Beginning in January reverse mortgage lenders in California will be required to translate loan contracts into one of five foreign languages if the loan was negotiated in that language.
The five languages - Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese - make up 90% of the foreign ones spoken in the state, said state Sen. Joseph Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who sponsored the law requiring the translations.
The law, one of three borrower-protection measures Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed last month, will prohibit reverse mortgage lenders from taking an application or charging fees before a consumer has received independent counseling. It also will prohibit them from requiring borrowers to buy an annuity as part of the transaction.
Those two restrictions already apply to all federally insured reverse mortgages, which make up about 90% of the national market. The translation requirement is new.
"It's something that could take lenders a bit of time to get documents translated into other languages, so it is an inconvenience for lenders," said Bruce Morosco, the national production manager of the reverse mortgage division at 1st Metropolitan Mortgage Inc. "But it's one additional benefit for borrowers." The Charlotte net branch lender is a unit of Empire Equity Group Inc. of Montvale, N.J.
Peter H. Bell, the president of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, agreed that the translation provision would be the biggest change.
"Still, it's not unreasonable that if somebody does negotiate a transaction in a foreign language, that the documents be provided in the same language," he said.
Heidi Li, a co-director and lawyer at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a nonprofit group in Oakland, said the law might end up benefiting only some seniors.
"It's unknown what its practical effect is, but it's a first step in giving meaningful disclosure to non-English speakers so they understand in writing exactly what a reverse mortgage is," Ms. Li said.
Sen. Simitian worked closely with reverse mortgage lenders in drafting the legislation, he and Mr. Bell said. The lawmaker said he wanted to protect seniors who tap their home equity for retirement income.
"We don't want predatory lending issues around a product like a reverse mortgage, which can be a real lifesaver for a lot of folks who are house-rich and cash-poor," Sen. Simitian said. "That defines a lot of people in the San Francisco peninsula and throughout California."
The other two borrower-protection laws let regulators revoke the licenses of mortgage and real estate brokers who misrepresent their qualifications.
Lawmakers said the rapid increase in the number of brokers in California made the measures necessary.
Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, sponsored one of the measures, which will let the California Department of Real Estate suspend or revoke a license if agents misrepresent their experience in the industry or their affiliation with a state trade group.
Assemblyman, Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, introduced the other measure, which will give the same right to the state's Department of Corporations, which regulates mortgage brokers.
The California Mortgage Brokers Association and the California Association of Realtors supported the measures.