Banks v. Cities

The Supreme Court issued a decision in Bank of America Corp. v. Miami, 581 U.S. __ (2017). The decision was a mixed result for the parties.  On the one hand, the Court ruled that a municipality could sue financial institutions for violations of the Fair Housing Act arising from predatory lending. Miami alleged that the banks’ predatory lending led to a disproportionate increase in foreclosures and vacancies which decreased property tax revenues and increased the demand for municipal services. On the other hand, the Court held that Miami had not shown that the banks’ actions were directly related to injuries asserted by Miami. As a result, the Court remanded the case to the Eleventh Circuit to determine whether that in fact was the case. This case could have big consequences for how lenders and others and other big players in the housing industry develop their business plans.

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the banks’ activities of the banks that Miami alleged they engaged in during the early 2000s. It is important to remember the kinds of problems that communities faced before the financial crisis and before the Dodd-Frank Act authorized the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As President Trump and Chairman Hensarling (R-TX) of the House Financial Services Committee continue their assault on consumer protection regulation, we should understand the Wild West environment that preceded our current regulatory environment. Miami’s complaints charge that

the Banks discriminatorily imposed more onerous, and indeed “predatory,” conditions on loans made to minority borrowers than to similarly situated nonminority borrowers. Those “predatory” practices included, among others, excessively high interest rates, unjustified fees, teaser low-rate loans that overstated refinancing opportunities, large prepayment penalties, and—when default loomed—unjustified refusals to refinance or modify the loans. Due to the discriminatory nature of the Banks’ practices, default and foreclosure rates among minority borrowers were higher than among otherwise similar white borrowers and were concentrated in minority neighborhoods. Higher foreclosure rates lowered property values and diminished property-tax revenue. Higher foreclosure rates—especially when accompanied by vacancies—also increased demand for municipal services, such as police, fire, and building and code enforcement services, all needed “to remedy blight and unsafe and dangerous conditions” that the foreclosures and vacancies generate. The complaints describe statistical analyses that trace the City’s financial losses to the Banks’ discriminatory practices. (3-4, citations omitted)

Excessively high interest rates, unjustified fees, teaser interest rates and large prepayment penalties were all hallmarks of the subprime mortgage market in the early 2000s. The Supreme Court has ruled that such activities may arise to violations of the Fair Housing Act when they are targeted at minority communities.

Dodd-Frank has barred many such loan terms from a large swath of the mortgage market through its Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules. Trump and Hensarling want to bring those loan terms back to the mortgage market in the name of lifting regulatory burdens from financial institutions.

What’s worse, the  burden of regulation on the banks or the burden of predatory lending on the borrowers? I’d go with the latter.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

  • New York federal judge dismisses suit against Bank of America Corp. over “hustle” high-speed mortgage approval process for allegedly defrauding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • Midtown TDR Ventures LLC and Midtown GCT Ventures LLC, real estate developers that currently own Grand Central Terminal, file a complaint against the City of New York and SL Green, another developer, claiming that they were robbed of potential profits from air rights when the City and SL Green worked to rezone the area in which Grand Central sits and devalued the property.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

FHFA’s $500MM Win

Bloomberg quoted me in Nomura, RBS Defective-Bond Suit Loss Seen Spurring Deals. It reads, in part,

Nomura Holdings Inc. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc may face $500 million in damages for what a judge called an “enormous” deception in the sale of defective mortgage-backed securities, a ruling that may spur other banks to settle similar claims tied to the 2008 financial crisis.

Nomura and RBS were excoriated in a 361-page opinion by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan, whose ruling followed the first trial of claims that banks sold flawed securities to government-owned mortgage companies. After a three-week trial, Cote said they misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and set a damages formula that may result in the government winning about half its original claim of $1 billion.

“The offering documents did not correctly describe the mortgage loans,” Cote, who heard the case without a jury, wrote Monday. “The magnitude of falsity, conservatively measured, is enormous.”

Before the trial, FHFA had reached $17.9 billion in settlements with other banks, including Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The ruling against Nomura and RBS may encourage other banks to settle mortgage-related suits brought by regulators and private investors rather than face the bad publicity and cost of an adverse judgment, said Robert C. Hockett, a professor at Cornell Law School.

“They look pretty bad,” Hockett said in an interview. “They look like the strategy has blown up in their faces.”

Cote ordered the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which filed the case, to propose how much the banks should pay as a result of her ruling.

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Cote rejected the banks’ claim that the housing crash, and not defects in the loans, was responsible for the collapse of the mortgage-backed securities.

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, called Cote’s ruling “incredibly thorough.” The judge included detailed factual rulings that may make it difficult for Nomura and RBS to win on appeal, he said.