The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to any person who regularly collects or attempts to collect debts for another.
The definition might include property management firms under certain circumstances, but does not include landlords acting pro se. The FDCPA exempts attempts to collect debts that were not in default when obtained. For example, this exemption would apply as long as the tenant was not in default when the property management firm was retained. Conversely, if a property manger accepts an assignment of a debt after it has become due and is in default the exemption may not apply and the property manager could arguably be deemed a debt collector.
The FDCPA requires in the initial communication, whether written or oral, a disclosure that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt and that any information will be used for that purpose. This disclosure must also be made in any subsequent communication, except formal legal pleadings.
In addition, within five days of the initial communication the debt collector must also give notice of the certain rights, namely:
- the right to dispute the debt within 30 days
- the debt amount
- the name of the creditor
- that the creditor will assume the debt is valid unless the consumer disputes its validity within 30 days after receiving the notice
- that if the consumer notifies the collector in writing within 30 days that the debt is disputed the collector will mail the consumer verification of the debt or a copy of the judgment against the consumer and
- that the collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor (if different from the current creditor).
Any debt collector who violates the FDCPA may be liable for actual damages and humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish/emotional distress, statutory damages of $1,000 at the discretion of the court, plus court costs and attorney’s fees.