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Jessica Gonzalez and her sons, Gianni Rivera, left, and Damian Blanco, angle on the advanced balustrade of their Miami, Fla. home. Afterwards Gonzalez became ailing and fell abaft in her rental payments, the ancestors generally would acknowledgment home to acquisition a Rent-A-Center agent at their advanced door.?(Source: Andy Miller)? 

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(RNN) – If you allegation a new washer and dryer and don’t acquire the banknote or the acclaim to buy them, you ability acquire to try rent-to-own.

But you ability pay about quadruple for the set than the archetypal retail price.

And if you abatement abaft in a acquittal by as little as a day, you could face amaranthine calls, blackballed visits to your abode and alike threats of jail.

Even consumers with no ties to the rental commodity face debt-collection aggravation aback a friend, about or aide misses a payment.

If these articles had been purchased with credit, area laws crave disclosures and debt-collection protections, these barter could acquisition help.

But there’s little that accompaniment and federal regulators can do to admonition barter who busy domiciliary appurtenances from Rent-A-Center, the country’s arch rent-to-own aggregation with about 2,500 food aloft the U.S.

Lawsuits, complaints and customers’ annal appearance that Rent-A-Center’s charter agreements and the lax government adjustment of the rent-to-own industry leave consumers accessible in these transactions, according to a collective analysis by Raycom Media and NerdWallet.

Customers face aerial prices and absonant fees. They sometimes attempt to get an authentic acquittal history from the company. They are addled and threatened with arrest aback payments are overdue. The arrangement acceding attenuate some barter aback they became ailing or absent their jobs.

It all happened to Jessica Gonzalez, a distinct mother from Miami, Florida. She was so aflutter of the aggregation agent who accustomed at her abode to allocution to her about her absent payments that she and her adolescent sons approved ambush in a anteroom closet.

For added than an hour aftermost summer, the ancestors hid while the agent alfresco her bifold went from window to window banging and babble for Gonzalez to accessible the advanced door. She didn’t alike accede calling the police; she feared they’d arrest her.

“The embarrassment we went through, it seemed like stalking,” Gonzalez said.

Rent-A-Center and added rent-to-own companies do not acknowledgment to the Federal Barter Commission or the Chump Banking Aegis Bureau. The publicly-traded aggregation in Plano, Texas, has continued lobbied to accumulate federal regulations at bay, spending added than $7.2 actor lobbying Congress in the accomplished decade, according to abstracts calm by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Some 47 states acquire laws on rental-purchase agreements that “are favorable to us,” Rent-A-Center told its investors in March. New Jersey, North Carolina, and Wisconsin acquire austere regulations over chump transactions, including rental-purchase agreements.

The aggregation said in an email attributed to controlling carnality admiral Chris Korst that “those (47) accompaniment laws accommodate comprehensive, absolute chump protections that in abounding instances go far aloft those provided to acclaim consumers. Finally, all of those statutes accommodate consumers with able-bodied remedies in the accident of violations, and advise administration administration to the states’ attorneys general.”

Ohio Advocate Accepted Mike DeWine said the industry needs added regulation.

“Under accepted law, it’s altogether acknowledged what this aggregation is doing,” DeWine said. “But this is an industry that is absolutely affliction poor people.”

The $3 billion aggregation appeals to consumers who admission beneath than $50,000 a year and abridgement the acclaim anniversary or accumulation anniversary to buy articles absolute or allegation on a acclaim card, according to its anniversary broker report. Abounding of its food are amidst abreast low-income neighborhoods or advancing bases.

Its stores’ showrooms activity new and acclimated rent-to-own domiciliary appurtenances that crave barter to pay a weekly, bi-weekly or annual fee. The aggregation says its business archetypal offers a hassle-free advantage to acceptable purchasing that allows barter to acknowledgment commodity at any time, for any reason, as continued as they aren’t abaft in payments.

To admission affairs of the products, barter accomplish payments for up to three years, advantageous as abundant as bristles times what they would pay at acceptable retailers such as Best Buy or Ashley Furniture.

But, on average, alone 25 percent of busy items absolutely end up actuality purchased by customers, aggregation and cloister annal show.

DeWine calls Rent-A-Center “a rip-off.” Ohio is home to added than 140 Rent-A-Center stores, the third accomplished in the nation. 

The aggregation denied afresh requests for either on-camera, in-person or blast interviews over a 5-week aeon with Raycom Media and NerdWallet. Rather, the aggregation responded alone to accounting questions.

“Our mission is to beforehand our customers’ affection of life, accouterment admission to abiding appurtenances for cash- and credit-constrained consumers and confined as a acceptable duke up amidst a sea of thumbs down,” wrote Gina Hethcock, chief administrator of accessible and association relations for Rent-A-Center.

Nearly 200 consumers acquire complained to Ohio Advocate Accepted Mike DeWine about Rent-A-Center in the accomplished bristles years. DeWine says that rent-to-own affairs abuse consumers. “People should do annihilation they can to abstain this,” he said.

Many barter complained that they didn’t acquire the complicated rental agreements and the ultimate amount they would pay.

More than 90 percent complained about the company’s debt-collection approach if he or she fell abaft on payments. Added than 150 bodies claimed they were actuality addled over a debt they didn’t owe.

Consumers additionally complained that the aggregation maintained awkward records. About a third said they couldn’t get a archetype of their acquittal history from Rent-A-Center or that the rental had been paid in abounding but showed as still due in aggregation annal or in acclaim reports.

These government abstracts accommodate about 700 complaints adjoin Acceptance Now, Rent-A-Center’s kiosks amidst central aloft apparatus retailers. Aback consumers are angry bottomward by the apparatus food for purchases on credit, they can assurance up for rental agreements through the Acceptance Now kiosks in those stores. And arrangement of Acceptance Now barter acquire had problems, too, according to the annual organizations’ investigation.

When the bedchamber set Corondolette Clay busy at a kiosk in Georgia became unaffordable, she alternate the commodity to Rent-A-Center and accustomed a cancellation assuming that the apparatus was in accomplished activity and that her anniversary was settled.

Years later, she apparent the apparatus angry up as an contributed $3,300 debt on her acclaim report.

Although she had all the paperwork to aback up that she didn’t owe anything, it took added than a year – and activity from the Texas advocate general’s appointment area Rent-A-Center’s accumulated offices are housed – to bright the mistake.

“It was an affliction for me that I will never partake in again,” Clay said.

Company carnality admiral Chris Korst said, “We strive to accommodate the accomplished akin of chump annual and aback we abatement abbreviate of that expectation, we assignment appropriately adamantine to boldness those issues.”

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If these complaints had been filed adjoin a banking academy such as a coffer or credit-card company, accompaniment and federal regulators could accompany activity through an arrangement of laws that administer loans and debt collection.

But Rent-A-Center and added rent-to-own-companies accomplish alfresco those chump protections.

“If you absolutely appetite to ameliorate this industry, it has to be done through a change in the law,” DeWine said. “It’s a altered industry. Alike aback it is alive and accomplishing things correctly, it’s still ambiguous people.”

For abounding customers, Rent-A-Center seems like a banker of aftermost resort.

“The alone added (fringe-financial) industry that is not affected as abundant as them are assurance shops,” said David Rothstein, who advised the rent-to-own industry in Ohio in 2009 for Activity Matters Ohio, a chump advancement group. “People appearance them as a Best Buy for bodies who acquire no acclaim or bad credit. It’s not one footfall abroad from Best Buy. It’s blocks away.”

Gonzalez absolved into a Rent-A-Center in Miami, Florida in the bounce of 2015, attractive for a acclimated bedchamber set and a abrasion machine.

She alive a rental-purchase agreement. Her plan was to pay off the items – about $500 for the washer and $1,250 for the bedchamber apparatus – aural 90 canicule to abstain the added big-ticket abiding lease.

But the distinct mother of two couldn’t cobble calm the $1,000 or so that she had larboard to pay at the end of that 3-month period. At that point, her acceding angry into a abiding lease, with 64 added weeks of $70 payments.

“I knew I was accepting ripped off,” the 30-year-old acknowledged secretary said.

Only 11 states acquire laws that limit how abundant rent-to-own companies can allegation to admission ownership: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia. Those banned ambit from 2 to 2.4 times the amount of the product’s banknote price, according to the industry’s barter group, the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations. 

But that banknote amount set by Rent-A-Center is abundantly unregulated. That’s the amount a chump would pay to buy it within 90 days, and alone six states – California, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Vermont and West Virginia – have laws that anticipate companies from inflating the banknote amount far aloft the broad cost. 

“It’s a horribly, angrily big-ticket way to watch a TV or to acquire a bed,” DeWine said. “People should do annihilation they can to abstain accomplishing this. They are aloof accepting themselves added and added in the hole.”

Raycom Media and NerdWallet compared Rent-A-Center prices to retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and begin that renting to own can amount a chump about six times more.

For example, a VIZIO soundbar was for auction on Amazon for $148. To admission affairs of that aforementioned artefact through Rent-A-Center, a chump would pay about $780 in several states including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio. 

READ: See how Rent-A-Center prices compare to added retailers aloft the U.S.

Lisa Bellamy’s South Carolina home could be a Rent-A-Center showroom. Except for her bedchamber set, she has busy to own every apparatus and allotment of apparatus she has from Rent-A-Center.

“The annual is absolutely good,” Bellamy said. She is a affiliate of the company’s Inner Circle program, which rewards loyal barter with allowance cards and rental discounts for giving Rent-A-Center feedback. The aggregation provided her name to the annual organizations as an archetype of a annoyed customer.

Bellamy said she doesn’t apperception that Rent-A-Center’s commodity is “a little pricey” because she can get replacements aback article break or aback she tires of the furniture.

“You can’t get that from Walmart,” said Bellamy, 55, who has been a Rent-A-Center chump for added than a dozen years. “They’ve been absolute acceptable alive with me.”

Rent-A-Center markets its business archetypal as a hassle-free way to acquire name-brand apparatus and appliances.

The aggregation backer said that appraisement is bent based on a cardinal of factors including that barter can acknowledgment the articles at any time afterwards penalty.

“As a aftereffect of the ongoing, accord attributes of the rent-to-own business, Rent-A-Center and its competitors in the rent-to-own industry acquire costs that retail companies do not,” the backer said.

For a year, Gonzalez anxiously fabricated on-time annual payments. But again she got sick, diagnosed with an cureless ache advancing her thyroid.

For months, she could aggregation the activity to assignment at her job alone three hours a day.

She began to abatement abaft on her rental payments. She approved to assignment out payments with the aggregation because she couldn’t go afterwards a bed or a washer. But as anon as she was one day late, her buzz would alpha ringing.

“They would alarm me nonstop,” Gonzalez said. “They would be continuing on my balustrade aback I got home. I was afraid to accessible the aperture aback bodies knocked. I didn’t apperceive what they were able of.”

She didn’t accede abiding the merchandise. By then, she had paid about $3,000 for them, about bifold the antecedent banknote amount set by Rent-A-Center.

She approved to assignment with the company, but they generally banned her money to accompany her anniversary accepted unless she paid weeks in beforehand as well.

A acquaintance already saw a Rent-A-Center agent rifling through Gonzalez’s mailbox and confronted him while videotaping the adventure with her cellphone.

On the video, the agent tells the acquaintance that he is alone putting affidavit in the mailbox. Gonzalez said she didn’t acquisition annihilation in her mailbox from Rent-A-Center that day.

And then, one Saturday morning, she was alive by banging on her windows and doors. It was Rent-A-Center.

“I didn’t assurance up to get stalked or harassed,” she said. “I aloof capital to appear home from assignment and acquisition some accord of mind.”

Nine out of every 10 complaints filed with government babysitter agencies focused on Rent-A-Center’s debt-collection tactics.

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Andrea Gorman contacted the Ohio Advocate General’s appointment over Rent-A-Center’s debt-collection approach in 2014. She fell abaft on payments of a laptop afterwards she absent her job. The company, she said, banned to assignment with her. Instead, an agent kicked in her door. She appear the abuse to Lima police, according to law administration records.

“It was aloof terrible,” Gorman said. “It about acquainted like they were stalking me.”

The aggravation of a brace stationed at Camp Pendleton in California became so acute that they filed a federal lawsuit. The brace said that Rent-A-Center advisers alleged the serviceman’s above administrator at the abject about the contributed debt. Advisers alleged their abode 20 times a anniversary ambitious payment. They showed up on their doorstep.

The debt-collection practices acquired the wife to become so antisocial that she alone out of academy and bare her sister to move in to affliction for the children, the accusation said. Her bedmate was abroad on alive assignment at the time.

The aggregation accomplished a arcane adjustment with the brace aftermost year.

Rent-A-Center has austere targets for befitting barter up to date on their payments.

On Saturdays, anniversary store’s allotment of past-due barter charge be beneath than 6 percent, said above managers, who agreed to allege alone if they were not articular because they alive nondisclosure agreements with the company.

If food didn’t hit those targets, advisers were appropriate to assignment added accouterment and managers were threatened with termination, the above managers said.

The sales staff, which doubles as the company’s first-line collectors, makes calls to barter aural hours of a absent payment. If barter are backward by a anniversary or more, the aggregation sends its workers to clue them down.

The aggregation says that it does not acquire to acquire by the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which bans debt collectors from afflictive or advancing consumers because it is not advised a debt collector.

A Rent-A-Center chief paralegal has accounting several attorneys general, adage that the aggregation is not a debt beneficiary and has the appropriate to acquaintance barter in a “reasonable manner.”

The company’s advancing debt accumulating practices prompted the Washington Accompaniment advocate accepted to book a civilian accusation adjoin Rent-A-Center in 2009. In its acceding to achieve the case, the aggregation vowed, amid added things, to stop afflictive barter for payments.

Yet annal appearance that consumers in Washington accompaniment still face problems with Rent-A-Center.

One woman complained that advisers afraid her accessory children. Addition said that an agent appear claimed admonition to her pastor. Others complained that advisers acclimated expletives, circled their houses on bottom or acclimated bluff numbers to beard accumulating calls.

Rent-A-Center told the advocate general’s agents that all such allegations were false. And aggregation backer Hethcock wrote to the annual organizations that such accomplishments are “expressly prohibited” by aggregation policy.

It’s not alone barter who face Rent-A-Center’s wrath. It’s parents, friends, co-workers, and others who acquire no ties to the rental arrangement but whose name was listed as a “reference.”

Unlike a co-signer to a loan, a advertence ability not apperceive that addition has acclimated his or her name to vouch for the customer. Rent-A-Center requires the names of two ancestors and two others.

Gonzalez listed her longtime acquaintance Joseph Arauz as a reference. He endured months of exceptionable buzz calls aback she couldn’t accomplish on-time payments.

He didn’t apperceive that Gonzalez called him on her rental appliance until he started accepting calls.

“They would alarm me every distinct day…all day,” said the 31-year-old Uber driver. “They were absolutely harassing.”

Jessica Gonzalez and Joseph?Arauz?have been accompany aback boilerplate school. She listed him as a advertence aback she alive her Rent-A-Center contract for a bed and abrasion machine. She had no abstraction that advisers would annoy him over her backward payments. “They were absolutely persistent. They didn’t stop,”?Arauz, 31, said of the blackballed buzz calls. (Source: Andy Miller)

Dozens of added consumers fabricated agnate complaints to accompaniment and federal agencies.

Russell Hay, of Columbus, Ohio, had no abstraction that Rent-A-Center had been afflictive his aged parents until he answered their buzz during a visit.

Hay’s brother, who is conflicting from the family, listed their parents as a advertence for article he busy again bootless to pay or return. They again told the advisers that they didn’t apperceive their son’s whereabouts. It didn’t matter. The calls kept coming.

“It got to the point area my parents wouldn’t alike acknowledgment the phone. They were afraid it was Rent-A-Center.”

Hay’s ancestor is about 90 and suffers from dementia. His mom is in her 80s.

Hay, too, couldn’t stop the calls so he contacted the Ohio advocate general’s office. The calls anon ended.

Under absolute laws, these contacts are “perfectly legal,” Ohio Advocate Accepted DeWine said.

However, he offered admonition for “references” who are accepting afresh calls: “Pick up the buzz and alarm the police. It’s not their accountability this actuality hasn’t paid.”

Rent-A-Center’s activity says that advisers may acquaintance a advertence alone once, the backer wrote.

Throughout the summer and abatement of 2016, Gonzalez approved to accomplish acceptable on her rental agreement.

She would pay to accompany her anniversary accepted aback she had the money and could actuate advisers to acquire her payment. She was bent to accomplish this work.

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By that August, Gonzalez had paid about $4,000 and advisers again began advancing her with arrest.

A acquaintance saw a badge administrator at her aperture one morning.

“I was scared,” she said, not alone fearing bastille but fearing an arrest would amount her her job.

Laws in abounding states acquiesce companies to accompany bent accuse adjoin barter who abate on rental payments and don’t acknowledgment busy items aural a few canicule of a accounting appeal by the company.

Prosecutors in Florida acquire filed bent accuse over the accomplished decade adjoin added than 3,000 bodies for declining to acknowledgment busy merchandise, according to accompaniment annal acquired by NerdWallet.

A above prosecutor from Harris County in Texas said the rental industry lobbied assembly in his accompaniment 40 decades ago to acquiesce it to accompany bent accuse adjoin renters who didn’t acknowledgment merchandise.

Murray Newman, who formed in the Harris County prosecutor’s appointment from 1999 to 2008, said he could absolve filing annexation accuse adjoin consumers if they busy an item, never fabricated a acquittal and banned to accord it aback to the company.

But he said Rent-A-Center didn’t accomplish such a distinction. It acclimated the commune attorney’s appointment as a accumulating agency, he said, activity afterwards barter who fell abaft on payments with no absorbed to abduct furniture.

Melinda Sandlin was again threatened with arrest. Aback she got her apparatus from a retail store, she didn’t apprehend she was signing a rental-purchase acceding with Rent-A-Center.

Melinda Sandlin still becomes affecting aback she talks about her adventures with Rent-A-Center. The Austin, Texas mother didn’t acquire that she had alive a abiding charter for bedchamber furniture; she anticipation she was affairs it to beforehand her credit. (Source: Texas Tribune)

After advantageous about $3,100 over a year, Sandlin anticipation for abiding the apparatus was paid off. She anon abstruse the truth: she still owed $8,000.

She eventually assassin an advocate and alternate the furniture. Rent-A-Center accustomed her to accumulate the $400 mattress because it had a baby stain.

“It’s still actual abundant an accessible anguish for me,” the Austin, Texas mother told The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media alignment that covers accessible policy, politics, and accompaniment government. “I was a absolute victim of the law and Rent-A-Center.”

Sandlin advises barter to advance with attention and to apprehend every chat of the contract.

Miami mother Gonzalez said the afterpiece she inched adjoin ownership, the added advancing the accumulating approach became aback she fell abaft on payments. She doubtable Rent-A-Center capital the commodity aback so it could be re-rented. By then, she had paid added than bifold the products’ antecedent amount tag.

The aggregation told its investors that, on average, commodity is busy by three altered barter afore a fourth acquires ownership.

Last fall, Gonzalez absitively she bare admonition and began contacting lawyers.

“I aloof capital it to stop and I didn’t apperceive how,” she said.

Jessica Gonzalez searches for the rental acceding for her acclimated bedchamber set. She has paid amateur the aboriginal banknote amount for the furniture yet still owes addition $1,000. She filed a accusation adjoin the company, in part, she says to protect added Rent-A-Center customers. (Source: Andy Miller)

After two bootless attempts, Gonzalez begin attorneys Darren Newhart and Cloister Keeley, who took on her case for free.

“This was an arrant activity on annual of a aloft corporation,” Keeley said. “They stepped way over the line.”

Gonzalez’s attorneys wrote to Rent-A-Center with instructions to stop contacting her.

Soon after, Rent-A-Center cut off her admission to her account, authoritative it absurd to abide advantageous the $1,000 she still owes to own the furniture.

The attorneys filed a accusation adjoin the aggregation in November.

“I feel accusable for my accouchement accepting to go through this,” she said.

Nestled amid the 8×10 photos of her boys on a alley dresser, sits the ancestors adage about loving, adhering and actuality honest. It reads in part, “In this house…we try our best. We acquaint the truth. We accomplish mistakes.”

Gonzalez said she has abstruse from what’s become a adverse mistake. She now shops on the buzz bazaar and on apps such as OfferUp, area she bought a abrasion apparatus to alter the one she rented, which has continued aback abdicate working.

She still owes Rent-A-Center $57.66 for it.

If you appetite to allotment your adventures about Rent-A-Center, accelerate an email to RAC@RaycomMedia.com

Reporters Brad Wolverton and Alex Richards, of NerdWallet; The Texas Tribune; and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 NerdWallet and Raycom Media. All rights reserved.

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