Charge alleges that service preyed on Hispanic homeowners trying to save their homes from foreclosure
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging owners and employees of a business known as The House Lawyer (THL), which operated in Redwood City, California, with violating the Fair Housing Act by targeting Hispanic homeowners with illegal and unfair mortgage modification services. HUD’s charge alleges, among other things, that the company collected fees from Hispanic borrowers for loan modification services prior to the completion of those services, in violation of California law, while encouraging them to withhold their mortgage payments, putting them at risk of foreclosure. Read HUD’s charge.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people because of their national origin, including in residential real estate-related transactions. This includes selling unfair or fraudulent loan products that target certain individuals because of their national origin.
“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,” said Jeanine Worden, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “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 Fair Housing Act protects homeowners who reach out for assistance in times of need from predatory practices that instead increase the likelihood that the homeowners will lose their home,” said Damon Smith, HUD’s Principal Deputy General Counsel. “HUD is working to protect homeowners from discriminatory schemes like this.”
The case came to HUD’s attention when multiple Hispanic homeowners filed complaints with HUD alleging that they had been the victims of a loan modification scam. The charge alleges that the homeowners initially learned about the loan modification service through advertisements on a Spanish-language radio station which claimed that THL helped hundreds of people successfully modify their mortgages. When the homeowners contacted THL, THL agents allegedly provided inaccurate information 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.
HUD’s charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party elects for the case to be heard in federal court. If the administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, the judge may award damages to the complainants for losses that have resulted from the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose civil penalties to vindicate the public interest.
People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 877-8339 (Relay). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to hud.gov/fairhousing.
HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at www.hud.gov and http://espanol.hud.gov.