By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
As long as there have been businesses, there have been dishonest businesses. Unfortunately, there is a long history of companies acting in ways that are unfair, unscrupulous, or even illegal.
Pennsylvania consumers have a number of state and federal laws that offer recourse for a wide variety of business infractions. It is often difficult for the average consumer to know his or her rights and how to go about protecting them.
Although Going and Plank specializes in fighting contractor fraud, included below is an overview of other federal consumer protection laws for your reference. This list is a sampling and should not be considered comprehensive. But I hope it helps you to understand what is available to protect your rights as a consumer.
Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law
Pennsylvania citizens’ consumer rights are protected under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. This law covers a wide variety of fraudulent or deceptive business practices, including;
- Passing off goods or services as those of another
- Providing misleading information about the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services
- Dishonestly implying or reporting association or affiliation with another
- Being dishonest about the source or locations of goods or services
- Being dishonest about a product or services attributes
- Being dishonest about a person’s qualifications or certifications
- Trying to present used or repaired goods as new
- Misrepresenting the quality of goods or misrepresenting the style or model of goods
- Falsely disparaging other products or services
- False advertising
- Dishonest or intentionally confusing contracts
- Failure to honor contracts
- Pyramid schemes
- Failure to honor warranties or guarantees
- Failure to disclose defects or need for repair
- Being dishonest about the nature of construction or repair, or charging customers for a particular type of materials or parts but using other materials or components; and,
- Engaging in any other fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding.
If a consumer has been defrauded or deceived, the Act provides the right to sue for damages and holds the business responsible for the consumer’s damages, legal fees and costs and, for particularly egregious acts, the potential of up to three (3x) times actual damages. Going and Plank often references this law when working with construction or contractor fraud cases.
Consumer Rights Acts for Homeowners
The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA) is another tool Going and Plank uses when defending our clients from fraudulent contractor activities. It outlines the responsibilities that contractors must follow, including state registration, and provides procedures required in documenting and performing home improvement jobs. For example, HICPA states that contractors must disclose their registration number, insurance, whether they will use subcontractors, approximate start and finish date, and, for large jobs, limits deposits to a third of the total.
HICPA also outlines requirements for home improvement contracts and what must be done to revise them during the job. It provides a litany of acts that are unlawful. Any violation of the Act triggers the Consumer Protection Law and provides the damaged consumer the right to seek repair and/or replacement costs, attorneys fees, costs, and, in extremely egregious cases, up to three (3x) times the consumer’s damages.
HICPA protections apply to most types of work on homes and property, including home repairs, replacements, remodeling, demolitions, removals, renovations, installations, alterations, conversions, modernizations, improvements, rehabilitation, sandblasting, pool and patio installation, repair and replacement.
Other Federal Consumer Rights Laws and Acts
In addition to the Pennsylvania laws outlined above, there are a number of federal laws that protect consumers from a range of dishonest or predatory behaviors. A sampling is identified below, but this list is not complete. If you believe you have been treated dishonestly or illegally, talk with an attorney to evaluate your rights.
- The Consumer Product Safety Act regulates potentially dangerous products and provides the framework for recalls of unsafe products.
- The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits using characteristics such as race, religion, national origin, sex, age, or the receipt of public aid as a factor in granting credit.
- The Fair Credit Billing Act requires credit card companies to address billing mistakes promptly.
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act and Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act ensures that credit reporting agencies accurately report to lenders. It also gives the consumer the right to their credit reports. It ensures that victims of identity theft can place a fraud alert on their accounts.
- Fair Debt Collection Practices Act makes it illegal to use deceptive and unfair techniques when collecting bills.
- The Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments make it illegal to refuse to rent based on race, religion, ethnic background, sex, familial status, or a mental or physical disability.
- The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits the sale of mislabeled or adulterated products.
- The Truth in Lending Act dictates that lenders must provide full details on loans, including the loan length and the interest costs you’ll pay over the course of the loan.
We Help Homeowners Protect Their Rights
It is important that consumers know that they are protected under Pennsylvania and Federal law. I hope that you have found this article helpful. If you are experiencing issues with a dishonest contractor, remember that the law provides for recovery of your actual damages, costs, attorney fees, and, in extreme cases, a punitive measure of up to three (3x) times your actual damages. Contact us today to learn more.
Want to find out more about contractor scams and homeowners’ rights? Check out these articles:
Or click here to discover an even wider range of legal topics in our legal blog.