New York’s large print notice is blurry in any format

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On October 8, S.737A was signed into New York law, “requiring debt collectors to notify debtors that written communications are available in large print.” The legislation comes into force on November 7, 2021.

The problem with the law is the mismatch between what it says and what it says to debt collectors.

What it says

“Each principal creditor or collector must, in each initial communication, clearly and visibly disclose to the debtor that each communication may be provided in an alternate, reasonably accommodating format. “

“Communication” is defined as “the transmission of information about a debt directly or indirectly to any person by any means”.

The “principal creditor” is already defined as “any person, company, company or organization to whom a consumer claim is due, due or declared due or due, or any assignee for the value of said person, company, company or organization” . NY CLS Gen Bus § 600 (3).

What he says to debt collectors

Unfortunately, the law states:

“This disclosure must essentially contain the following elements:

(a) A statement that the consumer may request the letter in an alternate, reasonably accommodating format chosen by the primary creditor or debt collector, such as large print, braille, audio compact disc or other means; and

(b) A business telephone number that the consumer can call to make such a request.

Vague

The legislation was simply poorly drafted and creates questions that are difficult to answer, a few of which are:

  1. What does “reasonably accommodating format chosen by principal creditor or debt collector” really mean? Does this mean that a debt collector can choose to offer large print exclusively under any circumstances, or does it mean that the alternate format must be “reasonably accommodating” given the actual circumstances? For example, if the consumer is completely blind, can the debt collector still choose to provide large print or is the debt collector’s selection limited to formats such as braille or CD?
  1. Does this apply to all written communications, including emails and SMS? The law says it applies to every communication in any medium, but the example language refers to the consumer requesting “the letter” in an alternate format.
  1. What is the standard for “large print”, which is not defined in this section? Can we trust the definition found elsewhere in New York law as “a font size of sixteen or more” for utility bills (NY Pub. Serv. Law § 44), cable bills (NY Pub. Serv. Law § 224-b) and telephone bills (NY Gen. Bus Law § 399-zz)?
  1. Does the alternate format option extend to documents provided for justification of debts in accordance with 23 NYCRR § 1.4 (c), some of which may be account level documents provided by the creditor?

Previous legislation

The large print notice legislation was originally introduced in 2011 and reintroduced in virtually the same form every session until the 2019-2020 session. The 2019 Assembly Bill A.711 is a good example of previous versions and includes a note explaining the legislation.

The legislation defined “large print” to mean “a font size of sixteen or more” and limited disclosure to consumer information “than written communications.” . . may be received in large print. The note explained that the large print option did not apply to the initial communication; only to “any other communication that the debtor may receive”. Neither this bill nor previous versions included the example of confusing language in the current law.

Read between the lines

The change from the 2019 wording appears to reflect an intentional broadening of the scope. Unfortunately, determining the intent of the law, and simply how to properly draft the notice, is difficult to decipher due to poor drafting. Without further clarification, the best that can be done is to consult with the legal advisor of your choice and find a workable and workable balance between what the law says and what it says collectors should say.


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