U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito/photo by Carmen Natale

New Jersey-based mortgage company PHH Mortgage Corp. entered into a $750,000 settlement agreement Wednesday with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve wrongful foreclosure claims by military service members.

The agreement was signed by Justin Walker, vice president, legal, on behalf of PHH. The settlement resolves allegations made in a lawsuit, United States v. PHH, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The complaint alleged that PHH violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by unlawfully foreclosing on active-duty service members’ homes without the required court orders.

The agreement requires PHH to pay $125,000 to each of the six servicemen and -women who lost their homes. The agreement also requires PHH to provide training to its staff to guard against similar incidents in the future.

The SCRA statute requires that service members may not be foreclosed on, during military service or for one year after, in connection with mortgage obligations that originated before that military service began unless there’s a court order or waiver, according to the suit.

“The brave men and women who serve in our nation’s armed forces frequently are required to deploy and serve overseas with little notice,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a news release Wednesday. “This Office remains resolute in its commitment to honor their personal sacrifices when they do so by ensuring that servicemembers’ rights will be protected, as the law requires, whenever duty calls.”

The settlement document notes that PHH “has cooperated fully” with investigators and “neither admits nor denies any wrongdoing.”

“We take our responsibilities to assist service members very seriously, and we regret whenever any customer experiences a hardship that could be avoided,” a spokesman for PHH said Thursday. “The Department of Justice (DOJ) reviewed PHH Mortgage Corp.’s (PHH) entire portfolio of non-judicial foreclosures from January 2010 to September 2018 and identified six potentially adversely affected service members where foreclosures all occurred prior to 2012. PHH fully cooperated with the investigation and voluntarily agreed to compensate the service members without admitting any wrong doing.”

The statement said settling the case “was in the best interest of these service members, and allows the company to move forward and avoid protracted litigation,” and said the Justice Department “reviewed PHH’s foreclosure policies and procedures and found them to be compliant with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.”

PHH Mortgage Corporation is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ocwen and continues to operate as the PHH Mortgage Corporation, the spokesman said.

 

The Justice Department news release also included a statement from Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Our men and women in uniform deserve to be able to focus on their job of keeping our country safe without worrying about losing their home to an unlawful foreclosure,” Dreiband said. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the rights of our servicemembers from unlawful conduct.”

The complaint described PHH as “a stand-alone mortgage company that originates, sells, services and subservices residential mortgage loans,” and one of the largest mortgage loan servicers in the country, with last reported annual sales of $456 million. The complaint said the service members had been ordered to report for duty when PHH foreclosed on their homes.

The settlement agreement releases litigation holds of documents related to the complaint and stipulates that litigation is no longer anticipated, provided the terms are met. The parties agreed that “upon any such claim of breach as made by the United States, the United States may move to restore” the lawsuit to the active docket. In such a case, PHH consented not to contest. And the Justice Department said it could bring a civil action for breach of agreement.