When Debt Collectors Call About the Rent

This post originally appeared on ConsumerLawyer.MN with the title “Debt Collector Calls About Rental Debt.”

Debt collectors and landlords go together like peanut butter and jelly. When a landlord has a dispute over rental debt or damage to a rental property, a landlord will frequently turn to a debt collector.

Many times, the debt collector either misrepresents the amount of the debt or what can happen if you don’t pay it. If you have been contacted by a debt collector about rental debt, here is what you need to know.

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Evictions Used to Attract Crowds. Now they Affect Poor Black Women.

This is an extraordinary quote from an article in the New Yorker:

In February, 1932, the Times published an account of community resistance to the eviction of three families in the Bronx, observing, “Probably because of the cold, the crowd numbered only 1,000.”

Now, evictions rarely attract crowds. According to the same article, “the majority of poor renting families spend more than half their income on housing,” with the predictable result that millions of Americans are evicted every year. Evictions are no longer unusual. They are so common the idea of a crowd showing up for every single one is inconceivable.

This is another profound quote from that article:

If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.

The consequences overlap. Both convictions and evictions land on records, and both make it harder to get a job, credit, rent an apartment, and ultimately get out of poverty.

I don’t mean to suggest that it is wrong to evict people who aren’t paying their rent. What’s wrong is that so many Americans can’t pay rent, and that so many of the Americans who can’t pay rent are black. Those are complicated problems. Criminal justice reform is finally getting some attention, but we really need to work on both issues.

Read This Blog: Speak for We

At Speak for We, housing advocate Michael Dahl writes passionately about Minnesota and national housing issues. I’ve known Michael since he was Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, and worked with him while he was Public Policy Director at HOME Line. He is a true advocate for the homeless and for affordable housing, and Speak for We is his outlet.

When Michael left HOME Line, he started Speak for We as a way to get his message out to a larger community. In addition to writing about housing, homelessness, and advocacy, Michael maintains “Hashtag Central” to monitor social justice conversations on Twitter, and his “Talk About Home” video project includes interviews of people on the street, advocates, and community leaders.

Check it out.

Help Keep HOME Line Running!

To raise money for its operating costs, HOME Line is keeping a treadmill turning for at least two days and two nights. You can watch all the Treadmill-A-Thon action on HOME Line’s live feed:

I will be keeping the treadmill turning from 3-4 CDT today. Or trying, anyway. If you want me to go faster, help me get closer to my goal of $3,000!

Here is why I am proud to be a part of HOME Line’s board of directors, why I donated, and why you should, too:

This year, HOME Line led the effort to pass the Tenants’ Bill of Rights, the most important tenants’ rights legislation in years. It also fielded thousands of calls, prevented dozens of evictions, and helped tenants get hundreds of thousands of dollars in security deposits and rent abatement–all for FREE!

But it takes money to keep the phones live, the volunteers fed, and the staff paid.

Every non-profit is feeling the effects of the economy, but only a few have such a direct and meaningful effect on Minnesota. HOME Line needs your help.

I am proud to be a part of HOME Line’s board of directors, and I want to see it succeed for many many more years. Please help us out by donating.

Sam’s Mo’ Money, No Problems Treadmill-A-Thon

Consumer Complaints Up, But Resources Are Down

The latest survey of front-line consumer agencies shows that while complaints went up, the resources to help consumers went down. 62% of the agencies reported that they received more complaints in 2008 than in 2007, and 47% of the agencies suffered budget cuts just prior to or during the survey period, with one being eliminated entirely.

Top consumer complaints for 2008, with 2008 ranking in 2007 in parenthesis:

  1. Auto: (1) Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
  2. Home Improvement/Construction: (2) Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job
  3. Credit/Debt Collection: (3) Billing and fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt settlement, predatory lending, illegal or abusive collection tactics
  4. Utilities: (5) Service problems, billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services
  5. Retail Sales: (4) False advertising, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, nondelivery
  6. Services: (9) Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
  7. Household Goods: (6) Major appliances and furniture, problems with nondelivery, misrepresentations, faulty repairs
  8. Landlord/Tenant: (10) Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics
  9. (tie) Internet Sales: (7) Misrepresentations, nondelivery in online purchases; Home Solicitations: (8) Misrepresentations, nondelivery in door-to-door, telemarketing and mail solicitations, do-not-call violations
  10. Health Products and Services: (not in top 10 in 2007) misleading claims, failure to deliver

2008 Consumer Complaint Survey Report | Consumer Federation of America (CFA), National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA), and North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI)

Rental property foreclosures affect tenants, too

Local channel KARE 11 on the effect of rental foreclosures on tenants. This video features HOME Line, a Minnesota tenant advocacy hotline doing great work to help tenants dealing with their landlord’s foreclosures.

Avoid utility charges that are not yours

Never assume the next tenant will put utilities in their own name. Or if you move out and leave behind a roommate or sublease to someone, never assume they will do it, either.

When you move, make sure you call your utility providers to let them know you are moving and that they should remove your name from the account. You might want to follow up with a letter, as well, in case a dispute arises. If they need another name, give them the landlord’s.

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Landlord Asks Mother To Pay “Early Termination Fee” After Son Fails To Honor Lease By Dying

Landlord takes tenant’s toilet, gets $10,000 fine

Chicago sheriff goes rogue, refuses to carry out foreclosure evictions

Over-leveraged landlords are losing their rental properties in droves, and banks have no interest in being landlords. As a result, renters are often innocent victims of the foreclosure epidemic.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has decided to take measures into his own hands. He announced a moratorium on evictions for homes, apartment buildings, and condominiums facing mortgage foreclosure.

Mortgage foreclosure cases filed in Cook County are likely to exceed 43,000 this year, compared to some 18,000 in 2006, the sheriff said.

Among the consequences may be fewer mortgage loans.

“We have to have the ability to take over collateral upon default, and if we don’t have that assurance, or we think evictions won’t be made … we simply won’t make the loan,” Koch said of the moratorium.

For Minnesota renters, HOME Line has some helpful resources on the side effects of foreclosure, including a brochure (PDF link) and more extensive written materials (PDF link)

Sheriff in Chicago halts foreclosure evictions | Reuters (via Consumerist, everyone)