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Consumers Directory

 
 

Consumer Affairs Directory

 
 

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50 South Military Trail
Suite 201
West Palm Beach, FL 33415
West Palm Beach Area:
(561) 712-6600
Boca/ Delray/ Glades:
Toll Free 1-888-852-7362
FAX:
(561)712-6610

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Frequently Asked Questions

 

The best way to protect yourself is to be an informed consumer. Before you make any major purchases (products or services for your home), please contact the Consumer Affairs Division. We have information that can assist you in asking the right questions before you hire a mover, contract for home repairs, buy a car, or rent an apartment. We can assist you in many other consumer issues including credit card problems.

For your convenience, we have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions of the investigators in Consumer Affairs. We hope these questions and answers will help you. If not, please contact us so we may assist you further.

  • Animals
  • Automobiles: New and Used
  • Automobiles: Repair
  • Cell Phone Contracts
  • Contests/Prize Offerings
  • Cooling-Off Rule
  • Credit and Collection
  • E-Commerce
  • Health Care Practioners
  • Health Studio Contracts
  • Home Improvement
  • Internal Revenue Service Calls
  • Landlord/Tenant
  • Moving within Palm Beach County
  • Retail Stores Return Policies
  • Service Contracts
  • Unclaimed Money
  • ANIMALS

    Q. I bought a dog from a local pet shop and just a few days later he became very sick, and the shop refuses to take him back . Do I have any rights?

    A. You certainly do. The Division urges pet buyers to make sure you are aware of your consumer rights according to Florida's Pet Lemon Law (F.S. 828) before you buy a dog or cat. The main provisions of this law provide protection for consumers who have purchased a sick dog or cat from a pet dealer. The law also requires that dogs and cats being offered for sale have a current official certificate of veterinary inspection. Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control is charged with enforcement of this statute. You may also contact them at 233-1200.

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    AUTOMOBILES - SALES

    Q. Don't I have three days to cancel a car purchase?

    A. No. An automobile contract is binding as soon as it is signed. Some dealerships have added clauses in the contract that allow the customer to take the car home prior to final financing being approved or may allow for a limited trial period. Read these clauses carefully. There may be charges or mileage fees associated with the use of the car until the deal is final.

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    Q. The used car I brought yesterday broke down today. How can I make the dealer give me my money back?

    A. If the dealer refuses to take the car back and give you a refund, the dealer can only be forced into a refund by legal action. Most used cars in Florida are sold "AS-IS", meaning, unless you buy a service contract with the car, you are stuck for any and all repairs, unless you, the buyer, can prove in court that the dealer knew about the problems with the car and intentionally hid these defects from you to get you to buy the car. Some dealerships may have a return policy. If so, this would be written in the contract terms. A verbal approval to return the vehicle is not sufficient.

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    Q. . I traded in my car yesterday to buy a new one but was given a significantly reduced amount for the value of the car. The dealer says the car was in an accident prior to my purchase of the car. How can I get the money back for the reduced value of the trade in from the new car delaer or where the trade in vehicle was bought?

    A. This would be best settled by a judge in court. There is usually a significant amount of time that has passed from the original purchase until this point. A consumer can pull a Carfax report on the car but unless the consumer also has the original CarFax report from the dealership where the trade in vehicle was bought, it would become a matter for the court to determine how much information was available and disclosed during the original transaction.

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    Q. I am planning to purchase a new car within the next ten days. The manufacturer is offering a great deal on financing. I have heard stories of customers being asked to return the car because the financing did not go through. Why can this happen?

    A. The lender is considered a party to the transaction. The contract terms are written based on the proposed financing. If the financing cannot be provided as written in the contract, a new contract will have to be negotiated. Consumers can get preapproved with their bank/credit union for the purchase prior to going to the dealership. The Consumer goes to the dealership armed with the knowledge of how much will be approved, the amount of the total purchase, interest, amount of the monthly payments and the length of the payment period (years) prior to choosing the car. This also allows the consumer to approach the dealership with the focus on the final price of the car.

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    Q. What makes a car a lemon?

    A. The Florida Lemon Law established arbitration boards to hear and settle complaints between car manufacturers and vehicle owners. The Lemon Law applies only to new vehicles purchased or leased in Florida for personal use. It covers defects that the manufacturer or servicing agent has not been able to repair that substantially impair the use, value or safety of the vehicle. Coverage under the law ends 24 months after the date of the original delivery of the vehicle. If an authorized service agent is unable to repair the same defect and the consumer has been without the use of the vehicle for 30 cumulative calendar days, proceedings may be initiated by contacting the Lemon Law Hotline: 1-800-321-5366.

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    AUTOMOBILES - REPAIRS

    Q. What are my rights when I take my car to be repaired?

    A The Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act provides that if the repair work will cost more than $100.00, the repair shop must give you the option of:

    1. Requesting a written estimate;
    2. Being notified if the repair exceeds an amount you specify;
    3. Not requiring an estimate.

    The Division advocates you get a written estimate that includes stating if the prices quoted are for new, used or rebuilt parts. The repair shop must get your approval before exceeding the repair estimate so be sure to let them know how to contact you. You also have the right to request, in writing prior to the repair work being done, that you get your old parts back . Do not sign blank repair orders.

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    Q. Who licenses Motor Vehicle Repair Shops?

    A. Motor Vehicle Repair Shops are required to register annually with the Department of Agriculture/Consumer Services. They must post their registration certificate in a conspicuous location and give the toll free number of the Department for assistance. 1-800-435-7352.

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    Q. I've taken my car into a repair shop for repair. The repair price is much higher than originally quoted to me. Is there any action I can take to get my car out immediately?

    A. Consumers in this position can post a bond to get their car released from the shop. The procedure is as follows Obtain a copy of the bill from the shop andcomplete the paperwork for a bond for the amount of the final repair bill plus storage charges, if any, with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where the shop is located.

    The Clerk will issue a certificate directing the shop to release your vehicle. A law enforcement officer will help deliver the certificate to the shop, if necessary. The repair shop has 60 days to file a lawsuit to recover the bond as payment for the repair. If the shop does not sue within 60 days, the Clerk will return the bond money to you. The shop, however, can still file suit after release of the bond money.

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    CELL PHONE CONTRACTS

    Q. I signed a cell contract about 2 months ago and now would like to cancel it. The compnay wants to charge me $250 as an early termination fee. Can they do that?

    A.You will have to review your contract,which may have a specific ending date. Check the contract terms to see if an early termination fee or any fees are attached to defaulting on the full term of the contract. If it is part of the contract terms, you are responsible for the fees.

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    CONTESTS/PRIZE OFFERINGS

    Q. I've just received a notice in the mail that I won $10,000. Can I assume that I have won that money?

    A. Not necessarily. As usual you need to read the fine print very carefully. Many times these are solicitations to encourage you to do business with the company. There are usually conditions on the prize such as, "You will win IF you provide the winning claim number/control number. There is usually a claim number contained in these offers. However, whether the number you received is the "winning claim number" is not guaranteed.

    Be carefull! It could be a scam. If you did not enter the contest, you could not have won. If you are instructed to pay a tax, fee or other charge before the winnings are sent to you, it is a scam. Throw out the "notice" amd do not respond.

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    COOLING-OFF RULE

    Q. Is there a Florida law that allows me to take back an item that I purchased or cancel an agreement or contract?

    A. There is a Federal law that gives you three days to cancel purchases of $25 or more made in your home or at a location that is not the seller's regular place of business.
    There is also a Florida Statue which closely mirrors the Federal law. The three day right to cancel does NOT apply to sales that:

    • are under $25
    • are made entirely by mail or phone
    • are needed to meet an emergency, such as the sudden appearance of insects in your home, and you sign an explanation waiving your right to cancel
    • are of automobiles sold at temporary locations, provided the seller has at least one permanent place of business
    • involve arts and crafts sold at fairs or other locations
    • are not goods or services primarily intended for personal, family or household purposes.

    To cancel a sale, sign and date one copy of the cancellation form that the salesperson should have given you. Then mail it to the address given for cancellation so that the envelope is post-marked before midnight of the third business day after the contract date. Remember, Saturday IS considered a business day, but Sunday is not. If you are not given cancellation forms, you can write your own cancellation letter, but it must still be post-marked before midnight of the third business day after the contract date. Send the letter by certified mail to obtain proof of mailing in both cases.

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    CREDIT AND COLLECTION

    Q. Can anyone get a copy of my credit file from a credit reporting agency (credit bureau)?

    A. No. The number of permissible purposes in the Fair Credit Reporting Act for which a company may obtain a credit report on an individual is limited. In most instances, reports are obtained by lenders with whom the consumer has applied, for example, for a credit card, auto loan or mortgage. However credit reports also may be obtained by landlords for leasing purposes, by employers in reviewing job applicants, by insurers to underwrite coverage, by child support agencies to determine child care benefits, and by government entities under certain narrowly defined circumstances, usually for a security clearance or license that requires a check of your financial stability.

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    Q. I just received a solicitation in the mail from a company telling me that they can get my credit report for me. Is there a way I can do this myself?

    A. The Free Credit Reporting Act requires Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. Consumers may obtain a copy of their credit report by going to the site www.annualcreditreport.com or by telephone at 877-322-8228 or by mail at Annual Credit Report Request Service P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You may order your reports from each of the companies 1 at a time or at the same time.

    Beware of imposter sites that use terms like "Free Report" in their names or urls that purposely misspell the correct site. Annualcreditreport.com and the credit reporting companies will not send you an email asking for your personal information. If you received an email or popup asking for this information do not reply or click on the link. Forward the email to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

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    Q. I got behind on some of my bills and now debt collectors are harassing me at work and at home. Can they do that?

    A. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat you fairly by prohibiting certain methods of debt collection. A debt collector is any person, other than the creditor, who regularly collects debts owed to others. A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram or FAX. However a debt collector may not contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8AM or after 9PM, unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves. To make them stop contacting you at work, you would have to send them a letter by certified mail telling them your employer does not like it. You may also send a certified letter telling them to stop calling you at home and only contact you in writing. Keep a copy for the letter and certified mail receipt for your own records. The Federal Trade Commission publishes a pamphlet on this Act and the Division would be able to provide you with a copy and further information.

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    Q. I just received a notice from a debt collection agency advising that I owe an outstanding bill. I have never had an account or contact with the originator of the debt. Can I just ignore the notice?

    A. No. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers personal household and family debts. The Act was passed to protect consumers from abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect money. You should write to the debt collection agency within 30 days after receiving notice of the debt advising you are disputing the validity of the debt. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy of the letter and certified mail receipt. The collector must suspend collection efforts until they send you written verification of the debt.

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    Q. I just received a phone call from someone saying that I owe money and if I don't give them my bank information and settle the bill I will be served with a warrant and thrown into jail. What is up with this?

    A. Our staff has received inquiries from all over the US concerning these types of scam calls. The first rule of thumb is to not give any personal information. You can also refuse to pick up a call from any unknown number and let it go to your answering machine. If you are being sued in civil court you will receive a summons delivered to you by a process server or sheriff's deputy. This summons gives you time to respond to the court in writing within a specific time period. You will not receive a call from a court of law demanding payment. Please hang up and report the call to the FTC, especially if you are on the "Do Not Call" list. The object of this call is to get your personal information. Just hang up.

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    E-COMMERCE

    Q. I purchased a free item for cost of shipping. I received it 2 weeks after purchase and decided to return it to the company. In the meantime the company charged my credit card $90.00 for a 1 month of supply of the product. Can they do this?

    A. Some products are offered to the public for a short term trial period. Be aware that agreeing to a trial offer may put you on a list or automatic monthly shipments with charges to your credit or debit card. If the trial period has expired, you can still be charged for monthly shipments of the product even if you have not received the trial product. It is important to review the terms of the trial offer so that you are aware of the time frame and requirements for cancellation, returns and refunds.

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    HEALTH CARE PRACTIONERS

    Q. I went to a dentist or a root canal. The work performed was unsatisfactory. Can your office handle this type of complaint?

    A. No, our office does not handle this type of complaint. Our office will attempt to resolve a billing issue between the doctor and the patient, such as refunds of double payments can be handled by our ofice. The Florida Department of Health, Medical Quality Assurance Division (850-542-4339) investigates complaints and reports involving health care practitioners regulated by their department. Actions taken by this agency are administrative in nature (reprimand, fine, license suspension and/or revocation, probation). Complaints regarding billing issues and overcharges are civil and not handled by the Department of Health.

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    Q. Last week I went to an acupuncturist for treatment. He told me that he takes my insurance and I should be reimbursed by the insurance company. I submitted the claims to my insurance company. My deductable was not met therefore my insurance company did not reimburse me for my treatments. Shouldn't the doctor issue a refund of my money?

    A. It is the Consumer's responsibility to be aware of the terms and conditions of their individual insurance plan. Prior to going to the doctor it is prudent to contact your insurance company to verify what services are covered and your responsibility for any fees. The doctor's office may file a claim on your behalf but would not have details concerning your specific insurance coverage, year to date spending levels, or deductibles.

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    HEALTH STUDIOS

    Q. Are verbal health studio contracts just as enforceable as written contracts?

    A. The Florida Health Studio Act requires this contract to be in writing. Any provision that is not contained in the written contract is not part of the contract.

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    Q. I signed a health studio contract 2 weeks ago and decided to cancel it. During the sales presentation the representative told me that a telephone call was sufficient to cancel the contract. I just called him and he told me the contract is canceled. Is my contract truly canceled?

    A. NO, your contract is not canceled. According to FS 501.017, each health studio contract is to have a penalty-free cancellation provision which requires that you notify the health club in writing of your intent to cancel within 3 days of the date you signed the contract, exclusive of holidays and weekends. We would recommend that this notice is sent with proof of delivery (certified mail) and you should keep a copy of this letter for your records. If the club requests the original contract, please make a copy for your records.

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    Q. I purchased a one year contract in January 2000. It is now October 2001 and I am still being billed by the health studio for the membership. What can I do?

    A. The first thing to do is look at your contract. Many of the health studio contracts have an automatic renewal clause once the original term of the contract has expired. Usually, the member is required to notify the club, in writing, 30-60 days prior to the anniversary date of the contract, of the desire to end the membership.

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    Q. I've been a member of the health studio for the last 2 years. I was recently injured and requested cancellation of the contract. I even provided a doctor's note but the club denied my request. Can they do that?

    A. Beyond the initial 3-day cancellation period discussed above, the Florida Health Studio Act allows for cancellation of the contract after 3 days under very specific circumstances.

    1. If the buyer dies or becomes physically unable to avail himself or herself of a substantial portion of those services, which he or she used from the beginning of the contract until the time of the disability. The doctor who provides notice of this disability must be licensed under chapters 458, 459, 460, & 461 of the Florida Statutes;
    2. If the health studio goes out of business, or moves its facilities more than 5 driving miles from the business location designated by the contract and fails to provide a facility, within 30 days, of equal quality at no additional cost to the consumer.

    Check to make sure that the doctor who wrote the note is licensed under 458, 459, 460, & 461 of the Florida Statues. If the problem continues and the club in located in Palm Beach County, you may contact the Palm Beach County Division of Consumer Affairs for assistance. You may also contact the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services for assistance.

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    HOME IMPROVEMENT

    Q. A man came to my door this week offering to make some repairs around the house. How can I find out if he was a legitimate contractor?

    A. If you have home repair needs and are trying to find a reputable and reliable contractor, the Consumer Affairs Division offers the following tips:

    Beware of con artists: they often focus on driveway paving, roofing and painting; they solicit door to door claiming to have "just finished a job down the street"; they arrive in unmarked vans or trucks; they have post office box addresses with no street address; they ask for money up front.

    DO: Ask to see the contractor's license. Determine how long a contractor has been in business. Ask for proof the contractor is fully insured. (If they or their crew hurt themselves on your premises, they could sue you if they are not insured.) Check their licensing information with the Palm Beach County Contractor's Board (561-233-5525) or the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (850-487-1395). Call our Division to see if any complaints have been lodged against the contractor and for further advice.

    Even with small jobs, always request a written contract describing the work to be done, materials to be used, beginning and estimated completion date, and the estimated cost of the repair work. Be sure the contract addresses warranties and financing if that is part of the transaction. Avoid paying cash. Arrange to pay after the work is completed or in regular payments. Avoid contractors who say, "We don't need to bother putting it in writing."

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    Q. What can I do if I'm not satisfied with a contractor's workmanship?

    A. Contact the contractor about your complaints and see if you can resolve the matter. If you are not able to work it out with the contractor, you can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs. The contractor may have to be licensed so you could also contact the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) at 850-487-1395 or the Palm Beach County Contractor's Board at 561-233-5525 which enforces licensing regulations.

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    INTERNAL REVENUE CALLS

    Q. I recently received a call from someone claiming to be from the I.R.S. They told me that I owe them money and must pay right away or they will have me arrested. Is this possible? What should I do?

    A. Hang up and do not give them any information. The Internal Revenue Service does not call or send you an email to advise you of a tax debt. They will correspond with you about the matter. Do not give out any personal information including bank account, social security, or credit card numbers. You may file a report with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on their website at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/. Once there, click on the box titled IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting. The report can be completed online

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    LANDLORD/TENANT

    Q. Exactly what am I responsible for and what is the landlord responsible for?

    A. You and your landlord share many responsibilities. Maintenance of the premises is a good example. Your landlord must provide a healthy, properly maintained place for you to live, and you are required to keep the premises in good condition. Florida's Landlord /Tenant Law, (F.S. 83, Part II) provides some specific requirements that both parties must adhere to. Be aware that your lease may specify additional obligations so read your lease carefully.

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    LANDLORD

    The landlord's responsibilities depend upon the type of rental unit. If the unit is a single-family house, duplex, triplex or mobile home, he must:

    • At the commencement of the tenancy, landlord must ensure that screens are installed in a reasonable condition. Thereafter, the landlord must repair damage to screens once annually
    • Comply with applicable building, housing and health codes
    • Maintain the roof, windows, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations and all other structural components in good repair
    • Keep the plumbing in reasonable working condition

    If the unit is a triplex or other type unit, unless otherwise agreed upon in writing, he must:

    • Provide for the extermination of rats, mice, roaches, ants, wood destroying organisms, and bedbugs.
    • Provide locks and keys
    • Provide a functioning heating device
    • Provide running water and hot water
    • Garbage removal and outside receptacles therefor
    • Provide a smoke detection device

    The landlord of a single-family home or duplex must install working smoke detectors unless otherwise agreed in writing.

    This does not mean the landlord is obligated to pay for utilities, water, fuel or garbage removal, although he may choose to. Other provisions may also be altered by the written lease agreement

    THE TENANT

    You are responsible for:

    • Complying with housing and health codes
    • Keeping the dwelling clean
    • Removing garbage from the dwelling
    • Keeping the plumbing repaired
    • Not defacing or damaging the premises
    • Occupying the dwelling without disturbing the peace
    • Not abusing the electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning or other systems furnished by the landlord.

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    Q. My Landlord is threatening to evict me for not paying rent. But he refuses to repair several holes in the ceiling. What can I do?

    A. You may be able to withhold a portion of the rent if the landlord fails to do what the law or the lease requires. You must, however, announce your intention by certified mail at least seven days before the rent is due to allow time to remedy the problem. If the problem is not corrected within the seven days and you withhold a portion of the rent, the landlord may take you to court to collect it. Maintain the money being withheld in a safe place and readily available should you be required to pay the rent into the court registry pending the judge's determination of the case.

    In order to evict you, the landlord must serve you, the tenant, written notice allowing three days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) for you to pay the rent or move. If you do not pay the rent or move, the landlord may begin action to evict you. The landlord must file suit in county court, provide the court with a copy of the three day notice. If the court agrees with the landlord, it will notify you in writing. You have five days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) to respond in writing to the court. If you do not respond or a judgment is entered against you, the clerk of the county court will issue a "writ of possession" to the sheriff who will notify you that you will be evicted in 24 hrs.

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    Q. Can a landlord raise the rent to whatever he wants?

    A. Yes. There are no specific rent controls in Florida. However, the landlord cannot raise the rent in the middle of a lease. The rent can only be increased at the beginning of a new lease.

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    Q. Does a landlord have to return my security/damage deposit?

    A. Yes. The Landlord/Tenant Law requires the landlord to return your deposit. If the deposit is non-refundable it must be so stated in the lease. When you move out, the landlord must either return your deposit (plus interest if applicable) within 15 days of termination of the lease, or justify in writing within 30 days of the lease termination, why part or all of your deposit is being kept. The justification must be sent by certified mail to your last known mailing address. If the notice is not sent as required within the 30-day period, the landlord forfeits the right to impose a claim unless you failed to give proper notice prior to vacating. Should you dispute any of the damage claims, you may try to resolve the matter with the landlord and if that fails you may file a complaint with our Division. If mediation doesn't resolve your dispute, you may take the landlord to small claims court.

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    RETAIL RETURN POLICIES

    Q. I bought some merchandise at a local store and then later tried to return it. They refused to give me my money back. What rights do I have?

    A. Under Florida Statutes 501.142, every retail sales establishment offering goods for sale that does NOT offer cash refunds, credit refunds, OR exchange of merchandise must post a sign stating so at the point of sale. If no such sign is posted, it is assumed that the store DOES have a return policy of some type and the policy must be presented in writing if the consumer demands to see it. (This law does NOT apply to the sale of food, perishable goods, goods which are custom made, goods which are custom altered at the request of the customer, or goods which cannot be resold by the merchant because of any law, rule or regulation of a government agency.) Check the store policy before you buy at the store. Policies differ greatly from store to store.

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    SERVICE CONTRACTS

    Q. How do I know whether or not a service contract is a good buy?

    A. Ask these questions before buying: Does the service contract coverage differ from my new product warranty? Does it begin when my product warranty ends so I don't pay twice for coverage? Is my contract insured if the service contract company goes out of business? Does it cover both parts and labor? All parts? Is the contract renewable, transferable? What happens if I move? If I request in-home service, how long is the wait before service is provided?

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    Q. I signed up for a service contract in April of this year. It is now October and I would like to cancel the contract. I contacted the company to advise them of the cancellation and request a refund. The company told me that I am not entitled to a refund. Are they correct?

    A. The information concerning cancellation is usually found within the contract terms. A service contract refund is usually calculated on a prorata basis after deducting the price of all previously completed service calls for which you were not already charged.

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    UNCLAIMED MONEY

    Q. I received a notice in the mail that I may have unclaimed money with the state of Florida. If I pay the company they will get it for me and deduct their fees. Is there any way I can check on this and claim the monies without paying the fees?

    A. The Florida Department of Financial Services is the repository for unclaimed money in this state. You can determine if you have unclaimed money being held by the state by going to their website and completing the claim form. The website is https://www.fltreasurehunt.org/

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