Q: Isn’t there a law against being harassed on the phone for overdue bills?
Answer: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says that debt collectors cannot harass, oppress or abuse you or anyone else they contact.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, examples of harassment include:
- Repetitious phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone;
- Obscene or profane language;
- Threats of violence or harm;
- Publishing lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (note that this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company);
- Calling you without identifying themselves;
- Misrepresentations about the debt, including the amount owed; claims that the person is an attorney if they are not; false threats to have you arrested; threats do to things that cannot legally be done or things that the debt collector has no intention of doing.
“You can also sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA,” according to the CFPB. “If you sue under the FDCPA and win, the debt collector must generally pay your attorney’s fees and may also have to pay you damages.”
If you believe a debt collector is harassing you, you can report that to the FCPB online at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ or by calling 855-411-2372. You can also contact your state’s attorney general; in North Carolina, that would be AG Josh Stein, at www.ncdoj.gov or 877-5-NO-SCAM.
Q: I had a very upsetting experience with a fence contractor recently. I had set up an appointment to get an estimate to take down old fencing and replace it. The scheduler asked if I was married, and told me that my husband had to be present for the estimator appointment. I tried to make an appointment anyhow, but when they came out and my husband wasn’t there they said they would have to reschedule. I’m not sure if this business practice is legal or not, but it sure made me feel demeaned.
Answer: Local attorney Mike Wells said there is a reason a business may have such a policy — North Carolina’s lien law.
“If a contractor provides labor and materials which improve the real estate, the contractor has a legal claim of lien by statute on the property if the owner(s) will not pay for those services/materials,” he said in an email response. “If real estate is deeded to one party, that party’s spouse, whether the spouse is ‘on the deed’ or not, has a statutory (conditional) interest in the real estate. If the contractor asserts a lien for non-payment, the lien could be ruled invalid since all owners (or potential owners — including the other spouse) were not part of the contract authorizing the labor/materials.”
He added that “The fence contractor perhaps could have handled this situation better and simply explained the reason why both spouses needed to agree to the services/materials. But the practice of having both spouses to agree to work on their real estate is likely standard practice for home contractors because of the lien law.”