A large class-action lawsuit recently certified against Maryland’s Creig Northrop Real Estate Team serves as an excellent reminder of the consumer protections afforded to home buyers and home sellers under the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA).
RESPA, enacted by Congress in 1974, is designed to protect consumers from unscrupulous practices in the real estate industry. Its chief purpose is to help consumers become better shoppers for real estate settlement services and to eliminate kickbacks and referral fees that unnecessarily increase the costs of closing a transaction.
Among other things, the act prohibits kickbacks between lenders and third-party settlement agents in the settlement process.
The lawsuit, filed in 2013, alleges that The Creig Northrop Team P.C. and others received more than $500,000 in illegal kickbacks from Lakeview Title Co. Inc. over a period of years. The class certified by the court in January includes all purchasers who engaged the services of The Creig Northrop Team and a defendant title insurance company from Jan. 1, 2008, until the present.
The number of home buyers and home sellers included in the class of plaintiffs is potentially huge. The Creig Northrop Team P.C. is affiliated with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., and was ranked second in the country last year and first in 2012 in the amount of real estate transaction volume handled.
Under RESPA, service providers in a real estate transaction must provide a variety of disclosures to their clients. (See http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/housing/rmra/res/respamor#HD) Certain disclosures must be made at the time of loan application, before settlement occurs, at settlement and after settlement.
Also important for home buyers and home sellers is the Affiliated Business Arrangement Disclosure. This disclosure is required whenever a settlement service provider involved in a RESPA-covered transaction refers the client to a provider with whom the referring party has an ownership or other beneficial interest.
The referring party must give this disclosure to the client at or prior to the time of referral. The disclosure must describe the business arrangement that exists between the two providers and give the borrower an estimate of the second provider’s charges.
Except in cases where a lender refers a borrower to an attorney, credit reporting agency or real estate appraiser to represent the lender’s interest in the transaction, the referring party may not require the consumer to use the particular provider being referred.
For more information on the case (Patrick Baehr et al. v. The Creig Northrop Team P.C. et al.)), see http://www.inman.com/2014/02/25/top-producing-long-foster-team-facing-class-action-respa-suit-over-alleged-kickbacks-to-title-insurance-agency/
Jerry Kline is a Realtor with the Odenton, Md., office of Keller Williams Flagship Realty (1216 Annapolis Rd., Odenton.) For more information on the local real estate market, contact him at (443) 924-7418, or visit his blog (www.JerryKlineRealtor.wordpress.com) or website (www.JerryKline.kwrealty.com).