Today, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued a sweeping emergency regulation instituting a prohibition on debt collectors making outbound debt collection calls or pursuing other debt collection practices as a result of the coronavirus (“COVID-19”) health crisis. These rules take effect on March 28, and end when either of the following occurs: (1) 30 days after Massachusetts’s State of Emergency related to COVID-19 is lifted, or (2) June 26, 2020, 90 days after the effective date of the rules.

These rules prohibit debt collectors – defined to include debt buyers – from making any outbound debt collection phone calls, except to respond to a debtor’s request for the debt collector to call, declaring all such calls an unfair or deceptive act:

[I]t shall be an unfair or deceptive act or practice for any debt collector to initiate a communication with any debtor via telephone, either in person or by recorded audio message to the debtor’s residence, cellular telephone, or other telephone number provided by the debtor as his or her personal telephone number, provided that a debt collector shall not be deemed to have initiated a communication with a debtor if the communication by the debt collector is in response to a request made by the debtor for said communication.

Importantly, this rule does not prohibit debt collectors from answering a call from a consumer or informing consumers of a rescheduled court appearance.

Moreover, these new regulations prohibit collectors and creditors as defined by 940 CMR 7.03 from:

  • Initiating or threatening to file a new collection lawsuit;
  • Initiating or threatening to garnish wages or seized other property or funds for debt repayments, including vehicle repossession;
  • Apply for, cause to be served, enforce, or threaten to apply for any capias warrant;
  • Visiting or threatening to visit an individual’s home in conjunction with an unpaid debt; and
  • Communicating in person with an individual in a public place in conjunction with an unpaid debt.

The collection of debts resulting from loans secured by mortgages on real property or by tenants are exempt from all prohibitions established by the emergency regulations. Further, utility companies are exempted from the prohibition on home visits.

We will continue to keep you updated regarding actions by the Massachusetts Attorney General and other federal, state, and local regulators arising from the current health crisis.