Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray told a House committee Thursday that mortgage lenders would still not be safe if the bureau elects to grant a safe harbor provision to the upcoming Qualified Mortgage rule.
"The safe harbor versus rebuttable presumption is a mirage," Cordray said. "Even safe harbor isn't safe. You can always be sued for whether you meet the criteria or not to get into the safe harbor. It's a bit of a marketing concept there. The more important point is are we drawing bright lines? If someone were to say to me safe harbor or anything else, I would go with a safe harbor. But I don't think safe harbor is truly safe. And I think it oversimplifies the issue."
Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. then right away pressed Cordray on which he would choose: a safe harbor or rebuttable presumption. The director was forced to remind him the rule was still under development and would be finalized in January.
"I have not taken a position. I have discussed the issue," Cordray said.
Mortgage industry lobbyists have been pressing the bureau since it overtook QM rulemaking responsibility from the Federal Reserve last year to install "clear, bright lines" and a legal safe harbor that protects lenders from future homeowner suits during foreclosure.
A rebuttable presumption provision allows homeowners to introduce evidence in court challenging whether the lender correctly determined a borrower's ability to repay the loan before it was written. But a safe harbor allows a simple test for a judge to find if the mortgage met the QM rule, and frivolous suits could be dismissed early.
The Mortgage Bankers Association even showed the CFPB that attorney fees go up to an average $84,000 for a summary judgment from $26,000 if it's dismissed. The risk of this increased cost would be passed on to borrowers, they claim.
Some consumer advocacy groups previously said such suits are rare, and a safe harbor could clear lenders from risks down the road rule makers cannot anticipate now.
Cordray repeatedly said in the hearing Thursday that his goal on QM and upcoming rules for the mortgage market is to protect consumers but not cut off access to credit. Forcing courts to define areas left gray by regulators is not something he would permit.
"As a former attorney general in Ohio, gray areas of the law are not appreciated," Cordray said. "They're difficult for people trying to comply. If we write rules that are murky, they'll end up getting resolved in courts and it will take years and be very expensive. We are making real efforts to draw very bright lines."