Kickbacks, Fee Splitting, and Website Compliance?  Oh My!  RESPA Section 8

By Leora Ruzin

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) Section 8 is a crucial regulatory provision designed to safeguard consumers in real estate transactions, particularly concerning mortgage lending. Enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), RESPA Section 8 prohibits certain practices that could lead to unfair advantages or steering consumers towards specific services, often involving kickbacks and referral fees. While RESPA Section 8 primarily targets relationships between settlement service providers, its implications extend to how mortgage companies and financial institutions construct and maintain their online presence. 

Understanding RESPA Section 8 requires recognizing its core focus: preventing actions that could compromise consumers' interests in mortgage transactions. The regulation specifically addresses prohibited practices such as giving or receiving kickbacks, fee splitting, or any form of unearned fees for referrals among settlement service providers. This means that mortgage lenders, brokers, and other related entities must operate transparently and avoid any arrangements that could influence or manipulate consumers' choices in securing a mortgage. 

In the digital era, where websites are pivotal platforms for customer engagement, compliance with RESPA Section 8 has become increasingly crucial for mortgage companies. Websites are powerful tools for marketing mortgage products, disseminating information, and attracting potential customers. However, maintaining compliance with RESPA Section 8 on these platforms demands careful consideration. 

Firstly, mortgage companies must ensure that their websites do not engage in practices construed as steering or favoring certain service providers over others. Clear disclosures and unbiased information must be provided, avoiding any content that could imply preferential treatment for particular settlement service providers or lead to potential conflicts of interest. 

Transparency is key. Websites must prominently disclose any affiliations, partnerships, or compensation arrangements with third-party service providers. For instance, if a mortgage company partners with a title insurance company and provides a link to their services, it must be clearly stated that this is a partnership and not an exclusive recommendation. 

Additionally, the language used on these websites must be carefully crafted to avoid any potential misinterpretation or suggestion of steering consumers towards specific services. Statements should focus on providing information rather than influencing choices, ensuring that consumers are empowered to make informed decisions without undue influence. 

Moreover, the digital landscape is ever-evolving, and mortgage companies must regularly review and update their websites to maintain compliance with RESPA Section 8. As new technologies emerge and consumer behaviors shift, companies must adapt their online strategies while ensuring adherence to regulatory requirements. 

Beyond website content, the technical aspects of website construction also play a role in compliance. Ensuring accessibility for individuals with disabilities is good practice and aligns with regulatory guidelines. Mortgage companies must ensure their websites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards to provide equal access to all users. 

RESPA Section 8 significantly impacts how mortgage companies and financial institutions build and maintain their websites. Compliance involves transparent and unbiased content and ongoing monitoring and adaptation to stay aligned with evolving regulatory standards. By prioritizing transparency, providing unbiased information, and ensuring accessibility, mortgage companies can navigate RESPA Section 8 while delivering valuable services to consumers in the digital realm. 

 From the ActiveComply Team

ActiveComply's WebCompass™ is a new product focused on website compliance for financial institutions.  With WebCompass™ you can find brand mentions and risks within and beyond your company sites and across the web.  Additionally, you can benefit from recommended rule books with the flexibility to customize for your brand needs.

Monitoring is made easy with periodic scans to identify new risks on your corporate and employee-customized websites. You can easily identify webpages with low accessibility scoring to improve the user experience and meet compliance standards. And lastly, you can see previous scans for streamlined reporting and regulatory examinations.   Demo WebCompass™ today.