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Mortgage Servicer Liable for Its Attorney’s Payoff Statement

Earlier this summer we explained here that the Third Circuit’s decision in Kaymark spelled Fair Debt Collection Practices Act trouble for mortgage lenders and servicers who make statements seeking to recover estimated fees and costs. We examined these risks in a recent webinar as well. In Beard v. Ocwen, a federal district court, citing Kaymark, recently held a mortgage servicer liable under the FDCPA for a reinstatement letter made by its foreclosure counsel, which included fees and costs that had not been incurred.

Word Placement Matters When Describing ‘Anticipated’ Fees

Jaynie Beard defaulted on her mortgage loan. Following the default, the mortgage loan’s servicing was transferred to Ocwen Loan Servicing. At some point, the decision does not tell us exactly when, a foreclosure action was started. Beard, through counsel, requested the amount needed to reinstate her mortgage. Foreclosure counsel sent Beard’s attorney a letter that included the following statement: “REINSTATEMENT AMOUNT ANTICIPATED GOOD THROUGH 9/20/2013” and then went on to list attorneys fees and costs that had not actually been incurred.

Beard sued the mortgage servicer and foreclosure attorney alleging that the reinstatement letter’s demand for payment of unincurred fees and costs was false and deceptive in violation of FDCPA § 1692(e)(2), (e)(10) and sought to collect amounts not authorized by any agreement or law in violation of FDCPA § 1692 f(1).

The Court began by noting Kaymark applied the FDCPA’s “least sophisticated consumer” standard to communications even when they are transmitted to a consumer’s attorney. Using this standard, it concluded that when such a consumer read the reinstatement letter she would not understand that the fees and costs had not been incurred. First, because the word “anticipated” was not placed next to each fee and cost that had not been incurred. And second, because “anticipated” was placed immediately prior to “good through 9/20/2013” which “speaks to the date that payment was due, not the amount of the fees.”

In an earlier decision involving the same foreclosure counsel, the Court noted a similar communication escaped FDCPA liability because “the word anticipated was written in parentheses next to each and every unincurred fee — six times in total.”

Our Webinar Explores the Use and Misuse of Anticipated Fees

Providing statements of the amount due or of the amount required to cure a default – such as in Notices of Intention to Foreclose, periodic statements, and the like — is risky for mortgage servicers under the Kaymark decision. And as we predicted earlier this year, Kaymark impacts how a mortgage servicer can include unincurred fees and costs in its communications with defaulted borrowers, at least in the Third Circuit (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands).

Now available is a rebroadcast of our popular July 9, 2015 presentation, in which we examine Kaymark and its implications for the mortgage industry. Joining me for this presentation are Maurice Wutscher attorneys Ernest Wagner and Patrick Tira.

register now

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Donald Maurice provides counsel to the financial services industry, successfully litigating matters in the state and federal courts in individual and class actions. He has successfully argued before the Third, Fourth and Eighth Circuit U.S. Courts of Appeals, and has represented the financial services industry before several courts including as counsel for amicus curiae before the United States Supreme Court. He counsels clients in regulatory actions before the CFPB, and other federal and state regulators and in the development and testing of debt collection compliance systems. Don is peer-rated AV by Martindale-Hubbell, the worldwide guide to lawyers. In addition to being a frequent speaker and author on consumer financial services law, he serves as outside counsel to RMA International, on the governing Board of Regents of the American College of Consumer Financial Services Lawyers and on the Governing Committee of the Conference on Consumer Finance Law. From 2014 to 2017, he chaired the ABA's Bankruptcy and Debt Collection Subcommittee. For more information, see https://mauricewutscher.com/attorneys/donald-maurice/

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