The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has announced an agreement with Fidelity National Financial Inc. (FNF) to settle allegations the title company paid real estate brokers and other settlement service providers improper kickbacks or referral fees in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). HUD claimed FNF and its affiliates and subsidiaries engaged in a widespread and years-long campaign to pay real estate brokers kickbacks for the referral of real estate settlement services, including home warranties and title insurance. FNF agreed to cease this practice and pay HUD $4.5 million to resolve the complaint.
“RESPA is very clear that paying fees or providing anything of value for the simple act of referring business is a violation of law,” said Acting FHA Commissioner Robert Ryan. “This agreement should be a signal to others that these business practices won’t be tolerated.”
HUD alleges that Fidelity National Financial Inc. (FNF), through its subsidiaries, paid fees for the referral of settlement service business in violation of Section 8 of RESPA. To facilitate these payments, real estate brokerages entered into “Application Service Provider Agreements” which provided the real estate brokerages access to TransactionPoint, a web-based platform that automates the real estate transaction from listing to closing. This online system also allows the brokers to select real estate settlement providers for a particular real estate transaction. The real estate brokerages, in turn, entered into Sub-License Agreements with subsidiaries of FNF to enable FNF’s subsidiaries to be listed in TransactionPoint as a provider of settlement services. As part of the Sub-Licensee Agreement, HUD alleges that FNF’s subsidiaries paid the real estate brokerages a fee for each referral of real estate settlement services.
RESPA was enacted in 1974 to provide consumers advance disclosures of settlement charges and to prohibit illegal kickbacks and excessive fees in the homebuying process. Section 8 of RESPA prohibits a person from giving or accepting anything of value in exchange for the referral of settlement service business.