CFPB’s Frotman speaks on medical debt collections and rental financial products

Seth Frotman, General Counsel of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, highlighted issues with medical debt collections and tenant screenings in a recent speech. He detailed how the CFPB received over 15,000 complaints about medical debts, leading to a push to exclude such debts from credit reports. Frotman also criticized the increasing 'financialization' of the rental market, noting discriminatory practices in tenant screening by corporate landlords, and urged for greater transparency.

On April 11, the General Counsel of the CFPB, Seth Frotman, delivered a speech at the National Consumer Law Center/National Association of Consumer Advocates Spring Training, highlighting how the FDCPA and the FCRA cover often-overlooked sectors of consumer finance, including medical collections and landlord-tenant debts. As to medical billing, collections, and credit reporting, Frotman noted that the CFPB has received more than 15,000 complaints in the past two years, as explained previously in the CFPB’s most recent FDCPA annual report (covered by InfoBytes here). These complaints led to the CFPB initiating a rulemaking process to “remove medical bills from credit reports.” Frotman highlighted that many states have taken similar initiatives: Colorado and New York both enacted laws prohibiting the reporting of medical debt, and the CFPB encouraged more states to follow their lead; Connecticut recently introduced legislation banning medical debt in SB 395. Of interest, Frotman noted that when the CFPB contacted debt collectors about suspected bills, they often closed the account – suggesting that these collectors “do not have confidence that this money [was] actually owed,” indicating that collectors could be seeking to collect an invalid medical debt from consumers.

On rental collections and credit reporting, Frotman noted an increase in the “financialization” of the landlord and tenant relationship, such as products to finance security deposits or rent and offering rent-specific credit cards. Frotman also noted that corporate landlords, who have increased their share of the rental housing market, have increased the demand for “tenant screening” products that score prospective tenants. Frotman expressed concern that the algorithms relied on by these tenant screening products have been opaque and even discriminatory. The speech highlighted the CFPB’s focus on tenant screening as part of the Bureau’s increased attention toward debt collection and credit reporting companies generally in the rental industry. For instance, the CFPB noted that law firms that operate as “eviction mills” (i.e., firms that “rubber stamp” eviction actions without performing a meaningful review) could be held liable under the FDCPA.

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