Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 17, 2016

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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October 17, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

October 14, 2016

Questions Your Broker Might Not Answer

By David Reiss

zipper-306737_1280 quoted me in 4 Questions Your Agent Might Not Answer—and Why. It reads, in part,

Want to know how old the roof is on a house, or whether it uses gas or electrical heat? Your trusty real estate agent can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about a home you’re hoping to buy (or at least find answers for you). Yet if you ask your agent certain questions, you might be puzzled to hear nothing but an awkward silence. Why?

It’s not that real estate agents don’t know the answer; they probably do. It’s just that they’re correctly staying on the right side of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or family/economic status.

So that silence is actually a good thing—it means that your agent is conscientiously steering clear of the tinderbox issues hidden within your innocent questions.

Here are the top ones that leave them feeling tongue-tied—plus where you can actually find the answers you seek.

Question No. 1: Is this a good place to raise a family?

This question is often “a lose/lose/lose for the Realtor®,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in real estate. If an agent admits a certain area is not all that family-friendly, “it could imply that families with kids aren’t welcome.” Or, on the flip side, “if the agent says that the neighborhood is a good place for kids, that could be interpreted as saying households without kids aren’t welcome, which is another form of discrimination.”

Housing professionals who try to either encourage or discourage home buyers based on the kid question can, and do, face consequences in court.

Bottom line: Rather than get burned, a cautious agent refrains from presuming where you and your brood will thrive. So if you want to know this info, you’ll have to do your own research  (more on how to do that below).

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Question No. 4: How are the schools here?

Because the racial divide can also run deep in U.S. schools, “a Realtor has to be careful not to let their answer be construed as a coded message about race,” Reiss says. Rather than risk a potentially offensive miscommunication, Realtors may very well introduce you to one of many websites that rank schools—such as Great Schools and School Digger.

Another option: If you have your heart set on your child attending a certain school, download’s mobile app, which allows you to search for homes for sale by school district.

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Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • The elderly community is expected to grow to 73 million by 2030. Many elderly people may suffer undue harms in their later age which may cause them to have difficulties obtaining housing. To ensure the elderly will have their housing needs met, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, completed an analysis of H.U.D.s elderly funding program.
  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency released their new strategic plan for the 2017 fiscal year. This plan entails three specific strategies as well as their method of evaluation.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development evaluated the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). In this report the agency analyzes the benefits  and successes of the program.

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October 13, 2016

Business as Usual with the CFPB

By David Reiss

photo by Lars Plougmann

Law360 quoted me in CFPB Remains Strong Despite DC Circ. Single-Director Ruling (behind paywall). It reads, in part,

A blockbuster D.C. Circuit ruling Tuesday declaring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s single-director leadership structure unconstitutional is unlikely to have a major effect on the bureau’s day-to-day operations and may make it easier for the agency to fend off critics who claim it lacks accountability, experts say.

The 110-page ruling from a split three-judge panel not only decried the leadership structure that Congress gave the CFPB in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, but made a change that allows the president to dismiss the bureau’s director at will, in a case that saw a $109 million judgment against PHH Corp. overturned. That move should provide the CFPB with more direct oversight, the D.C. Circuit said.

The change also does not touch the CFPB director’s power to issue rules and enforcement actions and oversee appeals of any administrative actions that the bureau brings. And because of that, the CFPB will not have to change much of what it does despite the harsh words in the opinion, said Frank Hirsch, the head of Alston & Bird’s financial services litigation team.

“I don’t think that the D.C. Circuit opinion was intended to create fundamental differences. I think the fact that the director can be dismissed at will now is the only substantive change,” he said.

Tuesday’s hotly anticipated ruling laid out in stark language many of the concerns that Republicans in Congress, the consumer financial services industry and other critics have long stated about the CFPB’s structure.

PHH was appealing the bureau’s $109 million disgorgement order over allegations the company referred consumers to mortgage insurers in exchange for reinsurance orders with its subsidiaries and reinsurance fees. The conduct, according to the CFPB, violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

Included in PHH’s appeal was a constitutional challenge to the CFPB’s structure.

The opinion, written by U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, laid out the potential dangers of giving one person the amount of authority that is vested in the CFPB director.

Judge Kavanaugh said that the bureau as constructed, with a single director that can only be fired for cause rather than the traditional multimember commission setup at independent regulatory agencies, vested too much power in one person to make decisions about new regulations, enforcement actions and appeals of those enforcement actions in administrative proceedings.

In its way, the CFPB director has authority rivaled only by the president, the decision said.

“Indeed, within his jurisdiction, the director of the CFPB can be considered even more powerful than the president. It is the director’s view of consumer protection law that prevails over all others. In essence, the director is the President of Consumer Finance,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote.

The judge also described at length why commissions were better for independent regulatory agencies than a single director, even though a single director can move more quickly on enforcement actions and rulemakings. Having a commission means that a director or chair will be constrained in their actions, potentially preventing abuses, the opinion said.

“Indeed, so as to avoid falling back into the kind of tyranny that they had declared independence from, the Framers often made trade-offs against efficiency in the interest of enhancing liberty,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote.

Those words were welcomed by the CFPB’s many critics.

“This is a good day for democracy, economic freedom, due process and the Constitution. The second-highest court in the land has vindicated what House Republicans have said all along, that the CFPB’s structure is unconstitutional,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement.

Hensarling and other Republicans in Congress have long pushed to put a commission atop the CFPB, and legislation Hensarling has introduced to replace Dodd-Frank includes that change.

Backers of the CFPB have long rejected the argument that the bureau is unaccountable, noting that it is subject to notice and comment for rulemaking, its rules are subject to judicial and other reviews, and the director makes regular appearances before Congress.

But instead of installing a commission or eliminating the CFPB altogether because of the constitutional issue, as had been requested by PHH and other, largely conservative activist groups who filed amici briefs, Judge Kavanaugh simply severed the portion of Dodd-Frank that said the bureau’s director could be fired only for cause.

The result is that now the CFPB director is subject to the same employment standard as a cabinet secretary, and can be fired at the president’s whim.

“The president is a check on and accountable for the actions of those executive agencies, and the president now will be a check on and accountable for the actions of the CFPB as well,” Judge Kavanaugh said, adding that all of the CFPB’s previous decisions taken by its current director, Richard Cordray, remained in place.

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But even with that uncertainty hanging over the bureau, it is unlikely that the ruling will have much of an effect on the way the CFPB currently operates.

“The industry and consumer advocates can expect to see much of the same,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

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Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies recently published a report studying housing trends in two of America’s most popular cities. The report determined that St. Louis and San Francisco recovered differently from the Great Depression.
  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition completed a study surrounding Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs). The coalition uncovered that individuals most in need of housing assistance experience longer than normal wait time in order to receive housing support.

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October 13, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

October 12, 2016

The Fate of the CFPB

By David Reiss

photo by Lawrence Jackson

President Obama Nominating Richard Cordray to Lead Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with Elizabeth Warren

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision in PHH Corporation v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, No. 15-1177 (October 11, 2016), that found an important aspect of the structure of the CFPB to be unconstitutional:  the insulation of the Director from Presidential supervision. While this decision will almost certainly be appealed, even if it is upheld, it will allow the the CFPB to continue functioning much as it has.

I was interviewed about the decision on NPR’s All Things Considered in a segment titled, Appeals Court Orders Restructuring Of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (audio available). The transcript reads,


A federal appeals court has mandated big changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The three-judge panel says the consumer watchdog agency is set up in a way that’s unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court says the agency will have to restructure. NPR’s Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The suit was brought by a mortgage lender called PHH, which asked the court to invalidate a $109 million enforcement action against it and scrap the agency, too. The D.C. Court of Appeals sent the fine back to the bureau for review.

But it also ruled that the CFPB’s director has too much power to write and enforce rules without enough oversight from another branch of government. The remedy, the panel says, is that the CFPB should fall under the president’s control. And the president should be able to remove the director at will.

The CFPB’s opponents in the financial services industry declared victory. Bill Himpler is executive vice president for the American Financial Services Association.

BILL HIMPLER: Our issue is still with the authority given to a single director. That is, as the court pointed out, not subject to a lot of oversight.

NOGUCHI: Himpler instead supports a CFPB run by a bipartisan commission, similar to others like the Securities and Exchange Commission. David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, says the ruling is not an existential challenge to the CFPB or its past decisions.

DAVID REISS: The decision does not invalidate the CFPB’s actions. This is more about its structure going forward.

NOGUCHI: Reiss says an appeal to the Supreme Court is all but guaranteed. Indeed, the CFPB says it disagrees with the conclusion. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson says the ruling does not change its mission and that it is, quote, “considering options for seeking further review of the court’s decision.”

Dennis Kelleher is CEO of Better Markets, a group that advocates for stronger financial regulation. He says the bureau’s actions on banks have made the financial sector more determined to undercut the agency.

DENNIS KELLEHER: They do not want a consumer watchdog on the Wall Street beat. That’s what this fight is about.

NOGUCHI: The decision was not unanimous on all the issues. Judge Karen Henderson dissented in part, saying the panel overreached in calling the bureau’s structure unconstitutional. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.


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