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A Debt Collector Cannot Harass You

Richard M.  Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Richard M. Alderman
Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. A debt collector is harassing my mother for her brother’s credit card debt. The last call scared her because they threatened to take her house. How can I stop the collector from harassing her? She never signed anything agreeing to pay his debts. He is getting her very upset, and she even missed work one day because she couldn’t sleep.
A. There is a federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that strictly regulates debt collectors. Based on what you say, the debt collector has violated this law in several ways.
First, this law prohibits a debt collector from contacting anyone other than the debtor, except in very limited circumstances. A debt collector may not call anyone except the debtor unless it is to get location information about the debtor. In other words, merely talking to your grandmother about paying her brother’s debt is unlawful.
A debt collector is also violates the law by harassing or threatening anyone. In your case, your mother does not owe the debt, and any attempts to collect can be viewed as harassment. Additionally, even if she owed the debt, the debt collector could not take her house and the treat to do so is unlawful.
I suggest your grandmother make it clear to the debt collector she knows the law and expects he will immediately stop contacting her. My guess is that this will resolve the problem. If it doesn’t, this sounds like the type of case a consumer attorney would be willing to assist her with. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, your mother’s attorney would recover his or her fees if your mother won the lawsuit. For more information about this law, take a look at “Debt Collection” in the “Legal Topics” section n my website listed below.
Q. My neighbor is building a house. The contractor backed into my fence and knocked down a large section. Who is liable for the damage, the neighbor or the builder?
A. The fact that your neighbor is building the house does not make the neighbor responsible for acts of the builder. Your neighbor did not engage in any wrongful conduct and Texas law does not make an owner liable for acts of contractors.
On the other hand, the builder owes you an obligation to not damage your property. By backing into your fence the builder was negligent and should be responsible for the cost of replacing the fence. I suggest you talk with the builder and ask for compensation or a new fence. If he refuses, this sounds like a good case for justice court.
Q. Will my son be responsible for my outstanding balance of my student loan in the event of my death?
A. As you may know, government backed student loans are the most “collectable” type of debt. There is no limitation period, wages may be garnished, and they generally are not discharged in bankruptcy. The debt, however, does not pass to your heirs. After your death your estate will be responsible for the debt. If there is not enough money in your estate the debt will remain unpaid.
Q. In 2013, my ex-husband was ordered to pay child support. Since that time he has changed jobs, and is making much more money. Shouldn’t he be paying me more for support?
A. He probably should be paying more for child support, but until you get the order modified, he has the legal right to keep paying as originally ordered. Either party may go back to court to have a child support order modified whenever there is a substantial change in circumstances. A new job with a higher salary should entitle you to a larger payment. I suggest you speak with a family law attorney about modifying the order.

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