The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that protects people who owe money for consumer debts from abusive collection practices. Washington D.C. also has its own laws that protect consumers from a range of deceptive and intrusive business tactics, including abusive behavior by debt collectors. If you live in the District of Columbia, you are protected by both the FDCPA and D.C.’s fair debt collection laws.
This article explains the specific fair debt collection protections that cover people who live in Washington, D.C.
The FDCPA protects consumers who owe money to merchants, credit card companies, or others for household debts. It prevents debt collection agencies from using intrusive or deceptive practices when collecting debts. If a bill collector violates the FDCPA, the debtor can bring a lawsuit seeking damages. (To learn more about the FDCPA, visit our Illegal Debt Collection Practices topic area.)
Keep in mind, however, that the FDCPA does not erase the debt, nor does it restrict the creditor’s options for taking legal action.
Washington DC’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Washington D.C. has also enacted laws that protect consumers from abusive and deceptive debt collection tactics. In some instances these laws mirror provisions of the FDCPA. In others, it provides additional protections. The District of Columbia’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (DCDCPA) has three components:
- a criminal provision prohibiting bill collectors from implying that they have any government affiliation
- prohibitions against deceptive marketing practices such as selling refurbished items as new products, and
- restrictions on debt collection practices (this part of the law was originally called the Creditor Calling Act, and is now found at D.C. Code Ann. §28-3418). Section 3418 is similar to the FDCPA, but it also has some additional protections.
Which Debts and Collectors Are Covered by the DCDCPA?
The DC Act restrictions apply broadly to any “debt collector” – that is, any person involved directly or indirectly in collecting payment for consumer debt. Unlike the FDCPA, which only applies to debt collectors (with a few exceptions), the DCCPA also applies to creditors collecting debts. This means that any person or business seeking payment, as well as any collection agency or lawyer hired to collect a debt, cannot engage in any of the practices that the DC Act prohibits.
The DC Act covers activity related to the collection of most consumer debts, such as credit card bills, charge card accounts, or consumer leases. It also covers collection of car payments if the loan is from a bank subject to DC’s interest rate laws. The loan document may provide further information. The DC Act does not, however, cover collection activity related to mortgage payments.
Prohibited Activities Under the DCDCPA
The DC Act divides prohibited activities into three categories: threats, disclosure of the debt to a third party, and trickery.
Creditors and debt collectors may not intimidate a debtor by:
- threatening violence or harm to the debtor’s person, reputation, or property
- accusing the debtor of fraud or any crime that would result in disgrace, ridicule or contempt of society
- playing good cop/bad cop by threatening to sell or assign the debt to a party who would allegedly engage in harsh, vindictive, or abusive collection attempts
- threatening arrest for non-payment
- using abusive language, including obscenity or profanity
- making harassing or threatening phone calls by anonymous callers, or
- placing collect calls or otherwise passing on communication costs to the debtor.
Creditors or collectors may not threaten to tell a third party, such as an employer or family member, about the debt to exert pressure for payment. Nor may a creditor or collector publicize a consumer’s personal information on any public list.
A debt collector may, however, contact other parties under limited circumstances, including:
- seeking payment from anyone who has guaranteed the debt
- taking steps to attach assets or execute a judgment as allowed by law
- responding to a request of a family member for information, or
- any other purpose authorized under law or court order.
A debt collector may not try to trick anyone into paying or providing information about a debt. In particular, it:
- must use its real name
- must state clearly that it is trying to collect money or obtain information that will be used for that purpose
- must reveal the name of the person or business that is seeking repayment
- cannot get information by promising it has something of value in exchange
- cannot send anything written that could be mistaken for a court document or any other official communication, and
- cannot use unfair tactics to entice a debtor into acknowledging the obligation to repay (this includes seeking or obtaining an affirmation of any obligation by a consumer who is in bankruptcy without clarifying that the consumer is not legally obligated to do so).
Restrictions on Collecting Certain Fees From the Consumer
A collection agency may not attempt to collect its service fees from the consumer. It also may not claim the consumer owes additional money for attorney’s fees, services, or investigation costs that are not authorized by law. Nor may it demand the consumer pay any interest or expense related to the debt unless the consumer agreed at the time of the original transaction to pay it. And a debt collector cannot demand payment for interest or expenses that are not allowed under D.C. law, even if the consumer signed a contract agreeing to pay those fees.
Collectors Cannot Contact Debtors Who Are Represented by Attorneys
If the debtor informs anyone attempting to collect a debt that the debtor has a lawyer, the collector or creditor must stop all direct communication with the debtor.
Enforcement of the DCDCPA
If anyone attempting to collect money deliberately violates any section of the DC Act, the debtor can sue for the damages suffered because of the collector’s action. In addition, a court may award punitive damages. If the consumer seeks less than $5,000, the matter can be brought in small claims court and the consumer does not need an attorney. The D.C. government may also take action against a collector or creditor who violates the DCDCPA. A debtor does not have to coordinate with any D.C. agency in seeking compensation from a debt collector or creditor.
Getting More Information
You can find the full text of the DC Act at D.C. Code Ann. § 28-3814. Authorization for DC government officials to enforce the Act is outlined in § 28-3815. Information about the DC Consumer Regulatory Agency can be found at § 28-3801-03. (To learn how to find state statutes, visit Nolo’s Legal Research Center.)