HOUSTON – The year 2020 was a real dumpster fire of a year. Many people just want to forget it. But the folks at the Consumer Federation of America has compiled consumer complaints from 34 agencies in 18 states and discovered the top 10 areas consumers complained about. Without further ado, they are:
1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, deceptive financing practices, defective vehicles, faulty repairs, car leasing and rentals, towing disputes.
2. Home Improvement/Construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job, failure to have required licensing or registration.
3. Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.
4. Credit/Debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage problems, credit repair and debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics.
5. Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licensing or registration, nonperformance.
6. Utilities: Complaints about gas, electric, water and cable billing and service.
7. Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
8. Travel: Misrepresentations about cost, amenities or other aspects of travel packages, failure to provide promised services, disputes about refunds.
9. (Tie) Health Products/Services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, billing issues; Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases.
10. (Tie) Pandemic: price gouging, refunds for canceled events and travel, financial issues, problems getting repairs and other services, “self-help” evictions, scams, and other complaints stemming from the pandemic; Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams and other common frauds; Household Goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, repair issues in connection with furniture and major appliances.
Help with the most common consumer issues
The Consumer Federation of America doesn’t leave us hanging though. They have provided some good resources for consumer with complaints in the top three areas.
How to get help with auto complaints
The International Association of Lemon Law Administrators provides information about how to reach the government agency that oversees the new car lemon law in your state. It also offers tips for consumers on issues such as how to prepare for lemon law arbitration hearings.
Purchasing a car “as is” doesn’t always mean that you’re out of luck if something goes wrong. You may be able to hold the dealer responsible. But the best way to protect yourself is to have the car checked out by a mechanic you trust before buying it to look for problems that might not be obvious to you. Buying a used car long-distance is especially risky since you may not be able to test drive it or have a mechanic examine it before you pay, and shipping it back if it’s not satisfactory could be expensive.
New car defects can be more than inconvenient -they can be dangerous. Contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at www.nhtsa.gov or by calling 800-424-9153 to get information about auto recalls, check for complaints from other individuals about the same problem, and report safety defects. If there are problems with your new car that substantially affect your ability to use it, ask your state or local consumer agency about your lemon law rights.
File a complaint with the Houston Better Business Bureau.
File a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Help for home improvement or construction issues
Get estimates from a few contractors and ask for referrals to previous customers so you can check on their reliability and the quality of their work. You may also find useful information about contractors from the Better Business Bureau and other sources by searching online.
Pay only a small deposit when you contract for home improvement work. Get a written contract that sets out the work and payment schedule. Payments should be proportionate to the work done and the supplies that have been ordered.
Be sure the home improvement contract specifies the date that the work will begin. While there may be legitimate reasons for delays, such as problems obtaining materials or other jobs taking longer than expected, the contractor should let you know and provide you with a new starting date.
Take pictures to document shoddy workmanship and any damage it has caused, and ask your local or state consumer agency for assistance if you can’t resolve the problem with the contractor.
In Texas, construction workers and handyman-type professionals are not licensed.
If you hired a licensed professional, like a plumber, electrician or HVAC person, you can file a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation here.
You can also complain to the BBB and the Texas AG.
How to get help with landlord or tenant issues
You may be entitled to a certain amount of notice before your landlord can unilaterally end your tenancy. If you’re unsure whether your landlord is treating you fairly, don’t suffer in silence. Ask your state or local consumer agency for information about your rights and how to enforce them.
Tenants are generally only responsible for damage or other problems they and their guests cause. If your security deposit has been wrongly withheld or isn’t returned to you in a timely manner, contact the Texas Attorney General.
Many states require landlords to ensure that their rental property meets certain safety and health standards. But tenants are generally responsible to treat the property respectfully and avoid causing damage. Your state or local consumer agency can give you information about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and help to mediate disputes with the landlord.
If you contact your landlord about health or safety problems with the property, you may want to follow up with a letter and keep a copy so you’ll have a record. The time limits for landlords to make repairs may depend on the seriousness of the problems. You may be able to break the lease if the house or apartment becomes uninhabitable because of the issues. This would require you to take the landlord to small claims court.
The Houston Apartment Association offers a free renter’s line for questions about renter rights, leases, and rental applications. The hotline is temporarily extended to be available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number to call is (713) 595-0300, or for assistance in Spanish call (713) 595-0300 x 309.
You can read more on your rights as a renter from the Texas Attorney General here.