During D.C.’s declared State of Public Health Emergency, several financial protections have been put in place, including some that severely limit, among other things, collection activities relating to consumer contracts, repossession, and legal actions on accounts. On September 1, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the most recent pair of emergency and temporary legislation to land on her desk, B24-0347 and B24-0348. These bills include a number of provisions impacting collection activities that relate to both third-party debt collectors and creditors collecting their own debts. Since a permanent version of these bills, B24-0357, remains in the Council, the bills signed by the Mayor on September 1 only temporarily amend various provisions of D.C. 28-3814, D.C.’s collections statute.
Before diving into the bills signed last week and the legislation that preceded it, it is important to understand D.C.’s somewhat unique legislative process.
In the District, during a public emergency, the Mayor and the D.C. Council can quickly pass an emergency amendment. (Provided, of course, that the emergency amendment has at least majority support in the Council and is not vetoed by the Mayor.) These emergency amendments require no second reading nor do they go through the required 30-day Congressional review. Emergency amendments last for 90 days. Typically, an emergency amendment and a temporary amendment of the same name are introduced at the same time. Temporary amendments require two readings in the Council and, if passed by the Council, temporary amendments are sent to Congress for a 30-day Congressional review period. If the temporary amendment makes it through the review period, it is considered enacted and has a 225-day lifespan. (It is important to note that days in a Congressional review period are not calendar days or business days, but are instead days when both the Senate and the House are in session.)
The latest in the line of pandemic-related legislation enacting various collection restrictions introduced by D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson since the onset of the pandemic are the Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0139) and the Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment of 2021 (B24-0140). These amendments prohibited debt collectors, “during a public health emergency and for 60 days after its conclusion,” from filing new collection lawsuits, garnishing wages, or repossessing vehicles. (Cf. Section 303, “Debt collection,” on page 31 of the emergency amendment, and page 24 of the temporary amendment, herein after “Section 303”).
B24-0139, the emergency act, was signed by Mayor Bowser on March 17, 2021 and expired on June 15. B24-0140, the temporary act, was signed by Mayor Bowser on May 3, 2021. It is effective from June 24, 2021 through February 4, 2022. However, Section 303 prohibiting lawsuits, garnishments, and repossessions, was subject to sunset 60 days after the conclusion of a public health emergency. The Mayor ended the public health emergency in D.C. on July 25, 2021.
Moving forward, the next pieces of pandemic-related consumer protection legislation were the Public Emergency Extension and Eviction and Utility Moratorium Phasing Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0345) and the Public Temporary Extension and Eviction and Utility Moratorium Phasing Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0346). Per these amendments, housing providers may begin eviction proceedings for some tenants in the District. (An eviction moratorium had been in place during D.C.’s State of Public Health Emergency.) Prior to January 1, 2022, evictions are allowed in instances where the tenant’s continuing presence would create a threat to health and safety and in instances where the tenant has caused significant damage to the property. Evictions for non-payment of rent can begin on October 12, 2021, provided the landlord has applied for emergency assistance on behalf of the tenant through D.C.’s Stronger Together by Assisting You (STAY) program, and notified the tenant in writing that an application has been submitted. Eviction suits in general are scheduled to be fully allowed starting on January 1, 2022.
These amendments also repealed Section 303 in both the Coronavirus Support Emergency and Temporary Amendments. B24-0345 was signed by Mayor Bowser on July 24, 2021, and expires on October 22, 2021. B24-0346 was signed by Mayor Bowser on September 1, 2021, and is now in its 30-day Congressional review period. However, as noted above, Section 303 was subject to sunset 60 days after the conclusion of a public health emergency. Thus, had it not been repealed by B24-0345 and B24-0346, Section 303 would have expired on September 23, 60 days after Mayor Bowser ended the public health emergency.
The final two pieces of consumer protection legislation are the Protecting Consumers from Unjust Debt Collection Practices Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0347) and the Protecting Consumers from Unjust Debt Collection Practices Temporary Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0348). Notably, these amendments incorporated prior Section 303 from B24-0140, which restricted debt collection activities “[d]uring a public health emergency and for 60 days after its conclusion.” Both B24-0347 and B24-0348 were signed by Mayor Bowser on September 1, 2021. B24-0347 has an effective date of September 23, 2021, and lasts for 90 days. B24-0348 is currently in its 30-day Congressional review period, and, provided it encounters no objection, also has an effective date of September 23, 2021 and lasts for 225 days. (In the meantime, there is a final bill version of Protecting Consumers from Unjust Debt Collection Practices Amendment Act of 2021 that remains in Council, B24-0357. If it is signed and survives its 30-day Congressional review, it would be official law with no expiration date.)
Requirements for debt collectors and creditors in B24-0347 and -0348 (and which also appear in the still-pending permanent bill, -0357) include:
- Prohibiting debt collectors from making more than 3 phone calls to a consumer in a 7 day period (unless the debtor requests additional calls)
- Prohibiting communication of a consumer’s debts to his or her employer
- Prohibiting communication of a consumer’s debts to family, friends, or neighbors (except through proper legal process)
- Providing complete documentation related to the debt being collected
- Providing a complete schedule or agreement for any payment plan
The emergency, temporary, and final amendments also allow for the awarding of damages and fees to a consumer if a debt collector violates any of the requirements.