After letting title insurers who were allegedly using illegal incentives and inducements to win business off with a warning last year, Washington state regulators have fined two companies accused of continuing the practice $35,000.
Most of the fines levied against Ticor Title Insurance Co. and First American Title by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler were suspended on condition that there are no further violations of a state law that limits the use of rebates and incentives to $25 per person per year.
Ticor was fined $25,000 after regulators allegedly found the company spent more than $400 on holiday gifts, dinners and floral arrangements in December and January. But the company will pay only $5,000 unless future violations are found, with the remainder of the fines suspended.
The inducements allegedly provided by Ticor included four holiday gifts for real estate agents and lenders that cost $29 each, and one holiday gift for a Realtor that cost $31.95. The company is also accused of buying dinner for three people, two of whom were real estate agents or lenders, for $216.16, and of purchasing a floral arrangement for a real estate agent that cost $58.75.
First American Title was fined $10,000 — with $7,500 suspended on condition of no further violations — for alleged inducements that included providing free four-hour classes on the subject of escrow to 37 real estate agents. First American was also accused of offering 31 classes for $15 to $40 per person, but the fees did not take into account the cost of advertising the fees and hiring facilities and instructors, the insurance commissioner said in a report.
The fines followed a three-month investigation of Ticor, First American and Fidelity National Title, which was not cited. The action was a follow up to an investigation last year in which all 11 title insurers examined were alleged to have violated state law governing incentives and inducements. First American alone was accused of spending more than $120,000 a month on incentives and giveaways.
Kreidler decided not to penalize any of the companies at the time, instead warning that they would be subject to enforcement action if they continued such practices.
“I’m encouraged that our follow-up investigation has revealed a sharp decline in illegal spending by these three companies,” Kreidler said in a statement. He said the state will continue unannounced investigations “until the industry is fully complying.”