Fremont Investment & Loan and its California-based parent, Fremont General Corporation, have settled predatory lending allegations in Massachusetts. To resolve the Commonwealth's lawsuit against it, Fremont has agreed to pay the state $10 million in consumer relief, civil penalties and costs.
Fremont has also agreed not to foreclose upon unfair loans without certain protections for borrowers or originate unfair loans in Massachusetts. Those protections against foreclosure, which have been in place since the Superior Court issued a Preliminary Injunction in March 2008 are now permanent and also apply to the loan holders and servicers who acquired the Fremont loans since the injunction issued.
"The American dream of homeownership has turned into a nightmare for many borrowers because of predatory lending practices. We have vigorously sought to hold companies accountable for these practices, and today we have taken another important step toward achieving that goal." said Massachusetts Attorney General Coakley. "With the $10 million we have obtained through this settlement, we have an opportunity to provide consumers and the Commonwealth with additional relief from the predatory lending practices that have besieged our state and nation. We will continue to hold companies responsible for their role in the foreclosure crisis."
Under the terms of the settlement, Fremont has agreed to pay the Commonwealth $10 million, including $8 million in consumer relief, $1 million in civil penalties, and $1 million in costs, including attorneys' fees. The consumer relief funds will be used to redress the negative impact of mortgage foreclosures, predatory lending practices, and to provide relief to Massachusetts borrowers.
Additionally, the settlement makes permanent the terms of the preliminary injunction granted in February 2008. In that preliminary injunction, the Superior Court held that certain Fremont loans were "presumptively unfair" because by their very termsshort term interest rates followed by payment shock, plus high loan-to-value and high debt-to-income ratioswere likely to lead to default and foreclosure.
For those loans, the court established a notice and objection process before Fremont or its assignees or servicers could initiate foreclosures. Under this process the Attorney General's Office receives:
30 days advance notice for loans that are either (1) "not presumptively unfair"; (2) vacant; or (3) not the borrowers' primary residence.
45 days advance notice for loans that are "presumptively unfair."
If the Attorney General's Office objects after initial notice then the parties have 15 days to resolve their dispute. If the dispute remains then Fremont must seek court approval to foreclose. After the notice and objection process, Fremont may only proceed with a foreclosure to which the Attorney General objects if Fremont requests and receives approval from the Superior Court. In considering whether to allow the foreclosure, the court will consider, among other factors, whether the loan is unfair and whether Fremont has taken reasonable steps to work out the loan and avoid foreclosure. Fremont also agreed not to originate unfair loans.
The Attorney General's Office filed suit on October 5, 2007, in Suffolk Superior Court against Fremont and its parent company, Fremont General Corporation based on the defendants' unfair and deceptive loan origination and sales conduct. The complaint specifically alleges that the company was selling risky loan products that it knew was designed to fail, such as 100% financing loans and "no documentation" loans. The complaint further alleged that the company sold these loans through third party brokers and provided financial incentives to these brokers to sell high cost products.
As a result of the lawsuit, up to 2,200 Fremont-originated loans have been protected from unrestricted foreclosures, because the preliminary injunction allowed foreclosures to proceed only after the underlying loan was analyzed for unfair, ultra-risky loan criteria. Although Fremont originated about 15,000 loans in Massachusetts from 2004 through 2007, only 2,200 of those loans remained "live" when the lawsuit commenced. Even though most of the 2,200 loans had been transferred to new holders and servicers, the Superior Courts preliminary injunction required that those holders also were restricted by the court's order.