Earlier today, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced emergency regulations temporarily restricting debt collection practices during the COVID-19 crisis. The Attorney General’s Office has long maintained regulations, promulgated under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law, that regulate the frequency and manner in which a creditor or debt collector may communicate with a debtor. The emergency regulations create additional restrictions on these communications for 90 days or until the State of Emergency declared by the Governor has expired.
The additional restrictions applicable to all creditors under the emergency regulations fall under two broad categories: (1) restrictions on in-person communication and (2) restrictions on initiating new debt collections actions. For the next 90 days or until the State of Emergency expires, creditors will be prohibited from visiting or threatening to visit a debtor’s household or place of employment or otherwise confront or communicate with a debtor in public. Creditors are also prohibited from initiating or threatening new collections lawsuits, garnishments, seizure, or attachments of wages or property for payment of a debt, and repossessing any vehicle.
The emergency regulations also include additional restrictions specifically for Debt Collectors, a term the regulations define as applying largely to third-party collections agencies. Until the emergency regulations expire, debt collectors are prohibited from initiating any phone calls to the debtor’s personal telephone, provided that the call is not in response to a request made by the debtor. This restriction on outbound calls does not apply to creditors using their own name to collect their own debts.
We will continue to monitor how state Attorneys General are enforcing state debt collections restrictions amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Foley Hoag has also established a multi-disciplinary task force to help address legal matters related to COVID-19 and provide clients with the resources required to develop and implement legal and operational policies and procedures, as well as business strategies during the outbreak and beyond.