Tenants can hold debt collectors accountable for illegal evictions if the debt collectors seeking back rent payments fail to advise the tenants of the CDC eviction moratorium under a new rule, according to a release from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The CFPB’s rule requires debt collectors to provide written notice to tenants of their rights under the eviction moratorium and prohibits debt collectors from misrepresenting tenants’ eligibility for protection from eviction under the moratorium.
“The CDC has established the eviction moratorium to protect the public health and reduce the spread of the virus. Debt collectors who evict tenants who may have rights under the moratorium without providing notice of the moratorium or who misrepresent tenants’ rights under the moratorium can be prosecuted by federal agencies and state attorneys general for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and are also subject to private lawsuits by tenants,” the CFPB said in the release.
“With COVID-19 killing hundreds of Americans every day, kicking families out into the street during this pandemic may literally be a death sentence,” said CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio. “No one should be evicted from their home without understanding their rights, and we will hold accountable those debt collectors who move forward with illegal evictions. We encourage debt collectors to work with tenants and landlords to find solutions that work for everyone.”
Some states and localities have adopted their own eviction moratoriums. Debt collectors may also be required to provide notice of these moratoriums. The CFPB’s rule does not preempt more protective state laws.
Nearly nine million households are behind on their rental payments.
“Tens of thousands of renters are being evicted every week, often without being told of their rights under the CDC moratorium. As the CDC has found, tenants who are evicted may end up homeless or in crowded or shared living settings, increasing their vulnerability to COVID-19 and the risk of the disease spreading throughout communities. Such evictions can have long-term health, financial, and social consequences for families and children,” the CFPB said in the statement.
The rule goes into effect May 3 and does not apply directly to landlords, but does apply to third-party debt collectors, including attorneys hired to represent landlords in eviction actions. It also forbids debt collectors from misrepresenting to renters that they’re not covered by the national moratorium, which was extended last month to remain in place through June.
The CFPB said it believes some tenants may not know about the CDC’s eviction moratorium or how to take advantage of it. And there are reports that tenants who do try to use the moratorium to halt an eviction may be “falsely informed” that they’re not eligible, the agency said.
“Numerous public reports and bureau outreach with consumer advocates, legal aid organizations, and other stakeholders also suggest that parties to the eviction process may be engaged in other conduct in violation of federal, state, or local eviction moratoria,” the CFPB said.