The days of simply opening up shop and starting a loan modification business have come to an end in Florida. Individuals or businesses providing loan modification services must now be licensed as a mortgage broker by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) in order to conduct business.
The Florida legislature recently passed Senate Bill SB 2226. This law makes significant changes to Florida’s mortgage brokerage law – Chapter 494, Florida Statutes – effective January 1, 2010. In particular, the new law specifically covers negotiation of existing loans as being part of the duties of a mortgage broker. As such, any individual or business attempting to negotiate a loan mortgage modification in Florida will require a license through OFR. Additionally, there are new disclosures required in order to perform a loan modification – large type print on contracts and a three day rescission period are among a few of the changes.
The new law also requires “loan originators” to obtain a license. Prior to the amended law, there was a large loophole that allowed salaried employees of a mortgage broker to act as loan originators and still receive compensation for bringing a borrower and lender together. Although this section of the law phases in on October 1, 2010, hundreds of individuals have submitted applications to the OFR to become compliant.
The new law was sparked by hundreds of complaints filed with the state attorney general’s office in Tallahassee. While only 59 complaints were filed in 2008, the number skyrocketed to approximately 3,750 this year, according to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who recently appeared on the Credit Report with Bill Lewis on AM 1470 WWNN in south Florida.
In an effort to combat the rampant increase in foreclosure rescue scams within an industry previously unregulated, General McCollum sued three Miami-Dade County foreclosure rescue firms – and the attorneys who worked for them – alleging that they charged advance “qualifying payments” as high as $1,299 to perform loan modifications in violation of state law. Filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on December 17, 2009, the suit also claims the company required clients to set up escrow accounts for additional fees and deceived them by implying the money was for legal representation.
After receiving numerous complaints – the majority originating from consumers outside Florida – the attorney general began investigating Kirkland Young LLC in July, 2009. State regulators soon realized that the business was affiliated with ABK Consultants Inc. and Attorney Aid LLC, which were also named in the suit. Although located in Miami-Dade, the businesses solicited customers nationwide. The legal action seeks to shut down the three companies, a $10,000 fine for each violation of state law, as well as restitution for consumers scammed in the process. Although in receivership, Kirkland Young has also been sued by the Federal Trade Commission.
Through November 30, 2009 South Florida ranks fourth in the nation for home loan modifications, with 34,860 under President Barack Obama’s Making Home Affordable Program. Nationwide, 24 percent of the 3.3 million homes with distressed loans have been modified, according to a U.S. Department of the Treasury report. While the new law is not going to eliminate loan modification scams completely, it will make them more difficult. In the first half of 2009, the Miami-Dade County’s Mortgage Fraud Task Force was handling more than 200 cases of loan modification fraud. In 2008, the Miami-Dade field office of the FBI had the second-highest number of mortgage fraud reports in the country with 5,155 reported instances.