Collectors can call at work until you say stop

Q. Can a debt collector call a person at work? I work as a receptionist for a company that often gets collection calls for an employee who works here. This person is unable to take the calls because he works out in the field. The calls are very harassing because they are often rude and have even resorted to calling me names because of my refusal to take these kinds of messages. What can be done to stop these calls?

A. Based on what you say, my opinion is the debt collector is violating federal law. First, until a consumer tells a debt collector he or she is not allowed to receive calls at work, the collector has the right to call. You don’t say whether the employee told the collector to stop, so the mere act of calling migtht not be wrongful. Federal law, however, prohibits debt collectors from discussing a consumer’s debt with anyone else, harassing anyone, or even telling third parties they are calling about a debt. I suggest the employee send a certified letter demanding the debt collector stop this conduct, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. He might even want to speak with a private attorney about a lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Q. Can I withhold rent if my air conditioning is not working properly? It broke down as soon as it started getting warm.

A. As a general rule, a tenant must continue to pay rent even when there is a problem with the apartment. In no event does a tenant have the right to simply refuse to pay rent. There are a few situations, however, when a tenant may deduct from the rent and have the apartment repaired.

Repairs and deductions may be made only when the problem is extremely serious and you have given the landlords proper written notice to repair the condition, letting them know that if they do not make the repairs, you will. According to Texas law, the problem must involve either the backup or overflow of raw sewage, the termination of water, or the failure to provide heat or cooled air after the landlord has received written notice from a local building or health official. In other words, for you to withhold rent you must first send the landlords written notice by certified mail, telling them your air conditioning does not work and asking them to repair it. You then must wait a “reasonable” time. In addition, the local health or building official should be informed so it may give the landlord the appropriate notice. Only after all of these requirements are met may you repair the problem yourself and deduct the costs from the rent. Hopefully, once the landlords receive your notice, they will remedy the condition.

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