Washington, D.C., Public Health Emergency Expires: Debt Collection Restrictions Remain in Place


The Washington, D.C., City Council chair and Attorney General Karl Racine sent emergency legislation on debt collection processes to the mayor’s desk for a signature. The bill will take effect immediately when signed by the mayor and overlap with the current debt collection restrictions until a final bill is passed.

7/26/2021 12:30

Debt collection restrictions in Washington, D.C., will continue for 60 days, as planned under Mayor Muriel Bowser’s executive order to establish a public health emergency last spring.

The executive order and public health emergency were lifted on Saturday, July 24, but the order states restrictions on debt collection communications will continue for 60 days.

According to Attorney General Karl Racine’s debt collection frequently asked questions, “The Emergency Act covers any debt that is 30 days past due and was made for the purchase of goods, services, or property for personal, family or household purposes. This includes motor vehicle loans but does not include home mortgages or other loans on real property (Section 202 of the Emergency Act includes separate mortgage relief measures). For the duration of the declared coronavirus emergency, and for 60 days after its conclusion, the Emergency Act prohibits creditors and debt collectors from threatening or initiating any new legal action to collect a debt, visiting a debtor’s home or place of employment, or confronting the debtor about the debt in any public place. It also prohibits debt collectors, but not original creditors or entities who obtain the debt prior to its default, from communicating with debtors, including by phone call, email, or text message. However, communications relating to rescheduling court dates are exempted, and if a debtor initiates the communication, the debt collector may still respond to the request.”

To ensure added debt collection protections for consumers after the 60-day period ends, the Washington, D.C., City Council introduced and approved emergency debt collection legislation July 13, ACA International previously reported.

The legislation introduced by City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Racine seeks to modernize the district’s debt collection law—written in 1971—and establish temporary updates to debt collection laws before the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.

According to a news release from the attorney general, the Protecting Consumers from Unjust Debt Collection Practices Emergency and Temporary Acts would update the Washington, D.C., debt collection laws by expanding protections to cover medical debt and credit card debt and prohibit “excessive communications that constitute harassment,” including making more than three phone calls in a seven-day period.

“The law would also be broadened to clearly apply to modern forms of communication, like text messages and email. This legislation would protect consumers from harassment across all forms of communication,” according to the news release.

The legislation also clarifies that it applies to debt buyers and would require them to provide itemized statements and account numbers for debts owed to prevent attempts to collect on inaccurate or expired debts.

The emergency legislation was sent to the mayor for approval, and she must issue her decision by Aug. 6.

Here is the timeline:

  • If the mayor approves the emergency legislation, it will take effect immediately and will be in effect for no more than 90 days.
  • The temporary legislation, which would implement an identical bill to the emergency legislation for a longer period, will have a hearing later this fall.
  • The temporary legislation would also need the mayor’s approval and would expire 225 days after she signs the bill.

The attorney general’s office also reports Mendelson and Racine “plan to introduce legislation in the near future with permanent updates to modernize Washington, D.C.’s debt collection laws in the long-term, in addition to this legislation with urgently needed temporary fixes before the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.”

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