Articles - Ohio Consumer Protection and Business Collections Attorney

Ohio Lawyers Just Got Unbundled

What the hell does this mean? 

Unbundled services means an attorney is offering limited services.  He is not representing you for the entire lawsuit, from start to finish.  The recent change to the rules that govern attorneys in Ohio means lawyers are no longer tied to their clients' hip when they enter an appearance in a court case.  It means clients should be able to get cheaper services from small firms and solo practitioners.

What changed?

Previously, if you were a party to a lawsuit and you wanted to hire a lawyer, your lawyer represented you for the entire case.  Your lawyer could jump off the case in limited circumstances, but he or she had to ask the Court's permission.  That was a pain in the ass for the attorney.  Some courts had local rules that made attorneys jump through hoops if they wanted to withdraw from a client’s case.  Some had local rules that actually prohibited attorneys from withdrawing if the case was too close to trial.  As a result, it was difficult to hire an attorney for single a hearing or a limited function in a lawsuit.

So, the Supreme Court of Ohio amended Civil Rule 3.  The new portion reads:

An attorney’s role may be limited in scope, as authorized by Prof.Cond.R. 1.2(c), if that scope is specifically described in a “Notice of Limited Appearance” stating that the limited appearance has been authorized by the party for whom the appearance is made, and filed and served in accordance with Civ.R. 5 prior to or at the time of any such appearance.  The attorney’s limited appearance terminates without the necessity of leave of court, upon the attorney filing a “Notice of Completion of Limited Appearance” filed and served upon all parties, including the party for whom the appearance was made, in accordance with Civ.R. 5.  If there is no objection within ten days of service of this notice, then no entry by the court is necessary for the termination of the limited appearance to take effect.

How does that help consumers?

The key change is unbundled services are expressly authorized and the Supreme Court of Ohio cut the red tape, making it easier for attorneys to offer these services.  It placed the decision of what attorney represents the client back in the hands of the client.  Attorneys who enter a limited appearance no longer need to ask the Court permission to withdraw from the case.  They just file a notice saying their job is done, and unless the client objects, they’re off the case in 10 days.

Clients can hire an attorney to represent them in a single hearing, then jump off the case.  Clients can hire an attorney to depose a witness, then jump off the case.  Clients can hire an attorney to file and defend a motion, then jump off the case.  The only downside seems to be this will only work in matters where the attorney charges a flat fee or an hourly fee (it would be hard to hire someone on a contingent fee since he may not be on the case when you get paid).

If you need an attorney for limited, unbundled services, contact us to see if we can help.

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9 East Kossuth Street

Columbus, OH 43206

614-547-3311

Payday Lending in Ohio Gets a Facelift

Payday lending in Ohio is about to change.  After political scandal and an FBI investigation, Ohio finally has a new payday lending law designed to close loopholes that existed before.  Richard Cordray, former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is quoted as saying Ohio has the worst payday lending laws in the nation.   But it was not until the FBI raided Cliff Rosenberger’s home and storage unit (a la Paul Manafort) that the proposed bill to reform payday lending laws in Ohio saw the light of day.

What was the loophole before?

Payday lending reform in 2008 was supposed to cap annual interest rates as 28 percent.  See R.C. Chapter 1321.  So, what did payday lenders do?  They registered as mortgage lenders and credit service organizations instead.  They made the same loans, where consumers were supposed to pay relatively small fees of $15 per $100 loaned.  The consumers were supposed to repay the loan in two weeks.  But when consumers couldn’t repay those loans, on time, the repayment period was extended and more fees were added.  Consumers that obtained loans for $1,000 could eventually end up paying $1,600 after fees and interest.  The Center for Responsible Lending reports that this cycle of extensions and additional fees – or “churning” – accounts for nearly 75 percent of payday loan volume.   Even Last Week Tonight with John Oliver reported on the cyclical, never-ending nature of these loans.

Why the delay?

So, if these loans are so bad and the payday lenders weren’t shy about circumventing the interest rate cap, why didn’t anyone do anything?  Well, the answer to that is interesting.  Cliff Rosenberger used to be the Speaker of Ohio’s House of Representatives.  In March 2018, the FBI raided Rosenberger’s home and storage unit.  No one was really clear why that happened, but Rosenberger resigned shortly thereafter. 

The FBI then revealed that Rosenberger was being investigated for bribery and extortion.  Apparently, Rosenberger was pretty cozy with lobbyists for payday lenders who helped fund some international trips for Rosenberger, though the payday lenders say Rosenberger threatened them with the pending payday lending reform legislation.   Fast forward three months after Rosenberger resigned and the Ohio General Assembly passed the payday lending reform and Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law.

What happens now?

The new payday lending bill goes into effect on October 29, 2018.  Cleveland.com provided a nice summary of what the law changes.  In addition to the changes Cleveland.com noted, the bill also provides:

  • Loans that violate the new law are void.  The lender cannot collect or retain anything in connection with the loan.
  • Lenders must verify borrowers’ income.
  • Lenders cannot accept title or registration to a vehicle, real property, physical assets, or other collateral as security for the obligation.
  • Lenders cannot accelerate the balance of the loan after default unless they meet specific requirements. 

If you have an issue with a payday loan, contact us to see if we can help.

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9 East Kossuth Street

Columbus, OH 43206

614-547-3311

Timing is Key under the Fair Credit Billing Act

You've probably heard of someone disputing a charge on their credit card.  But do you know why the law lets you do that?  The Fair Credit Billing Act provides consumers an opportunity to contest billing errors, including unauthorized charges, that appear on their credit card statements.  The FCBA is part of the Truth in Lending Act, but to take advantage of it, you have to act quickly.

Why is timing important?

The FCBA permits you to dispute a billing error on your credit card statement within 60 days of the creditor sending you the statement.  This is key: it's not within 60 days of you receiving the statement.  It's within 60 days of the creditor transmitting the statement to you.  If you wait too long, you may not be able to pursue your remedies under the FCBA.

But, what constitutes a billing error?

  • An item on a statement showing the creditor provided credit to the consumer when no such credit was provided or, if provided, reflected the wrong amount;
  • An item on a statement for which the consumer requests additional clarification including documentary evidence;
  • An item on a statement for goods or services the obligor did not accept or that were never delivered to the consumer in accordance with the agreement made when ordering the goods or services;
  • A statement that does not show a payment made by the consumer or a credit issued to the consumer;
  • A statement that contains a mathematical or accounting error;
  • The creditor's failure to send a statement to the consumer's last known address, unless the consumer provided a new less than 20 days before the end of the billing cycle; and
  • Any other error designated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

What should you do when you discover an error on your statement?

Look at your statement for an address creditor designates for billing inquiries (also may be listed as an address for billing errors or billing disputes).  15 U.S.C. 1637(b)(10).  Send a letter to that address that provides:

  • Your name;
  • The account number;
  • The date of the billing statement, or period it covers;
  • The fact that you believe there is a billing error;
  • The amount of the billing error; and
  • The reason you believe there is a billing error.  15 U.S.C. 1666(a).

Pay to track everything you mail, and request a signature at delivery.  Sending a letter via certified mail, return receipt requested (the green card), is currently $6.57.  Don’t skip this step.  Copy the letter you’re mailing.  Copy the envelope.  Copy the green card with the tracking number.  Copy your receipt.  Put all of the copies in a binder, or a folder, or an envelope, and save them.  The old saying is, “if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.”

Do not email the creditor.  Do not fill out a form on the creditor's website.  Do not call the phone number listed for billing.  Mail the letter.  These other methods are easier, but you may not be protected under the FCBA if you use them.

What will my card issuer do?

Your card issuer will first send you a letter acknowledging it received your dispute letter.  It will then have to investigate your dispute and determine whether there was actually a billing error.  If it finds there was an error, it must to correct it.  If it believes the statement was correct and there was no error, it needs to explain why.  You can request the documents it used to determine there was no error.  In the case where you notify the creditor the goods you ordered were not delivered as initially agreed, the creditor must determine the goods were actually delivered, mailed, or otherwise sent to you and explicitly state that in its response.

What if the creditor doesn't follow these steps?

Hire an attorney.  If the creditor determines you owe the money, it will expect you to pay.  And you should probably continue to pay until the matter is resolved.  Why?  Because if you don't, the creditor may close your account (turn off the tap) while it tries to collect the money it believes you owe.  This can affect your credit and lead to a whole host of other problems.

You have rights – use them!  If you have an issue with a credit card statement, contact us to see if we can help.

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9 East Kossuth Street

Columbus, OH 43206

614-547-3311

What To Do When a Debt Collector Contacts You

When a debt collector contacts you, the most important thing is to act quickly.  Whatever you do – whether you contact an attorney or write the debt collector a letter yourself – act quickly.

A consumer protection attorney’s effectiveness is directly proportional to how quickly you contact him.  If you contact an attorney early, you may have options.  Wait a few weeks, or until a deadline has passed, and those options may disappear.  Even if you already have an attorney, you need to make sure your attorney knows the timelines involved with debt collection, the FDCPA, and intends to take some action on your behalf, or refers you to another attorney whom regularly practices in this area.

Of course, some consumers may not want to hire an attorney.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has some helpful tips here, similar to the ones included in this article.  The CFPB also has some sample letters you can use.  But the same warning above applies: act quickly.  Gauge your ignorance at the outset.  Don’t spend weeks or months trying to figure out the process of responding to a debt collector only to come to the conclusion you don’t know what you’re doing after you’ve wasted time.  As with an attorney, the options you may have had when this process started may have disappeared.

Why is timing important?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) permits you to dispute a debt within 30 days of receiving a notice from the debt collector that informs you of that right.  15 U.S.C. 1692g.  That’s it: 30 days.  A savvy debt collector knows the FDCPA well. It won’t respond unless it must.  It may not verify a debt if you send a verification letter (also called a validation letter) outside of the 30-day window.  The debt collector also knows it can continue to attempt to collect the debt – call you, mail you, or try to learn your whereabouts from third parties – unless you request verification within that 30-day window.

What should you do when a debt collector contacts you?

Document, document, document.  Keep track of everything.  If you get a phone call from a debt collector, note the date, the time, the number from which the call came, who called, and the name of the debt collection company.  If the caller left a voicemail, save it.  Then, contact an attorney.

Pay to track everything you mail, and request a signature at delivery.  Sending a letter via certified mail, return receipt requested (the green card), is currently $6.57.  Don’t skip this step.  Again, document, document, document.  Copy the letter you’re mailing.  Copy the envelope.  Copy the green card with the tracking number.  Copy your receipt.  Put all of the copies in a binder, or a folder, or an envelope and save them.  The old saying is, “if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” 

Request verification of the debt.

If you’re a consumer, requesting verification will stop collection efforts until the debt collector verifies the debt (which may be never).  If you’re a consumer’s attorney, not only will this stop collection efforts against the consumer until the debt collector verifies the debt (which again, may be never) AND require the debt collector to communicate with you instead of the consumer.

Revoke consent to contact you on a cell phone.

If the debt collector is contacting you on a cell phone, expressly revoke consent for the debt collector and the creditor to contact you on your cell phone.

Contact an attorney when:

  • A debt collector calls you;
  • A debt collector mails you;
  • A debt collector (or creditor) files a lawsuit against you;
  • You get a 15-day notice informing you someone intends to garnish your wages;
  • A debt collector starts the process to collect a judgment:
    • attempts to execute on (take) your personal property;
    • attempts to place a lien your house;
    • attempts to garnish your wages; or
    • attempts to garnish your bank account.

You have rights – use them!  If you have an issue with a debt collector, contact us to see if we can help.

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9 East Kossuth Street

Columbus, OH 43206

614-547-3311

Choosing the Wrong Contractor Can Be Costly

A contractor on a mound of dirt with bolt cutters.

We received a lot of calls from consumers where they hired contractors who either did a poor job or did not complete the job at all.  Hiring a contractor who hung crooked windows that leak, or who didn't buy half of the items you paid him to install, is not only a pain, it can be costly.  More and more, contractors are requiring large down payments before they begin their work.  The problem is the contractors who do a poor job, or no job at all, tend to be uncollectible.  That is, they spend that big down payment and there is nothing to return to the consumer.  Thus, we recommend consumers do their homework before they sign anything, and certainly before they give a contractor a large sum of money ($50,000 +) and risk losing it.  The following tips may help you protect yourself when choosing a contractor:

  1. Have a written contract.  When choosing a contractor, insist he provide you with a written contract.  Make sure the written contract specifies the scope of the contractor's work - what he will do, what he will install, how much materials will cost - and the total cost of the project.  If it's a larger project that will require draws (periodic payments), specify what milestones the contractor must meet in order for him to earn the release of those funds.  Also consider placing in there how long it will take for the contractor to complete the project, and what penalties, if any, he will face if he falls behind on the project, so he doesn't place another customer's project ahead of yours.
  2. Get the right size contractor for the job.  If you have a new construction, or a near-total rebuild (which is almost the same thing) it's a big job.  Choosing a contractor that consistently handles and delivers quality work on big jobs, as opposed to a handyman that only fixes leaky faucets, is imperative.  Consider whether the contractor has a physical headquarters - a brick-and-mortar building - and not just a post office box.  Also, check and see whether the contractor has a business, or will be doing everything in his own name.
  3. Get referrals and check them out.  When choosing a contractor, a professional should be able to provide the names and contact information for several former clients.  Don't accept the answer that "my client list is confidential."  No referrals is a red flag.  You should also contact these referrals to make sure they exist.  Ask if the contractor did the work, if he did it on time, and if he fixed any problem that arose along the way.  Did the contractor stay on budget, or was he constantly asking the homeowner for more money?  You can also search the potential contractor online to see if he's registered with the better business bureau (BBB) and whether he has any complaints against him (or his business).  Also check Yelp, Angie's List, and good old Google.  Here's an example of several persons scammed by the same contractor.
  4. Treat the search like you're interviewing someone for a job.  Because you are.  You are literally going to pay someone to perform a service, which means you're going to employ someone.  Think about the last job interview you had.  Did someone ask you a lot of questions?  Yes.  Did someone take a while to get back to you before making a final decision?  Yes.  Did that someone also interview multiple persons during the process to find the best candidate?  You bet.  When choosing a contractor, if the potential candidate doesn't like your questions, or can't answer your questions, he may not be the contractor for you.
  5. Set scheduled draws.  If your insurance company is involved, talk to your adjuster or claim representative about what amount the insurance company is willing to pay initially.  In one instance, a contractor asked for a down payment of 50%.  When the consumer told this to his insurance representative, the insurance representative said "no."  That's too high.  The contractor, the insurance representative, and the consumer later settled on a lesser amount for the initial payment.  After the initial payment, ensure the contractor has to prove he's met certain milestones in the construction before he gets paid any more money. 
  6. Require the issuance of two-party checks or joint checks.  It's a lot harder for a contractor to take the money and run when someone else has to sign off on a check too.  Joint checks, or two-party checks, can ensure that a contractor pays his subcontractors and the subcontractors pay their material suppliers.  This also helps prevent a subcontractor from filing a mechanic's lien on your property when someone higher up the food chain fails to pay him for his work.
  7. Ideally, have a performance bond in place.  We say "ideally" because these bonds are expensive and often used in government jobs to ensure that if the initial contractor does not complete the job, there is money available to hire a replacement contractor.  It may not be feasible to obtain one of these, especially for smaller jobs, but it's worth asking.
  8. Require a waiver of liens.  Finally, this goes hand-in-hand with scheduled draws.  You can require (yes, require, not request) your contractor sign a conditional waiver of liens, and require the same from his subcontractors (if he's using any).  Essentially, the contractor (or subcontractor) will agree that when he is paid a draw, he waives his right to file a mechanic's lien for labor or materials.  Again, this will help prevent the contractor (or subcontractor) from filing a mechanic's lien on your property.
  9. Make sure the contractor is licensed.  Most cities, counties, or states require contractors to obtain and maintain a license or register before doing work, depending upon the type of work.  Be wary if a contractor is not licensed, or if he's working under another person's license.  A large company may have a general license for its employees, but a solo contractor should be licensed in his own name or his own business' name, not in the name of a completely different person of whom you've never heard.  But, a license is not a guarantee that the contractor will do good work.  Most cities that require a license or registration only require the contractor to registers and pay a fee.  There is no proficiency test.  There isn't even a background check.  The license doesn't protect you, the homeowner, if things go badly.  It's just a way for the city to keep track of contractors working on projects.

If you have an issue with a contractor you hired to perform work on your home, contact us to see if we can help.

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9 East Kossuth Street

Columbus, OH 43206

614-547-3311