Know your rights: You can stop a debt collector from calling

By Richard Alderman
May 18, 2013 at 12:18 a.m.

I have a debt collector calling me at work. I have told him that my employer prohibits such calls, and I could lose my job. His answer was, "Then you better pay me because I am not going to stop calling you." How can I stop these calls?

Under a federal law, called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have the right to stop all calls from a debt collector or to stop just calls at work.

Under this law, once you notify a debt collector in writing that you want him to stop all future communication, the collector essentially must stop all calls, letters, emails and any other form of communication.

He can contact you just once more to tell you what steps he will take next. If you want to continue communicating with the collector - but not at work - you can tell the collector you are not allowed to receive such calls at work, and the law says he cannot continue to call. If the debt collector violates this law, you have a claim for damages and penalties.

I suggest you let the debt collector know you know about this law and expect he will stop calling. My guess is that will end the calls. If he doesn't stop, you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission and a private attorney.

I am a college student, and I just moved out of my apartment. I gave proper notice and left it cleaner than when I moved in. I have been told this landlord does not return security deposits. How long do I have to wait to find out if mine is being returned?

First, be sure to give your landlord a forwarding address. Assuming that you were current in your rent, gave your landlord proper notice and a forwarding address, the Texas Security Deposit Law offers you substantial protection.

Under this law, a landlord must either return your security deposit or send you written notice why it is not being returned within 30 days after you move out. If the landlord does not act within this time period, the law presumes he is acting in bad faith. If you went to small claims court to collect, you could be entitled to up to three times the deposit plus an additional $100.

I also should point out that a landlord cannot arbitrarily withhold money from your deposit. The landlord can withhold only for damages caused by a breach of the terms of the lease, and he cannot withhold for damage caused by wear and tear. If you don't hear from your landlord within the 30-day limit, let him know you know your legal rights.

My guess is that you will get back your deposit. For more information about this law, check out the landlord-tenant section on my website,

I was hired at a company to do their books. I found that in years past a lot of work this company did was not billed for or paid. How far back can I go in order to try to collect on this work performed? Some of the debts are 10 years old.

If someone owes the company money, the debt continues forever or until the person who owes the money files bankruptcy. This means you can send them an invoice for obligations that are 10 years old. You probably cannot, however, take steps to collect debts more than 4 years old through the courts.

Under a law known as the statute of limitations, obligations arising from a contract cannot be enforced more than four years after they went into default. If you were to sue on these debts, the person you sued could get it dismissed and probably collect his attorney's fees and expenses against you.

My husband and I have been separated for several years. We haven't done anything from a legal standpoint but are planning on getting a divorce. A friend told me that my husband won a lot of money in the lottery. Do I have any right to that money?

Based on what you say, you and your husband are still married. Being "separated" does not change your legal status as married. As a general rule, all money obtained while you are married, unless it is a gift or inheritance to just one spouse, is "community property."

This means that the money he won in the lottery is probably community property. Assuming that is the case, you both have an equal interest in the money. I suggest you speak with a family law attorney about your divorce and the division of this money.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a website at



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