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Rent-to-own contracts backfire as renters face felony charges

Consumers who rent furniture and other items in Texas may find themselves unwittingly facing criminal charges if they fail to pay the rental payments. In some cases, this has resulted in gross abuses of the criminal process by arresting consumers on felony theft of services charges, even though they have already paid thousands in rental payments for furniture that is relatively worthless. One woman who rented a bedroom suite worth $2,750 in 2014 thought that the paperwork that she signed gave her ownership rights in the furniture after she paid $3,000.

When she paid the $3,000, she stopped paying. She learned that if she did not pay another $5,000, not only would she not be able to keep her furniture, but she would be arrested by the rental center for theft of services. She learned from the rental center that she had signed a rental contract and not a purchase contract, despite the wording on the papers that said, "rent-to-own" contract.

A Texas criminal law does exist that places rental arrangements under the scope of theft of services crimes. That is because the law was crafted through the influence of lobbyists hired by the rental centers. The Rent-A-Center located in Plano is, in fact, one of the largest rent-to-own companies in the United States.

Reporters assisted the woman to tape phone conversations with the rental center. The manager was recorded as telling the customer that theft charges would be filed against her if she did not pay the extra $5,000. Through negotiations, the company dropped intentions of arresting her upon receipt back of the furniture.

Instead of charging the stores for false advertising and extortionist tactics, Texas authorities have generally backed up the stores and enforced felony theft charges against unknowing customers throughout the state. The travesty is continuing and will be resolved perhaps when corrective legislation is enacted. In the meantime, when a consumer gets into this kind of a quagmire, the best course is to consult immediately with a criminal defense attorney for strong representation against the questionable legal process being implemented.

Source: kcentv.com, "How renting furniture in Texas can land you in jail", Jay Root and Shannon Najmabadi, Dec. 30, 2018

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