City Cracks Down on Deceptive Practices

By Ana Garcia

The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has filed a lawsuit against Maddy’s Home Furniture, a chain with stores in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, alleging that it used deceptive advertising to take advantage of vulnerable customers. The suit also maintains that store customer were given used, damaged, and defective furniture. Others never received their furniture and the company did not provide refunds or repairs, said the DCA. There are between 700 to 800 furniture stores in New York City. While the DCA does not license furniture stores, it receives frequent complaints, with an average of about 820 between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. “Consumers in the United States spend close to $100 billion annually at furniture stores,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “It’s not a small investment and when you do go shopping for furniture, you expect what you pick out at the store to be what is delivered.”

Furniture complaints are consistently at the top of the categories, according to the DCA. Along with furniture, New Yorkers have filed most complaints about home improvement contractors, electronic stores and secondhand auto dealers during the pandemic. Data from the DCA showed that companies such as P. C. Richards and Sons, Best Buy, BOB’S Discount Furniture, and Raymour & Flanigan Furniture topped the list of complaints from January 2020 to January 2021.

Rosa Duarte is one of the New Yorkers who say her consumer experience was less than ideal. Duarte went to a P. C. Richards and Sons store in the Bronx to buy an affordable washing machine, and she left disappointed. “I was looking for a good washing machine, and they recommended me one, of course, one that does not work,” said Duarte. “P. C. Richard and Sons only wants to sell things and does not care about the customer. Talking with them about the problem that I have with my washing machine is like talking with a phone machine that does not understand more than just yes and no.”

The customer complaints list include “complaints are about the return or exchange of goods, non-delivery of goods, and damaged goods,” according to the DCA. New Yorkers complained about misrepresentation, billing disputes, and quality of work.

The DCA is the agency charged with enforcing consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws in New York City. It licenses more than 59,000 businesses over more than 50 industries. According to DCA data, the end results of investigated complaints have been satisfactory in around 1200 cases and not satisfactory for nearly 900 instances.

The Bronx has a population that is 56% Hispanic/Latino and 43% African American, according to the American Community Survey. It is a low-income population with a median income of $40,000 and can be an easy target for those unethical companies. “In New York City, lease-to-own (LTO) retailers are heavily concentrated in neighborhoods populated by Black and Hispanic/Latino residents, targeting those who are already financially marginalized,” the DCA said in a press release explaining the lawsuit against Maddy’s Home Furniture.

Many companies use advertisements to lure people to their store and then offer them ways to pay depending on their circumstances. “Offering a LTO product is profitable for retailers because the product targets consumers who, due to bad, spotty, and/or insufficient credit histories, might not otherwise be able to purchase merchandise—therefore increasing sales,” said the DCA.

To file a complaint, visit nyc.gov/dcwp or by calling 311.

The DCA also provides tips for buying furniture for consumers.

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