Assemblymember Cahill Holds Public Hearing to Examine State Rules on Title Insurance

Efforts to protect consumer costs while allowing insurers, agents and closers the ability to succeed and grow their businesses here in New York State
January 12, 2018

Albany, NY – Today, the New York State Assembly’s Insurance Committee, chaired by Assemblymember Cahill, engaged with stakeholders to review whether recent rules adopted by the Department of Financial Services (DFS) in October 2017 strike the balance necessary to protect homebuyers from exorbitant costs while providing a healthy and competitive marketplace for the Title Insurance industry. Assemblymember Cahill was joined by the Ranking Minority Member of the Assembly Insurance Committee William Barclay (R,C,I,Ref-Pulaski), and committee members Pamela Hunter (D-Syracuse), James Skoufis (D-Woodbury), and Phil Steck (D-Colonie) who took turns asking questions to a wide array of panelists relating to the final rules and their potential impact on consumers, insurers, agents, title closers and more.

Representatives who testified at the hearing included Maria Vullo, Superintendent of DFS. The Consumer Protection panel included Kathy Wylde, Executive Director of the Partnership for New York City, Chuck Bell, Program Director of the Consumers Union and Russ Haven, General Counsel of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Members of the Insurer panel included Randal Scott, Senior Vice President of the Eastern Region for First American, Steven Day, Senior Vice President with Fidelity National Title Group and John Frates, General Counsel with Stewart Title. An Agents and Independent Title Closer panel included Richard Estrella, President of New York State Land Title Association, Dennis Mastascusa, President of National Abstract, DeAnna Stancanelli, Vice President of National Granite Title Insurance Agency and Jim Hunter, an independent title closer and owner of Dolphin Closing Services, LLC. Madeline Nagy, the Executive Director and the Title Insurance Rate Service Association (TIRSA) represented the final panel.

When asked about the hearing’s purpose, Assemblymember Cahill explained that “Title Insurance remains a widely unclear concept to many New Yorkers. While it is immensely important during a real estate transaction to have a clean title, many homebuyers are confused about the coasts and risks associated with these services. Homebuyers may not know what they are actually paying for.

It proved tremendously helpful that the Committee heard directly from Superintendent Vullo who finalized the measures aimed at regulating the industry. Consumer protection advocates also shed light on their concerns and outlined previous actions by the Title Industry they believe were damaging to consumers. TIRSA explained its function as a statistical agent of DFS and how its work with the industry results in data being shared with DFS, who then approves or rejects changes to the rates.

On the other side of the issue, there are many members in the title insurance industry who argue that these rules have gone too far and will impede companies, especially small businesses, who already struggle to cover costs. The testimony brought by the insurers and agents provided real life experience as to how the industry operates. The Legislature benefited from hearing about particular costs and fees in light of how title searches are actually conducted and how closings take place. “The reality is that it won’t do anyone any good if agents or independent title closers, who often work on a contract basis without a salary, cannot be paid a fair amount that covers their services.” Assemblymember Cahill stated.

“I thank all of today’s panelists who traveled to attend this hearing and share their thoughts on DFS’ rules. In particular, I am grateful to Superintendent Vullo for offering great insight into how DFS is approaching the concerns and questions the Assemblymembers shared with her. As a result, the hearing allowed us to open this issue up and take a close look at all the moving parts involved. Ultimately, the Committee will review today’s hearing to determine whether legislative intervention is needed on this topic. Today is by far not the end of this issue, instead, it guides us as we proceed to assure an affordable, reliable and stable title insurance industry,” concluded Mr. Cahill.