KEY LAWS TO KNOW FOR CONSUMERS IN CALIFORNIA
1. General consumer rights
What can I do if my product doesn’t meet my expectations?
You may reject (refuse to accept) a product that turns out to be different from what you expected based on a written agreement/contract. (Note: if you have already “accepted” the product, you may still reject it within a reasonable period of time, generally a few days). The seller would then have an opportunity to fix the problem, and if it does so, you must then accept the product. But if the seller doesn’t fix it, you may cancel the purchase.1Cal Commercial Code 2601, 2608, 2711(1)
What if my product is defective? (Lemon Law).
If a consumer product under warranty cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the company providing the warranty (usually manufacturer or retailer) must either replace the defective product or reimburse its price, less the amount attributable to your use.2Civ. Code Sec. 1793.2(d), 1793.22(b)
Are there any rules about shipping time?
When you buy something
on the internet, the seller must ship the goods within the time frame it gives you (or within 30 days), otherwise you have the right to cancel the purchase.3Federal Trade Commission rule found at Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16, Part 435
What can I do about a company that seems to be lying or doing other shady things?
This is generally called “deceptive business practices.” In general, businesses may not engage in deceptive or unfair marketing or other business practices.4Section 5 of Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec 45 This can mean many things, but essentially it means that companies must be truthful about their products. See here and here for examples.
What are my rights regarding telemarketing and robocalls?
Companies must maintain do-not-call lists, and if you ask to be put on the list, they can’t call you anymore. Also, companies may NOT make unsolicited robocalls to cell phones.5Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Can a business require me to agree not to criticize them on Yelp, social media, or other places?
No. Many businesses are starting to put in a non-disparagement clause in contracts to prevent consumers who use their products or services from writing negative reviews. But these clauses are illegal and a business cannot prevent a consumer from sharing their “honest opinions” about the business’s products or services.6Consumer Fairness Review Act But that does NOT mean you can post things that are harassing, abusive, or false or misleading.
See the full list of CA consumer laws from the CA Dept of Consumer Affairs.
2. Getting out of a contract or service agreement
Help! I signed a contract but now I changed my mind. What are my options?
Cancelling certain types of contracts: In California, you have the right to
cancel contracts (no reason necessary) for certain types of transactions, such as dental services or gym memberships, within a specified time period after signing the contract. These are often referred to as cooling off periods. Usually the seller is not allowed to charge you a cancellation fee (we will specify when the seller is allowed to do so), but may charge a prorated amount for any time or services used before cancelling. See the list of transaction types and their cancellation periods here.
Cancelling contracts in general: You may also have a right to cancel a contract if:7CA Civ. Code Sec. 1689
- the seller lied about a substantial aspect of the transaction (and you can prove it),
- you gave consent by mistake or under extreme pressure,
- the agreement falls through for some reason not that was not your fault
Invalid contract: You may not even need to cancel a contract if it isn’t valid, which would occur if:
- Your consent to it was obtained through fraud — for example, if you were not aware that the document you signed was a contract.8See Jones v. Adams Financial Services (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 831, 839 [84 Cal.Rptr.2d 151, 157]
- The contract or a clause in a contract is shockingly unfair9Civ. Code Sec. 1670.5(a)
3. Banking & Credit Cards
Does my bank need to ask me before signing me up for overdraft protection?
Yes. If you attempt to pay for something but don’t have enough money in your bank account, your bank is not allowed to automatically let the transaction to go through and then charge you an overdraft fee. It MUST ask you whether you want to make the overdraft & pay the fee OR have the bank decline the transaction.10Federal Reserve regulations found in 12 CFR Part 205
When must my bank legally make my deposited funds available?
If you make a deposit to a bank in person, the bank must make the funds available by the next business day. If you make a deposit electronically after business hours, the bank must make the funds available by the second business day.1112 CFR 229.10
Are there any rules about depositing large amounts of money?
Yes. If you deposit in a bank more than $10,000 cash (meaning, not a personal check, but may include cashier’s check) at a time, the bank must report this to the IRS.1231 USC 5313 Also if you make several deposits of less than $10,000 that are “structured” in order to evade reporting requirements, this is a crime.13Bank Secrecy Act at 31 USC 5324
Credit card fees: Is it legal for stores and other merchants in California to charge you a fee for using a credit card to buy something?
At the moment, yes it’s legal, but the merchant must clearly notify you in advance of the purchase that they will be charging the fee. However, it may soon become illegal for merchants to charge this fee.
Is there a limit to how much interest a bank can charge for a loan?
Not really. California has “usury laws” which generally prohibit charging interest on a loan at higher than 10% per year. But this doesn’t apply to banks, credit unions, finance companies, pawn brokers.14California Constitution, Article XV
4. Cell phones
Cell phone companies may not add charges to your bill from outside companies without your clear consent, must clearly identify these charges as from outside companies, and must give you the option to block the charges. This practice is called “cramming.”
Unlocking your phone. After you have fully paid for your cell phone (which may include finishing your phone service contract), you have the right to “unlock” your phone in order to switch carriers.15Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act of 2014
Drone owners must register their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration.
EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS
To cancel a contract: In order to cancel, you only need to give the seller written notice (send a letter or email) of cancellation within the period allowed. Be sure to keep a record of this letter or email.
To exercise your other consumer rights: If you feel that one or more of the above laws applies to you, you should first talk to the seller/bank about it and tell them you know the law. If they won’t fix the issue, you can do any of the following:
- Contact a consumer attorney
- If it’s about a purchase, file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs
- If an online seller hasn’t shipped within the timeframe they gave you (or within 30 days), file a complaint here
- If it’s about banking, credit, or a mortgage, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- If the amount in question is $10,000 or less, you can sue in small claims court.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Cal Commercial Code 2601, 2608, 2711(1)|
|2.||↑||Civ. Code Sec. 1793.2(d), 1793.22(b)|
|3.||↑||Federal Trade Commission rule found at Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16, Part 435|
|4.||↑||Section 5 of Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec 45|
|5.||↑||Telephone Consumer Protection Act|
|6.||↑||Consumer Fairness Review Act|
|7.||↑||CA Civ. Code Sec. 1689|
|8.||↑||See Jones v. Adams Financial Services (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 831, 839 [84 Cal.Rptr.2d 151, 157]|
|9.||↑||Civ. Code Sec. 1670.5(a)|
|10.||↑||Federal Reserve regulations found in 12 CFR Part 205|
|11.||↑||12 CFR 229.10|
|12.||↑||31 USC 5313|
|13.||↑||Bank Secrecy Act at 31 USC 5324|
|14.||↑||California Constitution, Article XV|
|15.||↑||Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act of 2014|