Significant changes to West Virginia’s debt collection law will take effect on July 4, 2017. Senate Bill 536, approved by the state’s governor on April 21, 2017, includes the following amendments:
- The definition of “debt collector” is amended to exempt attorneys “representing creditors provided that the attorneys are licensed in West Virginia or otherwise authorized to practice law in the State of West Virginia and handling claims and collections in their own name as an employee, partner, member, shareholder or owner of a law firm and not operating a collection agency under the management of a person who is not a licensed attorney.”
- The time period after which a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer represented by an attorney is increased from 72 hours to “three business days after the debt collector receives written notice from the consumer or his or her attorney that the consumer is represented by an attorney specifically with regard to the subject debt.” The amendment also requires the notice to “clearly state the attorney’s name, address and telephone number and be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the debt collector’s registered agent, identified by the debt collector at the office of the West Virginia Secretary of State or, if not registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State, then to the debt collector’s principal place of business.”
- The requirement to include specified disclosures in a written communication with the consumer regarding a debt that is beyond the statute of limitations for filing a legal action for collection is extended to all written communications (instead of only the initial written communication).
- Creditors and debt collectors are given a right to cure violations. Before bringing an action for a violation of the debt collection law, a consumer must send a written notice to the creditor or debt collector identifying the alleged violation and factual basis for the alleged violation and give the creditor or debt collector 45 days to make a cure offer. A cure offer not accepted by the consumer within 20 days is deemed refused or withdrawn. If a collection lawsuit has already been filed against the consumer and a violation of the debt collection law is asserted as counterclaim, the creditor or debt collector has 20 days to make a cure offer. Related issues such as the tolling of the statute of limitations while a cure offer is pending and the admissibility of a cure offer in an action for a violation of the debt collection law are also addressed in the amendment.