Lending law a wrench in home finances

Montgomery County residents in the process of buying, selling or refinancing a home are finding themselves in a tight spot as at least 50 mortgage lenders have pulled their services out of the county as a result of a discriminatory lending law scheduled to go into effect tomorrow.

Jonathan Turgel of Germantown was refinancing his home when he received a call from his mortgage broker Feb. 24 informing him that the prospective lending company, Credit Suisse, a Wall Street investment banking firm and wholesale lender, had stopped funding mortgages in the county effective that afternoon.

“I said, ‘Well, what’s going on?’ ” said Mr. Turgel, a 40-year-old business owner. Unfamiliar with the law, he did some research and soon was e-mailing County Council members.

“I’m not a person who’s in the bad credit, low credit or no credit category and it’s affecting me,” said Mr. Turgel, who has a strong credit rating of 785. “We were planning to refinance and take the kids to Disney World.”

Mr. Turgel said he is considering moving his wife and their seven children to Frederick County.

“God help you if you have to refinance your house right now. I don’t care if you have great credit — you’re not going to get the loan you could have gotten three weeks ago,” he said.

Mr. Turgel is one of dozens of homeowners, brokers, lenders and real estate agents calling on County Council members to repeal or revise the ordinance, said Brian Jones, spokesman for council member Michael Knapp, Germantown Democrat, who has called for the law to be repealed.

The ordinance, which was passed by a vote of 7-2 and bans discriminatory lending on the basis of national origin, race or sex, increases the maximum fine from $5,000 to $500,000. Mortgage lenders have limited or suspended their loan businesses in the county rather than risk being punished for violations such as “abusive prepayment penalties” or “excessive points and fees.”

Seven lenders, led by the American Financial Services Association, a D.C. trade group, are in court today to challenge the County Council’s authority to pass the law, which they say is having unintended consequences because it is too vague.

The hearing before Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason will decide whether to impose a preliminary injunction that would bar the law from going into effect tomorrow pending the outcome of a trial.

Supporters of the law, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is running for governor in the fall, consider it an added protection against lenders who discriminate. Lenders call the law unnecessary and say existing safeguards against discriminatory lending should be enforced more vigorously.

Montgomery County residents say they already have felt the effects of the ordinance.

Robert Carlisle, a 39-year-old defense contractor, was supposed to close on a refinancing Thursday when he received an e-mail from his broker notifying him that Honey Mae Home Loans, the underwriter, was ceasing its business in the county.

“She said unless we can close this loan by Monday, all loans by Honey Mae Home Loans are going to be canceled. I was so close,” said Mr. Carlisle, who for six months had been thinking about refinancing his Damascus home as a way to consolidate debt.

“With so many lenders pulling out, I don’t know who we’re going to find,” he said.

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