Fair and equal access to housing, lending and credit are critical to a stable home and work life, successful business and financial security. The law protects you against discrimination and unfair practices in the housing, lending and credit markets, and M&S Lawyers in Washington DC are committed to protecting those rights.
Guided by the expertise of M&S principal attorneys, Steve Skalet and Cyrus Mehri, who each bring their own specialized litigation experience, M&S represents clients in cases involving real estate, lending and debt collection practices. Our practice also offers representation in related areas such as homeowner’s insurance and life and auto insurance.
In the class action context, the firm handles cases under the Fair Housing Act, Truth in Lending Act, Real Estate Settlement Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Equal Credit Opportunity Act and other federal and state civil rights and consumer protection statutes.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal statute with broad application that prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status. The FHA covers most housing and residential real estate transactions including, for example, rentals and sales of homes, apartments, condominiums, group homes, residential hotels, mobile homes and senior care facilities. It prohibits intentional discrimination and, without regard to intent, practices that have the effect of discriminating.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits a creditor or lender from discriminating on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status or because of receipt of public assistance.
The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) requires lenders to give borrowers accurate information about a proposed loan, so that the borrower can accurately assess the cost of credit and compare different loan proposals. The Act has many disclosure protections, and also affords a borrower the right to rescind a loan transaction in certain situations. Often, TILA is used to defend against a lender who is foreclosing (or collecting) on a predatory loan. A successful plaintiff or class may recover actual damages, statutory penalties, punitive damages and costs and attorney’s fees.
The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) was enacted to help consumers understand the costs of financing a home and be better able to shop for such services. RESPA requires that borrowers be provided disclosures at various times in the settlement process, such as the Good Faith Estimate and the HUD-1 Form, and establishes requirements for lenders and servicers with respect to escrow account practices and business relationships between providers of settlement services.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted to protect consumers from abuses by collection agencies and other debt collectors who harass and intimidate consumers. The Act has very strong protections for consumers, and is particularly well-suited to class action treatment since the offensive actions are often standard practices used against a large number of debtors.
There are many technical requirements that debt collectors must follow under the FDCPA, including limiting contacts with the debtor, giving the debtor notice that the contact is an effort to collect a debt, that information obtained may be used against the debtor and, most importantly, allowing the debtor to request and obtain verification of the claimed debt and an opportunity to dispute the creditor’s records. Very serious sanctions may be imposed on debt collectors who violate the Act.
M&S also advocates for tenants’ rights. We have been lead counsel in a series of cases in the District of Columbia fighting to protect and preserve tenants’ rights of first refusal whenever a residential apartment building is sold. Where appropriate, we seek innovative ways to preserve affordable housing.
M&S Weighs in on Lending Policy. Read Mehri & Skalet’s comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on new mortgage loan disclosure forms.