Opinion
February 12, 2015

Rent-to-own industry exploiting poor in Vermont

By Anne Galloway, VTDigger.org

Advocates say low-income people are enticed by low weekly and monthly lease rates offered by two national chain rent-to-own stores doing business in Vermont, Rent-A-Center and Aaron’s. Advocates charge the national retailers with circumventing current regulations and exploiting low-income Vermonters.

The companies lease used and new furniture and electronics at 14 locations in Vermont for two and a half to four times the actual cost of the product, advocates say. And when lessees don’t make the payments, the items are repossessed. If a preleased or new item is considered damaged, the companies sue people in Small Claims Court.

Three hundred and seventy claims against low-income Vermonters have been filed by Aaron’s and Rent-A-Center, according to Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid. And the companies are winning judgments because customers don’t want to face going to court.

Representatives for the rent-to-own companies argue they are providing a service to people who have bad credit ratings and can’t get loans or credit cards to buy goods.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, has introduced a committee bill in Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs that would put new restrictions on the rent-to-own industry in Vermont. The legislation mandates that the companies list comparable cash prices for the products available at other stores in the area. The total amount of interest allowed would be capped at 24 percent under the proposed law.

Representatives from Rent-A-Center who attended the Senate hearing oppose new regulations. They say stricter disclosure rules are unnecessary. Kevin Wright, a district manager for Rent-A-Center who supervises five stores in Vermont, said everything at the center has a price on it with a weekly rate, a monthly rate, a full term price and a 90 days same as cash price.

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