The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged a now-defunct California business for allegedly targeting Hispanic homeowners with illegal and discriminatory mortgage modification services.
HUD said that The House Lawyer, based in Redwood City, California, collected fees from Hispanic borrowers for loan modification services prior to completing the services, a violation of California law, while “encouraging them to withhold their mortgage payments, putting them at risk of foreclosure.” This constituted a violation of the Fair Housing Act, the agency said.
“For many families, homeownership represents the culmination of a dream, and the realization of that dream shouldn’t be put in jeopardy by unscrupulous actors and unlawful practices,” Jeanine Worden, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “Today’s action reaffirms HUD’s commitment to ensuring that no family is saddled with fraudulent mortgage products that threaten their ability to stay in their home because of their nationality.”
The case came to HUD’s attention in 2012 when multiple Hispanic homeowners filed complaints with HUD alleging that they had been the victims of a loan modification scam, HUD said. The complaint alleges that the homeowners heard about the loan modification service through ads on a Spanish-language radio station, which claimed that The House Lawyer helped hundreds of people successfully modify their mortgages.
When the homeowners contacted The House Lawyer, HUD claims its workers allegedly provided false statements about the “application requirements, procedures and standards for review for loan modification requests, and misrepresented that so long as the homeowners withheld their mortgage payments and remained in default, their banks would be compelled to modify their loan.”
The complaint alleges THL charged charged client fees of approximately $3,500, which were typically paid before they completed the work. In addition, they were charged a recurring monthly fee of $50, HUD said. When prospective clients didn’t qualify because they were current on their bills, HUD said THL advised them to stop paying their mortgage.
The House Lawyer appears to now be defunct. The complaint filed by HUD says Louis Liberty, a lawyer in Foster City, Calif., owned the mortgage modification business. Liberty’s real estate license was revoked in 2015. He now specializes in suing car dealerships for alleged fraud.
The agency also charged Barney Diamos, who allegedly was in charge of training and supervising staff, setting hours and rules for the company. He allegedly played a significant role in marketing THL’s services to the Hispanic community. He also owned a staffing company called Economy Administration, which provided staff to THL. He and his brother Joe Diamos now run a real estate development firm in Northern California, called Dream Team Real Estate Group.
In the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration, regulators are targeting alleged bad actors. Late last week, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau went after Nationwide Equities Corporation, a reverse mortgage company in New Jersey that allegedly sent deceptive loan advertisements to hundreds of thousands of older borrowers.