§ 28–3814. Debt collection.
*NOTE: This section includes amendments by temporary legislation that will expire on June 9, 2022. To view the text of this section after the expiration of all emergency and temporary legislation, click this link: Permanent Version.*
(a) This section applies to conduct and practices in connection with collection of obligations arising from any consumer debt (other than a loan directly secured on real estate or a direct motor vehicle installment loan covered by Chapter 36 of this title).
(b) As used in this section, the term:
(1) "Claim" means any obligation or alleged obligation, arising from a consumer debt.
(2) "Consumer debt" means money or its equivalent, or a loan or advance of money, which is, or is alleged to be, more than 30 days past due and owing, unless a different period is agreed to by the debtor, as a result of a purchase, lease, or loan of goods, services, or real or personal property for personal, family, medical, or household purposes.
(3) "Creditor" means a claimant or other person holding or alleging to hold a claim.
(4) "Debt buyer" means a person or entity that is engaged in the business of purchasing charged-off consumer debt or other delinquent consumer debt for collection purposes, whether it collects the debt itself or hires a third party for collection, including an attorney, in order to collect such debt. A debt buyer is considered a debt collector for all purposes.
(5) "Debt collection" means any action, conduct or practice in connection with the collection of consumer debt.
(6) "Debt collector" means a person engaging directly or indirectly in debt collection. The term includes any person who sells or offers to sell forms represented to be a collection system, device, scheme, or method intended or calculated to be used to collect claims.
(7) "Person" means an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust partnership, limited liability company, association, joint venture, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality, public corporation, or any other legal or commercial entity.
(c) No creditor or debt collector shall collect or attempt to collect any money alleged to be due and owing by means of any threat, coercion, or attempt to coerce in any way, including:
(1) the use, or express or implicit threat of use, of violence or other criminal means, to cause harm to the person, reputation, or property of any person;
(2) the accusation or threat to falsely accuse any person of fraud or any crime, or any conduct which, if true, would tend to disgrace such other person or in any way subject the person to ridicule, contempt, disgrace, or shame;
(3) false accusations made to another person, including any credit reporting agency, that a consumer has not paid a just debt, or threat to so make such false accusations;
(4) the threat to sell or assign to another the consumer debt with a representation or implication that the result of such sale or assignment would be that the consumer would lose any defense to the claim or would be subjected to collection attempts in violation of this section;
(5) the threat that nonpayment of an alleged claim will result in the arrest of any person;
(6) the threat of any action which the creditor or debt collector cannot legally take or any action which the creditor or debt collector in the usual course of business does not in fact take;
(7) disclosing or threatening to disclose information concerning the existence of a debt known to be disputed by the consumer without disclosing the fact that the debt is disputed by the consumer; and
(8) disclosing or threatening to disclose information affecting the consumer's reputation for creditworthiness with knowledge or reason to know that the information is false.
(d) No creditor or debt collector shall unreasonably oppress, harass, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of or attempt to collect any claim alleged to be due and owing by that person or another in any way, including:
(1) the use of profane or obscene language or language that is intended to unreasonably abuse the hearer or reader;
(2) the placement of telephone calls without disclosure of the caller’s identity or with the intent to harass or threaten any person at the called number;
(3) causing expense to any person incurred by a medium of communication or by concealment of the true purpose of the notice, letter, message, or communication; and
(4) communicating with the consumer or any member of the consumer's family or household in such a manner that can reasonably be expected to abuse or harass the consumer, including communications at an unreasonable hour or with unreasonable frequency, or by making in excess of 3 phone calls, inclusive of all phone numbers and accounts the creditor or debt collector has for the consumer, in any 7-day period. The limit of 3 calls in any 7-day period shall not apply to calls made to a debt collector by a consumer or to a single completed call made by a debt collector in response to the consumer's request for a returned phone call.
(e) No creditor or debt collector shall unreasonably publicize information relating to any alleged indebtedness or debtor in such a manner as to harass or embarrass the alleged debtor in any way, including:
(1) the communication of any information relating to a consumer's indebtedness to any employer or employer's agent, except when the indebtedness had been guaranteed by the employer or the employer has requested the loan giving rise to the indebtedness and except when such communication is in connection with an attachment or execution after judgment as authorized by law;
(2) the disclosure, publication, or communication of information relating to a consumer's indebtedness to any relative, family member, friend or neighbor of the consumer, except through proper legal action or process or at the express and unsolicited request of the relative or family member;
(3) the disclosure, publication, or communications of any information relating to a consumer’s indebtedness by publishing or posting any list of consumers, except for the publication and distribution of “stop lists” to point-of-sale locations where credit is extended, or by advertising for sale any claim to enforce payment thereof or in any other manner other than through proper legal action, process, or proceeding; and
(4) the use of any form of communication to the consumer, which ordinarily may be seen by any other persons, that displays or conveys any information about the alleged claim other than the name, address, and phone number of the creditor or debt collector.
(f) No creditor or debt collector shall use any unfair, fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading representation, device, or practice to collect a consumer debt or to obtain information in conjunction with the collection of claims in any way, including:
(1) the use of any company name, while engaged in debt collection, other than the creditor or debt collector’s true company name;
(2) the failure to clearly disclose in all written communications made to collect or attempt to collect a claim or to obtain or attempt to obtain information about a consumer, that the creditor or debt collector is attempting to collect a claim and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose;
(3) any false representation that the creditor or debt collector has in his possession information or something of value for the consumer, that is made to solicit or discover information about the consumer;
(4) the failure to clearly disclose the name, phone number, email address, and full business address of the person to whom the claim has been assigned for collection, or to whom the claim is owed, at the time of making any demand for money;
(5) any false representation or implication of the character, extent, or amount of a claim against a consumer, or of its status in any legal proceeding;
(6) any false representation or false implication that any creditor or debt collector is vouched for, bonded by, affiliated with or an instrumentality, agent, or official of the District of Columbia or any agency of the Federal or District government;
(7) the use or distribution or sale of any written communication which simulates or is falsely represented to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by a court, an official, or any other legally constituted or authorized authority, or which creates a false impression about its source, authorization, or approval;
(8) any representation that an existing obligation of the consumer may be increased by the addition of attorney’s fees, investigation fees, service fees, or any other fees or charges when in fact such fees or charges may not legally be added to the existing obligation;
(9) any false representation or false impression about the status or true nature of or the services rendered by the creditor or debt collector or his business;
(10) initiating a cause of action to collect a consumer debt when the debt collector knows or reasonably should know that the applicable statute of limitations period has expired; and
(11) seeking to collect funds from a consumer that the debt collector knows or has reason to know are exempt from attachment or garnishment under federal or District law.
(g) No creditor or debt collector shall use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any claim in any way, including:
(1) the seeking or obtaining of any written statement or acknowledgment in any form that specifies that a consumer’s obligation is one incurred for necessaries of life where the original obligation was not in fact incurred for such necessaries;
(2) the seeking or obtaining of any written statement or acknowledgment in any form containing an affirmation of any obligation by a consumer who has been declared bankrupt without clearly disclosing the nature and consequences of such affirmation and the fact that the consumer is not legally obligated to make such affirmation;
(3) the collection or the attempt to collect from the consumer all or any part of the creditor or debt collector’s fee or charge for services rendered;
(4) the collection of or the attempt to collect any interest or other charge, fee, or expense incidental to the principal obligation unless such interest or incidental fee, charge, or expense is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the obligation and legally chargeable to the consumer or unless such interest or incidental fee, charge, or expense is expressly authorized by law;
(5) any communication with a consumer whenever it appears that the consumer has notified the creditor that he is represented by an attorney and the attorney’s name and address are known; and
(6) attempting to collect debts owed by a deceased consumer from a person with no legal obligation to pay the amounts alleged to be owed.
(h) No creditor or debt collector shall use, or distribute, sell, or prepare for use, any written communication that violates or fails to conform to United States postal laws and regulations.
(i) No creditor or debt collector shall take or accept for assignment any of the following:
(1) an assignment of any claim for attorney’s fees which have not been lawfully provided for in the writing evidencing the obligation; or
(2) an assignment for collection of any claim upon which suit has been filed or judgment obtained, without the creditor or debt collector first making a reasonable effort to contact the attorney representing the consumer.
(j)(1) Proof, by substantial evidence, that a creditor or debt collector has violated any provision of this section shall subject such creditor or debt collector to liability to any person affected by such violation for all damages proximately caused by the violation.
(2) Punitive damages may be awarded to any person affected by a willful violation of any provision of this section when and in such amount as is deemed appropriate by the court or trier of fact.
(k) No creditor, debt collector, or collection agency, or their representatives or agents shall contact consumers by telephone before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. EST or EDT, whichever time zone is in effect.
(l) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, when the applicable statute of limitations period has expired, any subsequent payment toward or written or oral affirmation of such a consumer debt shall not extend the limitations period.
(m)(1) No debt collector shall collect or attempt to collect a consumer debt, unless the debt collector has complete and authenticated documentation that the person attempting collection is the owner of the consumer debt, and the debt collector is in possession of the following information or documents:
(A) Documentation of the name of the original creditor as well as the name of the current creditor or owner of the consumer debt;
(B) The debtor's last account number with the original creditor;
(C) A copy of the signed contract, signed application, or other documents that provide evidence of the consumer's liability and the terms thereof;
(D) The date that the consumer debt was incurred; provided, that in the case of a revolving credit account the date that the consumer debt was incurred shall be the last extension of credit made for the purchase of goods or services, for the lease of goods, or as a loan of money;
(E) The date and amount of the last payment by the consumer, if applicable; and
(F) An itemized accounting of the amount claimed to be owed, including the amount of the principal; the amount of any interest, fees or charges; and whether the charges were imposed by the original creditor, a debt collector, or a subsequent owner of the debt. If the debt arises from a credit card, the itemized accounting shall be measured from the charge-off balance and shall include copies of the charge-off statement and the most recent monthly statement recording a purchase transaction, last payment, or balance transfer.
(2) In the first written communication with the consumer, a debt collector shall provide written notice to the consumer that the consumer may request that the debt collector provide the information or documents identified in paragraph (1) of this subsection to the consumer. The notice shall state, in boldface type which is a minimum of 12-point type, the following statement:
"You have the right to request all of the following concerning your debt:
"(1) Documentation of the name of the original creditor as well as the name of the current creditor or owner of your debt;
"(2) Your last account number with the original creditor;
"(3) A copy of the signed contract, signed application, or other documents providing evidence of your liability and its terms;
"(4) The date that your debt was incurred;
"(5) The date of your last payment, if applicable; and
"(6) An itemized accounting of the amount claimed to be owed including the amount of the principal, the amount of any interest, fees, or charges, and whether the charges were imposed by the original creditor, a debt collector, or a subsequent owner of the debt.
"You may request the above information by contacting us by phone, mail, or email, at the following:
The notice shall list the debt collector's phone number, mailing address, and email address for receipt of such requests for information immediately following the above statement, in the same typeface as the statement. The debt collector shall cease all collection of the consumer debt until the above notice is provided to the consumer in writing. Upon receipt of a request by a consumer for any of the information identified in paragraph (1) of this subsection, the debt collector shall provide all of the information listed in paragraph (1) of this subsection to the consumer in writing within 15 days of receipt of the request. If the debt collector cannot provide the information listed in paragraph (1) within 15 days, the debt collector shall cease all collection of the consumer debt until such information is provided.
(n)(1) A debt collector who enters into a payment schedule or settlement agreement regarding a consumer debt shall provide a written copy of the payment schedule or settlement agreement to the consumer within 7 days.
(2) A consumer shall not be required to make a payment on a payment schedule or settlement agreement until the written agreement required by paragraph (1) of this subsection has been provided by the debt collector.
(o) Any action for the collection of a consumer debt shall only be commenced within 3 years of accrual. This period shall apply whether the legal basis of the claim sounds in contract, account stated, open account, or other cause and notwithstanding the provisions of any other statute of limitations unless that statute provides for a shorter limitations period. This time period also applies to contracts under seal. This subsection shall apply to all claims brought after September 1, 2021.
(p) Immediately prior to commencing a legal action to collect a consumer debt, the plaintiff shall undertake a reasonable investigation to verify the defendant's current address for service of process.
(q) In a cause of action initiated by a debt collector to collect a consumer debt, the debt collector shall attach to the complaint or statement of claim a copy of the signed contract, signed application, or other documents that provide evidence of the consumer's liability, and shall allege the following information in the complaint or statement of claim:
(1) A short and plain statement of the type of consumer debt;
(2) The information enumerated in subsection (m)(1) of this section, except that the debt collector shall only include the last 4 digits of the debtor's last account number with the original creditor;
(3) The basis for any interest and fees charged;
(4) The basis for the request of attorney's fees, if applicable;
(5) That the debt collector is the current owner of the consumer debt and a chronological listing of the names of all prior owners of the consumer debt and the date of each transfer of ownership, beginning with the original creditor; and
(6) That the suit is filed within the applicable statute of limitations period.
(r) In a cause of action initiated by a debt collector to collect a consumer debt, prior to entry of a default judgment or summary judgment against a consumer, the plaintiff shall file evidence with the court to establish the amount and nature of the debt. The only evidence sufficient to establish the amount and nature of the debt shall be authenticated business records that shall include the information enumerated in subsection (m)(1) of this section, except that the debt collector shall only include the last 4 digits of the debtor's last account number with the original creditor.
(s) In a cause of action initiated by a debt collector to collect a consumer debt, prior to entry of a default judgment or summary judgment against a consumer, the plaintiff shall file a copy of the assignment or other writing establishing that the plaintiff is the owner of the debt. If the debt has been assigned more than once, then each assignment or other writing evidencing transfer of ownership must be attached to establish an unbroken chain of ownership. The plaintiff shall state:
(1) The date on which the debt was should [sold] or assigned to the plaintiff;
(2) the [The] name of each previous owner of the account from the original creditor to the plaintiff and the date on which the debt was assigned to that owner by the original creditor or subsequent owner; and
(3) the [The] amount due at the time of the sale or assignment of the debt by the original creditor.
(t) In a cause of action initiated by a debt buyer or debt collector to collect a consumer debt, if a debt buyer or debt collector seeks a judgment or order against the defendant and has not complied with the requirements of this section, the court shall dismiss the action with prejudice.
(u) A debt buyer or debt collector that violates any provision of this section with respect to a consumer may be liable to the consumer for the following:
(1) Actual damages;
(2) Costs and reasonable attorney's fees;
(3) Punitive damages;
(4)(A) If the consumer is an individual, the court may award an additional penalty in an amount not less than $500 and not to exceed $4,000; or
(B) In the case of a class action, the amount for each named plaintiff as could be recovered under subparagraph (A) of this paragraph and an amount as the court may determine for each class member, not exceeding the amount per person that could be recovered under subparagraph (A) of this paragraph times the number of class members; and
(5) Any other relief which the court determines proper.
(v) If the plaintiff is the prevailing party in any action to collect a consumer debt, the plaintiff shall be entitled to collect attorneys' fees only if the contract or other document evidencing the indebtedness sets forth an obligation of the consumer to pay such attorneys' fees, and subject to the following provisions:
(1) If the contract or other document evidencing indebtedness provides for attorneys' fees in some specific percentage, such provision and obligation shall be valid and enforceable up to, but not in excess of, 15% of the amount of the debt excluding attorneys' fees and collection costs.
(2) If a contract or other document evidencing indebtedness provides for the payment of reasonable attorneys' fees by the debtor, without specifying any specific percentage, such provision shall be construed to mean the lesser of 15% of the amount of the debt, excluding attorneys' fees and collection costs, or the amount of attorneys' fees calculated by multiplying a reasonable rate for such cases by the amount of time reasonably expended to obtain the judgment.
(3) The documentation setting forth a party's obligation to pay attorneys' fees shall be provided to the court before a court may enforce those provisions. The documentation must include all of the materials specified in subsection (m)(1) of this section.
(w) Before a court may issue a bench warrant for civil arrest for failing to appear in a debt collection case under this section, the following conditions must be met:
(1) The plaintiff must have personally served its motion for contempt, or other related motion or filing, on the defendant; and
(2) The defendant must have failed to appear at 2 contempt hearings.
(x) Notwithstanding any other law or court rule, a consumer who is compelled to attend pursuant to a civil arrest warrant shall be brought before the court the same day.
(y) Notwithstanding any other law or court rule, no person shall be imprisoned or jailed for failure to pay a consumer debt or imprisoned or jailed for contempt of court or otherwise for failure to comply with a court order to pay a consumer debt in part or in full.
(z) A violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, approved September 20, 1977 (91 Stat. 874; 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.), as amended, shall constitute a violation of this section.
(aa)(1) Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, this subsection and subsection (bb) of this section shall apply to any debt, including loans directly secured on motor vehicles or direct motor vehicle installment loans covered by Chapter 36 of this title.
(2) During a public health emergency and for 60 days after its conclusion, no creditor or debt collector shall, with respect to any debt:
(A) Initiate, file, or threaten to file any new collection lawsuit;
(B) Initiate, threaten to initiate, or act upon any statutory remedy for the garnishment, seizure, attachment, or withholding of wages, earnings, property, or funds for the payment of a debt to a creditor;
(C) Initiate, threaten to initiate, or act upon any statutory remedy for the repossession of any vehicle; except, that creditors or debt collectors may accept collateral that is voluntarily surrendered;
(D) Visit or threaten to visit the household of a debtor at any time for the purpose of collecting a debt;
(E) Visit or threaten to visit the place of employment of a debtor at any time; or
(F) Confront or communicate in person with a debtor regarding the collection of a debt in any public place at any time, unless initiated by the debtor.
(3) This subsection shall not apply to:
(A) Collecting or attempting to collect a debt that is, or is alleged to be, owed on a loan secured by a mortgage on real property or owed for common expenses pursuant to § 42-1903.12; or
(B) Collecting or attempting to collect delinquent debt pursuant to subchapter XVII of Chapter 3 of Title 1.
(4) Any statute of limitations on any collection lawsuit is tolled during the duration of the public health emergency and for 60 days thereafter.
(bb)(1) During a public health emergency and for 60 days after its conclusion, no debt collector shall initiate any communication with a debtor via any written or electronic communication, including email, text message, or telephone. A debt collector shall not be deemed to have initiated a communication with a debtor if the communication by the debt collector is in response to a request made by the debtor for the communication or is the mailing of monthly statements related to an existing payment plan or payment receipts related to an existing payment plan.
(2) This subsection shall not apply to:
(A) Communications initiated solely for the purpose of informing a debtor of a rescheduled court appearance date or discussing a mutually convenient date for a rescheduled court appearance;
(B) Original creditors collecting or attempting to collect their own debt;
(C) Collecting or attempting to collect a debt which is, or is alleged to be, owed on a loan secured by a mortgage on real property or owed for common expenses pursuant to § 42-1903.12;
(D) Receiving and depositing payments the debtor chooses to make during a public health emergency; or
(E) Collecting or attempting to collect delinquent debt pursuant to subchapter XVII of Chapter 3 of Title 1.
(cc) Subsections (aa) and (bb) of this section shall not be construed to:
(1) Exempt any person from complying with existing laws or rules of professional conduct with respect to debt collection practices;
(2) Supersede or in any way limit the rights and protections available to consumers under applicable local, state, or federal foreclosure laws; or
(3) Supersede any obligation under the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, to the extent of any inconsistency.