This article was written by Lemberg Law staff, and reviewed by Sergei Lemberg, the managing attorney of Lemberg Law.
Yes , a debt collector can knock on your door. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits a debt collector from contacting you at a time or place known to be inconvenient. The FDCPA also protects you from debt collector harassment and abuse.
Today’s debt collection industry is big business. As such, debt collection agencies employ a variety of technologies to collect outstanding debts. These include computer-generated form letters that arrive in your mailbox and automated dialers that robocall your home phone or cell phone. If you answer the phone, then you’re transferred to a live debt collector and get to speak to a real person. The chances of a debt collector coming to your home are small.
How does the law protect me from debt collection visits?
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) regulates debt collection tactics and activities. There are four parts that are especially applicable to the scenario of a debt collector knocking on your door. These prohibit:
- Contact before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
- Threats of violence.
- Use of obscene or profane language.
- Harassing conduct.
One provision of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. 1692c(a), prohibits debt collectors from contacting you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., or at any time or place that they know (or should know) is inconvenient. For example, if you’ve told a debt collector on the phone that it’s inconvenient to come to your home, they must respect that. In Horkey vs. J.V.D.B. & Associates, Ms. Horkey told a debt collector that she could not talk to him at work, yet the debt collector continued to call. The appellate court overruled a lower court, saying that the debt collection agency had violated the FDCPA.
If a debt collector does show up at your door, the FDCPA also protects you from harassment and abuse. The provisions outlined in 15 U.S.C. 1692d prohibit debt collectors from threatening violence, from using obscene or profane language, and from engaging in harassing conduct. Again, the Horkey case is illustrative. In that case, the debt collector called Ms. Horkey back and talked with her coworker. The debt collector told the coworker to “tell Amanda to quit being such a [expletive] [expletive].” The court ruled that this was an FDCPA violation, noting, “Romero was not offering general advice about how Horkey could improve her disposition. He was telling her, crudely but specifically, to be more receptive to his entreaties regarding the debt.”
What if a debt collector violates the law?
If a debt collector comes to your door and acts in violation of the FDCPA, then you have the right to sue the agency in federal court. If you prevail, then you can recover up to $1,000, plus court costs and attorney fees. The law is written so that individual consumers are empowered to assert their rights without worrying about having to pay legal fees. Instead, the lawbreaking debt collection agency has to pay your legal fees. That’s why most fair debt attorneys don’t charge consumers upfront fees.
Horkey vs. J.V.D.B. & Associates, Inc., 333 F.3d 769, 773 (7th Cir.2003)
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