This article was written by Lemberg Law staff, and reviewed by Sergei Lemberg, the managing attorney of Lemberg Law.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a debt collector is allowed to come to your house – unless you’ve told them that it’s inconvenient for them to do so. If a debt collector does come to your house, the FDCPA prohibits them from harassing you or using abusive language.
It’s understandable that folks with debts in collection may be fearful that a debt collector will come to their house. Stories abound about repo men showing up at all hours and about mobsters making physical threats to people who owe money. It’s important, though, to separate fact from fiction.
What law protects me from debt collectors?
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act governs the behavior of debt collectors. If a debt collector comes to your house, there are four prohibitions that you should be aware of:
- No threats of violence.
- No harassing conduct.
- No use of obscenities or profanities.
- No showing up before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
The FDCPA (15 U.S.C. 1692d) makes it clear that debt collectors cannot use obscenities and cannot harass you. The courts have backed that up. In Horkey v. J.V.D.B. & Associates, the debt collector called Ms. Horkey’s place of employment and told her coworker, “Tell Amanda to quit being such a [expletive] [expletive].” The court ruled that the debt collector had violated the FDCPA.
Similarly, 15 U.S.C. 1692c(a) says that debt collectors can’t contact you at a time or place they know to be inconvenient, and that they can’t contact you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. in your time zone. This means that, if a debt collector comes to your house, you can tell them that it’s not convenient for them to do so, and then they must stop. In the Horkey case, Ms. Horkey told the debt collector that it wasn’t convenient for him to call her at work, yet he did so anyway. An appellate court found that this was a violation of the FDCPA.
Do debt collectors really come to people’s houses?
The debt collection industry is both massive and highly automated. Debt collection agencies typically work on commission, and are interested in collecting the most money possible for the least amount of effort. They employ autodialers to robocall consumers and use automation to send out series of debt collection letters.
While debt collectors consistently attempt to speak to consumers over the phone, it generally isn’t worth the time and effort to visit consumers in their homes. One exception, however, might be small, local debt collection agencies.
What happens if a debt collector breaks the law?
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA when they come to your house, then the law gives you the right to sue the debt collection agency. If you win the lawsuit, then the debt collection agency has to pay your court costs and attorney fees, as well as statutory damages of up to $1,000.
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Horkey v. J.V.D.B. & Associates, Inc., 333 F.3d 769, 773 (7th Cir.2003)