Dealing with debt collectors has become a widespread problem for consumers both locally and across the nation. Based on an extensive survey of D.C. residents published in 2016, almost half of low-income residents reported problems with debt—and of the survey participants with debt-related problems, the most common problem cited (31%) was receiving calls from debt collectors. Moreover, in the first-ever national survey of consumer experiences with debt collectors, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 27% of consumers contacted by debt collectors felt threatened, 53% of consumers said at least one collection effort was mistaken in some way, and one in seven consumers contacted about a debt reported being sued.
But in light of the current climate at the federal level, it is vital that effective consumer protection come from action at the local level. To that end, Legal Aid along with Tzedek DC and several other local and national organizations recently sent a letter to the D.C. Council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development urging the committee to support and schedule a hearing on the Debt Buying Limitation Amendment Act of 2017. This legislation would make important amendments to the District’s existing, outdated debt collection law to more effectively protect D.C. consumers from unfair and abusive collection practices. Among other things, the legislation would expand the scope of the debt collection law and establish specific requirements for debt buyers, known for purchasing large portfolios of debt and attempting to collect based on spreadsheets of summary information that may be inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated. The proposed legislation is both necessary and timely, and we urge the Committee on Business and Economic Development to move it forward.