BOSTON — (RealEstateRama) — One of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers will pay $2 million in restitution to resolve allegations that it violated state law and committed unfair and deceptive practices by charging Massachusetts homeowners for unnecessary fees and overpriced force-placed insurance policies, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The consent judgment, entered in Suffolk Superior Court, settles a lawsuit filed by the AG’s Office in April 2017 against Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, which services tens of thousands of mortgages for Massachusetts homeowners.
“Keeping families in their homes remains a top priority for my office,” said AG Healey. “This settlement will provide relief to thousands of Massachusetts homeowners harmed by abusive and unfair mortgage servicing practices.”
The AG’s complaint alleged that Ocwen committed widespread mortgage servicing violations that increased Massachusetts borrowers’ mortgage and insurance expenses, exposed borrowers to serious risk through insurance lapses, and contributed to loan delinquencies and foreclosures. When borrowers requested information about or disputed errors on their loan accounts, Ocwen failed to respond to the requests as required by law. According to the complaint, Ocwen’s violations include:
- Unnecessary flood insurance: Ocwen force-placed borrowers in expensive flood insurance policies for time periods when properties were not in special hazard flood area and did not require flood insurance. The force-placed policies carried high deductibles and did not provide critical liability and personal property coverage to borrowers.
- Improperly administering insurance premiums: Ocwen forced borrowers to pay their insurance premiums into an escrow account and then failed to disburse these escrowed insurance premiums to insurers, causing borrowers’ insurance policies to lapse and leaving them exposed to serious gaps in insurance coverage.
- Charging inflated and duplicative fees: Ocwen took advantage of struggling borrowers by charging duplicative and unnecessary pre-foreclosure property inspection and preservation fees for grass cuts, landscaping, and title review. In some cases, Ocwen conducted three property inspections in the same month and ordered several grass cuts within the same week, then passed the costs on to the borrower.
- Failing to respond to borrower disputes and requests for information:Ocwen failed to provide timely and adequate responses to borrowers’ requests for information, complaints, and notices of error, causing problems to go unaddressed.
Under the terms of the consent judgment, Ocwen will pay $2 million in restitution including direct cash refunds and account credits. Ocwen will send notifications to 4,000 borrowers who may be eligible to receive a loan modification and has also agreed to halt foreclosure proceedings for certain homeowners to allow them time to apply for the loan modification. Ocwen will also pay three times the damages for borrowers for whom the company wrongfully failed to disburse escrowed insurance premiums and reimburse borrowers who were unnecessarily charged for flood insurance policies. Finally, Ocwen will implement new policies relating to the handling of customer complaints.
The AG’s Office has been a national leader in securing restitution and other relief for borrowers from banks and servicers. The office has obtained recoveries and other relief from Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Countrywide, Fremont Investment & Loan, Option One, Ditech, HSBC, PHH, Nationstar, Shellpoint and others on behalf of Massachusetts homeowners.
The AG’s Office has also brought a string of force-placed insurance cases and obtained over $12 million in related recoveries under settlements with HSBC, American Security Insurance Company (Assurant), and QBE Insurance.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Michael Lecaroz and Sarah Petrie, and Deputy Division Chief Shennan Kavanagh, all of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division; and Assistant Attorney General Tim Hoitink and Deputy Director Arwen Thoman of the AG’s Insurance and Financial Services Division.