Back in October, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a package of legislation giving the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) additional regulatory muscle to combat what officials described as “predatory financing practices in the used-vehicle industry.”
While those new laws go into effect in February, DCA already showed it’s ready to flex its power, finalizing settlement agreements last week with three auto finance companies that specialize in subprime paper — Credit Acceptance Corp., Clover Commercial Corp., and Westlake Financial Services.
The settlement is associated with contracts containing rates as high as 24.9 percent booked through a group of Brooklyn independent dealerships. In total, DCA secured $311,260.57 in restitution for 50 consumers.
In May, DCA charged the dealerships — USA1 Auto Sales, Lenden Used Car Sales, D&A Guaranteed Auto Sales and Linden Used Cars — and their owners with deceptive and unlawful trade practices, including misleading consumers about the price of vehicle, concealing and misrepresenting the terms of sale and financing and failing to inspect the vehicles.
Officials explained Credit Acceptance, Clover Commercial and Westlake Financial Services have agreed to:
— Reimburse $311,260.57 to 50 consumers who were in high-interest agreements with the dealerships and whose contracts were assigned to the finance companies. Consumers who owe money will receive a credit to their account and any amount beyond what is owed will be paid via check. Consumers who no longer owe any money will also receive a check
— Provide restitution to eligible consumers who file new complaints about USA 1 Auto Sales, Lenden Used Car Sales, D&A Guaranteed Auto Sales and Linden Used Cars before March 11, allowing even more consumers the opportunity to benefit from the agreements
— Safeguard consumers by requesting that consumer reporting agencies delete any negative information that was reported in an effort to help repair the consumers’ damaged credit
DCA encouraged consumers who allegedly were harmed by these dealerships to file a complaint before March 11 so that they can potentially be included in the settlements and receive restitution.
“Thanks to DCA’s efforts, all three financing companies have agreed to pay restitution to consumers who were burdened with exorbitant interest rates on loans they received through these deceptive dealerships,” DCA commissioner Lorelei Salas said.
“The city will not tolerate predatory financing and sales practices. We will continue to hold dealerships and financing companies accountable in an effort to protect innocent New Yorkers from purchasing unusable cars and loans that place excessive financial burdens on themselves and their family members,” Salas continued.
DCA currently licenses 666 dealerships and has received nearly 5,800 complaints from consumers about dealerships during the past four years. Officials indicated the complaints range from instances of forgery on contracts to a dealership’s failure to provide material disclosures to consumers.
As a result of the mediation of consumer complaints, investigations and settlements, DCA has secured more than $2.7 million in consumer restitution and assessed nearly $1.8 million in fines against dealerships over the past three years.
In March, DCA announced charges against Major World, one of the largest independent dealerships in the city with multiple locations in Queens, for engaging in deceptive financing and sales practices that resulted in predatory financing targeting immigrants and New Yorkers with low incomes. Enforcement is one prong of DCA’s efforts to combat these predatory practices, which also includes education and advocacy.
And as mentioned earlier, New York’s mayor got into the fray during the fall as the laws de Blasio signed require dealerships to post a Consumer Bill of Rights and to disclose other information about the vehicle price and financing terms; provide required notices to the consumer in the language used to negotiate the contract; and provide consumers with the option to cancel their contract within two business days of the sale.
This package of legislation was introduced by council member Rafael Espinal Jr., chair of the council committee on consumer affairs, council member Dan Garodnick, and council member Jumaane Williams, following a public hearing hosted by Salas and Espinal.