FAQs

Question:

I own an automobile which was manufactured seven years ago. The automobile is in need of repair, but the part needed for the repair is no longer available from the dealer or the manufacturer. Are manufacturers legally required to supply repair parts for a certain period of time?

Answer:

Manufacturers are only obligated to supply repair parts for the duration of any applicable warranty. Once the warranty expires, however, the vehicle owner bears the burden of finding suitable replacement parts.

Consumer Tip:

Discuss the availability of parts with the dealer or manufacturer in advance of a purchase and get all promises regarding availability of parts in writing.

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Question: I purchased what I believed to be a new car only to learn after the sale that, prior to the sale, the dealer had removed the trunk lid, replaced it with a damaged lid and repaired the damaged lid. Am I entitled to cancel the contract and receive a refund?

S.T., EAST SYRACUSE, NEW YORK

Answer: General Business Law § 396-p(5) requires that, prior to the sale and delivery of a new car, a retail dealer provide written notification to the consumer of any physical damage repairs with a retail value in excess of five percent of the manufacturer's or distributor's suggested retail price performed after shipment from the manufacturer to the dealer. The dollar amount of the repair includes the cost of the retail charge for parts and labor, at the dealer's stated labor rate. If the dealer provides notice of repairs, the consumer may cancel the purchase order and receive a refund of the deposit. If the dealer does not notify the consumer of prior repairs, the consumer is entitled to a full refund of the purchase price, any trade-in allowance plus fees and charges within four months after the date of purchase.

Consumer Tip:

If the dealer does not provide notice of repairs and refuses to make a refund, you should obtain at least one estimate from an independent body shop as to the amount of damage as soon as you become aware of the problem. If the estimate exceeds five percent of the suggested retail price, you should present this evidence to the dealer and demand a refund under § 396-p(5). If the dealer still refuses to make a refund, file a complaint with the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, which will attempt to resolve the problem through mediation or, if a pattern of complaints exists against the dealer, by legal action. You may also wish to consult with a private attorney to discuss the availability of other rights and remedies.

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Question: After purchasing a used car, another dealer told me that I had paid over the book value. Was it legal for the dealer to charge more than the book value? JB, Delmar, NY

Answer: Book values are only averages that vary depending on the mileage and options and vary from one locale to the next. Typically they are broken out into wholesale, retail and average trade-in price. Purchase prices as well as rates of interest and warranties beyond the State minimum are subject to negotiation prior to purchase. It is important that consumers shop different dealerships to gain a sense of the average asking price for cars similar to the one they are interested in purchasing, prior to signing the contract.

Consumer Tip:

Make notes during the sales presentation and be certain that all verbal promises are written on the contract. Read the contract carefully before signing. Take your time reading the contract, and Question any language you do not understand. Do not let the salesperson rush you. Before leasing an automobile, read the Attorney General's "Tip Sheet" on automobile leases.

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Question:

I am thinking about building a new one-family home, or adding an extension on to my current residence, in order to meet my family's need for additional living space. If I give the builder a down payment, is he legally required to hold that money in an escrow account until the new house is completed or the renovation is completed?

Answer:

If you decide to build a new home, the builder is not required to deposit your down payment in an escrow account unless you already own the lot on which the home is to be built, or unless the town, village or city in which the home is to be constructed requires an escrow. If you do not own the lot and an escrow is not required by the municipality, the builder is not required to deposit the funds in escrow, but you have the option of requiring an escrow. In this situation, the contract with the builder must contain a notice informing you of your right to require an escrow. The notice itself, however, does not require the builder to escrow your deposit. You must exercise your option by including specific language in the contract requiring the builder to deposit in escrow. Should you decide instead to add on to your existing home, the builder is required to deposit all payments received prior to completion in escrow. If you decide to purchase an existing, previously occupied home, the down payment must be placed in escrow by the escrow agent only if required by the contract.

Consumer Tip:

As with all contracts, it is prudent to read a real estate contract before signing and to consult with an attorney as needed. If you don't own the lot, check with your local officials for any escrow requirements. If an escrow is not required, consider exercising your option by specifically writing it into the contract. Do not rely on the option notice in the contract. If an escrow is required, the builder must provide you with the name of the bank within ten days after the deposit has been made.

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Question:

What is the procedure for making a complaint regarding securities fraud with the Attorney General’s Office?

Answer:

Your complaint must be received in writing. You must send a letter that explains all the details of your complaint. A complaint form is available, please refer to the form section in Investors and Securities. Please attach all copies of supporting documentation. List all of the information that we will need to resolve your complaint as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

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Question:

What can be expected after a complaint has been made?

Answer:

After your complaint has been received by the Investor Protection and Securities Bureau, it will be reviewed and assigned to an Attorney or an appropriate representative to investigate your complaint. If it is determined that your complaint should be handled by a different Bureau or agency, the securities bureau will forward your complaint to the appropriate office and you will be informed of the decision.

Please note that the Bureau cannot represent individuals in private matters; instead we investigate and prosecute fraud on behalf of the public at large where we suspect a pattern of fraud affecting many investors.

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Question:

Where should I send my complaint?

Answer:

Please address your complaint to the Investor Protection and Securities Bureau Chief. Mail your complaint to: New York State Department of Law Office of the Attorney General, Investor Protection and Securities Bureau, 120 Broadway, 23 floor, New York, NY 10271. You may also fax your complaint to this office. The fax number for our bureau is (212) 416-8816, attention Bureau Chief.

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Question:

How can I check to see if a broker or an issuer has a license to do business in New York State? How can I review their background?

Answer:

You may get basic information over the phone by calling the Securities Bureau’s Record Department. The staff can only give basic answers, such as a salesperson’s employment history, exams/series taken and yes/no answers to confirm any disciplinary history.

Under the State Freedom of Information Law, most files maintained by this Bureau are available for your review. You may also obtain copies of information contained in our files. The first five copies are free with a fee of twenty-five cents ($0.25) per page thereafter.

If you are requesting a printout of any record maintained in the securities bureau, such as a disciplinary history, a CRD report or to inquire about complaints against a company or an individual you plan to do business, please write to this office. Address your request to Investor Protection and Securities Bureau Chief, NYS Department of Law Office of the Attorney General, Investor Protection and Securities Bureau, 120 Broadway, 23 floor, New York, NY 10271. You may also fax your request to this office. Our fax number is (212) 416-8816.

Please note, all records or some portions of records maintained by this Bureau may not be disclosed. If the information you are requesting is confidential, or if it is an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, your request may be denied

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Question:

Does the Bureau provide information on the value of old stocks or if the company still exists?

Answer:

No, please contact the New York State Secretary of State.

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Question:

I received a notice from my bank indicating that certain changes were being made in the terms of my credit card account. One of the changes appears to relate to the amount of the finance charge, although the size of the print contained throughout the notice was very small and extremely difficult to read. Is this legal and, if not, what can I do? Suppose I don't agree with the changes? M.J., WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY

Answer:

New York State law requires that the printed portion of every credit card agreement be in at least eight-point type. In addition, any change in the terms of the agreement must be clearly and conspicuously described in writing and must be mailed or delivered to the cardholder at least 30 days prior to the effective date in order to be valid.

If the change has the effect of increasing the finance or service charge, the written notice must include a statement that either (a) the incurring of further charges on or after the effective date of the change stated in the notice constitutes acceptance of the change, or (b) that the cardholder has thirty days to advise the credit card company that he or she does not accept the changes. If the company fails to comply with the statute, the credit card holder has the right to recover the finance charge imposed as a result of the change and the amount of any delinquency, collection, extension, deferral or refinance charge imposed.

The credit card company, however, has ten days after receipt of written notice from the cardholder to correct any errors in the notice. If the correction is timely made, the cardholder cannot recover any of the charges.

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Question: For a couple of months my credit card billing statement had contained a charge I did not recognize. I contacted my credit card company and was told that they had offered me some kind of insurance and it was up to me to call them and tell them I did not want it. Is this practice legal?

A.D., Saratoga Springs, NY

Answer: The practice you describe would not be legal. Every binding contract requires an "acceptance" as well as an "offer." Your failure to notify the credit card company that you do not want insurance would not constitute an "acceptance." It is common for a credit card company to offer consumers free insurance coverage for a few months, but require that the consumer cancel the coverage in order to avoid being charged once the free coverage period lapses. If the consumer were to accept this arrangement, they would be obligated to pay charges which incur after the free coverage period ends, unless the consumer cancels the coverage in accordance with their agreement.

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Question:

My upstairs tenant is three months behind in his rent. While I have tried to be patient with him, I am at the point where I think it would be best to evict him. How can this be done in full compliance of the law?

Answer:

Following appropriate notice, you may bring a summary non-payment court proceeding to evict your tenant. Only a sheriff, marshal or constable can carry out a court ordered warrant to evict a tenant. You cannot take the law into your own hands and evict a tenant by threats, use of force, changing the locks, or any other unlawful means. A tenant who is put out of his or her apartment in a forcible or unlawful manner is entitled to recover triple damages.

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Question:

I am in need of having some home improvement work done on my house. Can you please give me some direction as to where I can go to verify whether or not a contractor is reputable before I sign a contract and pay a deposit.

Answer:

The Attorney General's office strongly recommends that you check the reputation of a home improvement contractor before signing on the dotted line. To do that, you should always ask a contractor for references and make sure you contact those references. Also, check with the Attorney General's office, your local consumer agency and Better Business Bureau. Frequently, many counties require home improvement contractors to be licensed and maintain a restitution fund to reimburse homeowners who have been victimized by unscrupulous contractors. For that information, you may contact the town or county clerk's office. Finally, to learn whether any legal actions have been brought against a contractor, you can call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at 1-800-771-7755. Even if your search turns up no adverse information, you should avoid paying large sums of money up-front, and instead pay in installments until the work is complete.

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Question:

Can a landlord impose a late fee if the monthly rent is not paid by the first of the month?

Answer:

A landlord may impose a late fee on installments of rent from the time they become due. This is true whether the lease is written or oral. Most standard lease agreements contain a provision that states when the rent is due and the fee that will be imposed if the payment is not made on time.

A provision such as this is enforceable provided it is not disproportionate to the amount of harm caused to the landlord by the late receipt of the rent. For example, courts have not allowed a late fee of $50 to be imposed on a late monthly rent of $405, because the late fee was considered disproportionate and characterized as a penalty. The law does not allow a landlord to impose a penalty for late rent. The imposition of a late fee in rental units which are subject to regulation under the various rent control or rent regulation statutes may be subject to specific limitations.

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Question:I rented a vehicle outside N.Y. which was stolen and subsequently crashed. I thought that I was liable for only $100 of the damages. V.W., Far Rockaway, NY

Answer: New York law limits your liability only if you rented the vehicle in N.Y. However, if you have insurance or if you are covered under another person's policy, you may be covered. Remember, there are always exceptions to coverage if, for example, the authorized driver is intoxicated or committing a criminal act that caused the damage.

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Question:

I purchased a puppy from a dealer and within two weeks she became critically ill and died. I feel that the pet shop should reimburse me for the cost of veterinary bills incurred trying to save the puppy's life as well as the purchase price. Is this my legal right?

Answer:

The so-called "Pet Lemon Law" provides that if within 14 days of purchase, a veterinarian certifies that the animal was "unfit" due to "illness, congenial malformation or infectious disease," the pet dealer must offer the consumer the right to choose one of the following options:

(a) the right to return the animal and receive a refund of the purchase price and reasonable veterinary costs related to the certification that the animal was unfit;
(b) the right to return the animal and receive an exchange animal of the consumer's choice and veterinary costs related to the certification; or
(c) the right to keep the animal and receive reimbursement of the veterinary services for the purpose of attempting to cure the animal.

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Question:

What are the differences between a legitimate multi-level marketing company and a pyramid scheme?

Answer:

A legitimate multi-level marketing company emphasizes reliable products or services. A pyramid scheme uses products or services to disguise its quest for collecting money from the investors on the bottom levels to pay other investors further up the pyramid.

In a typical pyramid scheme, new investors must pay a fee for the right to sell the products or services as well as for the right to recruit others into the pyramid for rewards unrelated to products sales or services. Very often the products or services the victim must buy are unsalable, and the pyramid’s promoters refuse to repurchase them. On the other hand, legitimate multi-level marketings companies will buy back unsold merchandise, although often at a discount from the original price.

Success in multi-level marketing is based on two factors: product and service quality, and the hard work involved in being able to sell the products or services. Recruitment of new investors is secondary.

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Question:

In August of 1996, I tried to rent a car from five different rental companies and they all told me no, not without a credit card. I believe that there was a law passed help New York residents without credit cards rent cars.

Answer:

In 1980, the General Business Law was amended prohibiting auto rental companies from refusing to rent a vehicle to a New York resident without a credit card. Companies may, however, impose other lawful requirements on a renter without a credit card, such as a deposit. In addition, rental agencies may not discriminate on the basis of age, as long as the applicant is 18 years old or older and insurance coverage is available. Finally, auto rental companies may not discriminate based on the race, color, ethnic origin or sex of the prospective renter.

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