Four of the nation's leading mortgage servicers have not complied fully with new standards for handling home loans and must correct the problems or potentially face fines, the government said Wednesday.
The threat followed a review of the companies' dealings with homeowners in recent months by a monitor supervising the servicers' compliance with a $25 billion settlement with federal and state regulators last year.
That monitor, Joseph Smith, issued his first major report Wednesday on how well the companies - Bank of America, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and ResCap Partners (formerly Ally/GMAC) - are complying with 304 servicing standards meant to protect consumers.
The monitor tested the banks on more than a dozen standards. Only ResCap Partners passed all of them, the report says.
Bank of America failed in two areas, including loan-modification document collection, which Wells Fargo also failed. Chase struggled with loan-modification decisions.
"This report provides the public with a new and transparent look into how banks are treating homeowners," said Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Donovan said the servicers have improved their performance since the new standards took hold. They no longer sign off on foreclosure paperwork with little or no review or charge distressed borrowers a fee to process a loan-modification request.
However, the companies "consistently fail" to send notices and communicate decisions to stakeholders in a timely manner, Donovan says.
Earlier this year, the New York attorney general threatened to sue BofA and Wells Fargo for similar deficiencies.
"There is still work to be done," Smith said.
Between October of last year and March 31, his office had received almost 60,000 complaints regarding the servicers.
Of those, the biggest number, almost 19,000, had to do with the single point of contact that banks are supposed to provide to distressed borrowers. They're often unresponsive or difficult to reach, the complaints indicate.
Chase and Wells Fargo say they've corrected issues. BofA says it has fixed one area and is working to correct the other.
Smith's oversight springs from a 2012 agreement between the servicers, federal agencies and 49 state attorneys general to address mortgage servicing and foreclosure abuses. The agreement is known as the National Mortgage Settlement.
Consumer advocates say it is encouraging that the review documented non-compliance but that more was probably missed.
"It's hard to square a relatively small number of fails with ... the feeling on the ground of widespread non-compliance," says Kevin Stein, associate director of the non-profit California Reinvestment Coalition.
Part of the disconnect may be in how the servicers' performance is checked, Smith says. For instance, so far he's only checked to see if they've established a single point of contact - not how well their system works. That'll be looked at more deeply in future reviews, he says.
If servicers do not correct problems, they could face fines up to $5 million for each continuing failure.