner’s death;
  2. Whether the record owner and the designated beneficiary were married at the time of the record owner’s death; and
  3. A legal description of the real estate.

Former Subsection D. is now E.:

  1. The grantee shall attach a copy of the record owner’s death certificate to the beneficiary affidavit. For a record owner’s death occurring on or after November 1, 2011, the beneficiary shall record the affidavit and related documents with the office of the county clerk where the real estate is located within nine (9) months of the grantor’s death, otherwise the interest in the property reverts to the deceased grantor’s estate; provided, however, for a record owner’s death occurring before November 1, 2011, such recording of the affidavit and related documents by the beneficiary shall not be subject to the nine-month time limitation. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 26 of Title 16 of the Oklahoma Statutes, an affidavit properly sworn to before a notary shall be received for record and recorded by the county clerk without having been acknowledged and, when recorded, shall be effective as if it had been acknowledged.

Subsection F. is new:

  1. A beneficiary affidavit recorded pursuant to this section before November 1, 2023, in which one or more, but not all, named beneficiaries of a transfer-on-death deed explicitly accept the interests being conveyed by the deed on behalf of all or some of the beneficiaries named shall be effective to accept such interests if executed by at least one of the named beneficiaries accepting such interests.

The real estate interest conveyed by a TOD Deed taken by the beneficiary/beneficiaries is subject to the bank’s existing mortgage.

Title 42 O.S. § 91 – Personal property liens

I last covered changes to this statute in the December 2014 OBA Legal Briefs, much of which remains unchanged.

This section applies to every vehicle, all-terrain vehicle, utility vehicle, manufactured home, motorcycle, boat, outboard motor, or trailer that has a certificate of title issued by the Oklahoma Tax Commission/Service Oklahoma or by a federally recognized Indian tribe in the State of Oklahoma.

The special possessory lien provided under this section will have priority over any perfected liens (e.g., lien entries and other lien claimants), ONLY if the lien claimant strictly complies with ALL applicable provisions of § 91 with regard to submission of claim and documentation, notice and mailing requirements to owner and other lien holders with regard to the lien, as well as notice of sale. If the lien is denied, the claimant may resubmit its claim once within 15 business days of denial. One change to the existing statute is when the possessory lien claimant has been in possession of the property for at least 21 days before the Notice of Sale is to be mailed. The second change is that proceedings for foreclosure in 20 days after the lien accrued, except as provided elsewhere by Oklahoma law.

RESPA – Section 8

By Andy Zavoina

In December 1974 Public Law 93-533 was passed. That may not mean much to you initially, but Section 8 of that law is very meaningful. In short, I’m referring to Section 8 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). I’m not sure why we commonly reference the section of the actual law instead where there is a violation instead of Reg. X where we study it and read about the restrictions, but at times it is good to go to the roots of the law and see what it says. The law and the Reg follow each other closely in this section, which is implemented in § 1024.14 of Reg. X. Briefly, it prohibits a person from giving or accepting anything of value for referrals of settlement service business related to a federally related mortgage loan. It also prohibits a person from giving or accepting any part of a charge for services that are not performed. These are also known as kickbacks, fee-splitting and unearned fees.

Penalty Overview: Violations of Section 8 are subject to criminal and civil penalties. A person who violates Section 8 may be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. In a private lawsuit a person who violates Section 8 may be liable to the person charged for the settlement service an amount equal to three times the amount of the charge paid for the service.

Background: When you search on “Section 8” or “kickbacks” you will find many resources including those from real estate brokers and Realtors. I am not a Realtor but those I know have all been trained on Section 8. “Thou shall not give, nor receive” and the emphasis is on any gift that could be construed as an incentive for a mortgage referral. The law aims to punish both sides of that violation because it is intended to protect the third party in this, the consumer – the borrower in these transactions.

If Lender A pays Realtor B to send business its way, Lender A gets more business but now has more costs. Lender A has to recover these costs and that would be compensated for by higher fees charged to Borrower C. This makes the loans less affordable. That is why we have this section of law and regulation. The common issues that promote discussions on Section 8 are inadvertent violations. That is, things not truly intended to violate the rules but at face value, may.

Lender A is at lunch and sees his friend, Realtor B. They chat about the Friday night football game the whole town is excited about and about business. If Realtor B mentions, “hey, I have a prospect you may be interested in. They just moved to this area, and I found them a great house. Qualifying for a new mortgage is hard, though, because of his new job.” Lender A is always looking for mortgage production and a new depositor prospect is icing on the cake. Lender A picks up the lunch tab. Is that a kickback, a Section 8 violation?

At other times, the violations appear concrete and completely justified. Let’s examine the August 17, 2023, Consent Order between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Freedom Mortgage Corporation, (Freedom), File No. 2023-CFPB-0008. This is a case of both giving and receiving so we will include an examination of a separate Consent Order (File No. 2023-CFPB-0009) against Realty Connect USA Long Island, Inc. (Realty Connect) issued on the same day.

Section 8 violations do not appear to be common as this was the first for the CFPB since 2017, but it was egregious, as you will see. The CFPB is not the only agency looking at RESPA rules and compliance with them, however. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) published its Consumer Compliance Supervisory Highlights, in March 2023. It stated, “In 2022, the FDIC identified RESPA Section 8(a) violations where a bank contracted with third parties that took steps to identify and contact consumers in order to directly steer and affirmatively influence the consumer’s selection of the bank as the settlement service provider. In some cases, this process involved the third party calling identified consumers and directly connecting and introducing them to a specific mortgage representative on the phone. This process is often referred to as a “warm transfer.” In other cases, the process involved operation of a digital platform that purported to rank lender options based on neutral criteria but where the participating lenders merely rotated in the top spot. Although each case is fact specific, indicators of risk in these arrangements include a third party that does one or more of the following activities:

  • Initiates calls directly to consumers to steer them to a particular lender;
  • Offers consumers only one lender o will only transfer the consumer to one lender;
  • Describes the lender in non-neutral terms such as preferred, skilled, or possessing specialized expertise;
  • Receives payment from the lender only if a “warm transfer” occurs; or
  • On a consumer-facing digital platform that purports to rank settlement service providers based on objective factors, includes providers that pay to take turns appearing in the top spot in a round-robin format.

Payment for activities that go beyond the simple provision of a “lead” may be improper payment for referrals when the activity affirmatively influences the consumer towards the selection of a particular lender. The warm transfers were of particular interest in the report.

Consent Orders: Let’s review the specific compliance issues in the two consent orders, but first an attention getter – the Consent Orders provide for civil money penalties of $1.75 million against Freedom and $200,000 against Realty Connect, along with other compliance obligations. While each party has its own obligations to adhere to RESPA and Reg. X, one is not doing the other any favors with enticements that lead to long term and expensive problems such as these enforcement actions.

The period during which these actions took place began in January 2017 and essentially extends to August 2022. The focus was on Freedom’s “Traditional Retail Unit,” which was part of Freedom until about August 2021, and then these activities were conducted through a former subsidiary, RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing, Inc. The traditional retail unit was one in which loan officers went directly to real estate brokers and agents to obtain new loans.

Issue One: Freedom paid for subscription services and gave real estate agents and brokers (collectively “brokers”) free access. These were professional publications which offered useful information to the brokers concerning property reports, comparable sales, and foreclosure data in their markets. For RESPA this was a “thing of value,” as the retail cost would be $300 per month for this service. While the Realty Connect Consent Order states more than 100 of its brokers accepted this service, (Freedom’s cost based on a retail subscription would be $30,000 per month) the Freedom Consent Order indicates over 2,000 brokers accepted subscriptions. (Perhaps that was different brokers over a period of time and perhaps Freedom had a multi-user license at a lower cost. Still, a “thing of value” is based on the retail value.)

Issue Two: Freedom sometimes required brokers to be paired up specifically with an individual in the Traditional Retail Unit and this also influenced that broker’s access to the valuable subscription service. These brokers made more than 1,000 mortgage referrals and it was a quid pro quo arrangement, according to the Freedom Consent Order. Realty Connect’s Consent Order indicated more than 400 referrals were made during the period reviewed which affirms there were issues with other brokers as well.

Issue Three: From at least July 2017 through 2022, Freedom hosted and subsidized events for certain real estate brokers and agents. This included food, beverages, alcohol and entertainment. Freedom also gave away free tickets to sporting events, charity galas and other events that would each have had a cost had the brokers paid their own way. Some of these events cost Freedom thousands of dollars and more. One event paid for by Freedom and held at a restaurant and bar cost them more than $6,300 as it included rented sports simulators. There were fifty brokers there because they referred the most mortgage loans to Freedom and new brokers were also in attendance in a recruitment effort by Freedom to develop more referral brokers.

Freedom denied requests for event sponsorship from brokers who did not refer mortgage business to its loan officers.

These activities were viewed as part of a pattern, practice, or course of conduct of giving things of value to create, maintain, and strengthen mortgage referral relationships. It clearly went beyond mere business development.

Issue Four: in October 2020, the CFPB produced a guidance document to clarify its position on Marketing Service Agreements (MSAs) and Section 8 practices. An MSA involves two or more parties whereby one agrees to market or promote the services of another and receives compensation for the work provided. A lawful MSA is an agreement for the performance of marketing services where the payments under the MSA are reasonably related to the value of services actually performed.

Freedom had marketing agreements with over forty real estate brokerages. Payments varied but ranged from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per month. The total amount Freedom paid under its MSAs during the period reviewed here was approximately $90,000 per month.

One agreement included promotion rights by Freedom to the brokers at Realty Connect. Freedom was allowed to have its loan officers promote themselves at Realty Connect internal meetings and to allow those lenders to email the brokers directly as “referral partners.”  It was also agreed that Freedom would host at least one training event for Realty Connect’s brokers at least quarterly to maintain and increase the referrals from those brokers.

The MSA with brokerages, of which Realty Connect was one, required brokerages to provide marketing services. Realty Connect received $6,000 per month from Freedom under the MSA from January 2017 to December 2022. This equates to $432,000 for marketing services.

Realty Connect failed to execute many of the marketing tasks required by its MSA with Freedom. Realty Connect was to send 15,000 marketing emails each month, allocating 50% of the content to Freedom. Realty Connect sent no marketing emails at all. The MSA required Realty Connect to maintain three “physical locations showing video loop or kiosk advertising” for Freedom. Realty Connect had no video loops or kiosks. And the MSA required Realty Connect to create an average of 75 property websites per month showing Freedom’s content, but it never created any property websites.

As further demonstration that the MSAs were a sham to pay for referrals and not generally advertise for Freedom, the Realty Connect Consent order provides an example between a loan officer and broker in which a lender was to help promote a Realty Connect open house. The lender said, “I want to continue to help you with this, do you think on your listing you can try to get me some referrals to work with?” The agent replied, “I have recommended you many times—Gave them your info on the last two sales.”

Additionally, Freedom had its own professional design team to create the marketing copy it advertised with, including co-branded mailers and open house flyers. Freedom also owned and operated its own print shop that created the hard copies it used as advertisements. Freedom essentially created and produced its own advertisements and was not using the services the MSAs called for. Realty Connect’s actual role in the marketing activities was limited to offering minor design suggestions and it paid the postage for the co-branded mailers. The monthly $6,000 fee was excessive compensation for the services actually performed.

Freedom also encouraged those brokerages with MSAs to use a third-party smartphone app, which Freedom’s loan officers would share with the brokers. The brokers would then share the app with their clients. The app then featured the Freedom loan officer’s headshot and Freedom’s logo at the top, and included buttons where the client could directly contact the loan officer for assistance. It is inferred that this proprietary app is considered akin to a direct referral by the CFPB, although I have seen no specific guidance on this.

Some brokers who worked with Freedom and its MSAs received direct payments. This also emphasized to the CFPB that the MSA was a method to pay compensation for referrals and not for advertising.

Closing: Additional requirements in the Consent Orders require that there be no further Section 8 violations. I used to think it made no sense for an enforcement order to say “for the next 3 years you cannot violate Section 8…” as an example. There was never any inference that anyone could. But if there is a subsequent violation, it is not only a repeat violation but violates the enforcement action they specifically agreed to, allowing even more charges to be added to a new action. Additionally, the Consent order emphasizes that the Board of Freedom has the ultimate responsibility for compliance and the board must review all the plans and reports required in the Consent Order. It is putting them on notice. There are accounting and reporting requirements and additional prohibitions placed on things related to Section 8. One year from the Consent Order a detailed report has to be filed with the CFPB describing its progress. It also states that in the event the company is sold, the purchaser must agree to the terms of this Consent Order, effectively removing the possibility of a reorganization by the same or similar ownership attempting to dodge these restrictions and requirements.

Section 8(c) of RESPA does describe allowable payments as it states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting (1) the payment of a fee (A) to attorneys at law for services actually rendered or (B) by a title company to its duly appointed agent for services actually performed in the issuance of a policy of title insurance or (C) by a lender to its duly appointed agent for services actually performed in the making of a loan, or (2) the payment to any person of a bona fide salary or compensation or other payment for goods or facilities actually furnished or for services actually performed.”

The FDIC in its Consumer Compliance Supervisory Highlights referenced earlier also noted five things that banks can do to mitigate risks associated with Section 8 violations.

  1. Train applicable staff on what is permitted to generate leads, and what is prohibited and would be an illegal referral.
  2. The lenders and management need to review any referral program the bank is participating in to clearly understand the functions of the program and any cost structure and cost justification.
  3. Management must develop policies and procedures which strictly comply with the regulatory requirements in Reg. X and RESPA as to programs designed to generate leads.
  4. Require loan officers to report annually the established relationships that are used for mortgage loan generations and new ones which develop, so that they may be reviewed and approved by management.
  5. The bank must impose controls to monitor lead generation activities for compliance with the bank’s policy and procedures as well as RESPA and Reg. X.