Hundreds of thousands of consumers in Connecticut shop at rent-to-own stores, but some say missing a few payments can turn into a nightmare full of threats and intimidation.
"They would kick the door and punch the door," said a Rent-A-Center customer who declined to have his name revealed. "I have a disabled sister at home. She was home alone."
A Rent-A-Center spokesperson said the company has rigorous training and policies regarding collection. However, the customer's contract states the company has the right to possession of the property if a customer breaches the agreement.
Another rent-to-own customer who did not want her name revealed said she had contacted SEI Aaron's on several occasions to explain she was experiencing financial difficulty and that she intended to catch up on her overdue payments. But instead of helping her, she said the company sent representatives to her home.
"When I called the business and I told them make their representative to leave, they told me they wasn't going to leave until they opened the door and I said, 'well, there's kids in the house,'" she said.
She said her teenage daughter and nephew were inside the home as the company's representative's continued to pound on the door.
"I'm not going to allow grown men in my home with a nineteen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old. I'm not gonna do it," she said.
The SEI Aaron's customer contract states if a customer fails to pay, the company is entitled to immediate possession of the leased property, wherever located. A company spokesperson said he can not speak to the validity of the customer's allegations. However, he said SEI Aaron's does not condone that behavior.
There are no laws in Connecticut that require residents to allow a collector in their home. However, attorney Dan Blinn said in a very short time he heard three similar complaints from consumers.
"It's very disturbing and of great concern that they're going to such lengths to try to repossess when somebody is just a few payments behind," Blinn said.
Blinn is now representing the two customers in a legal fight against Rent-A-Center and SEI Aaron's.
According to the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO), about 300,000 consumers in Connecticut do business with rent-to-own stores. The weekly payments can add up over time, often costing consumers much more than the retail price of the goods. Still, rent-to-own earned a higher customer satisfaction rate than retail in recent surveys conducted by America's Research Group.
"The customer gets to choose the number of payments. So it can be as cheap as a hundred dollars over retail. It can be as expensive as twice the retail cost. It just depends," said APRO spokesperson Richard May.
Rent-to-own companies can not legally charge Connecticut consumers more than double the fair market value of the goods.
Both SEI Aaron's and Rent-A-Center told a Troubleshooters producer who was posing as a prospective customer that if he were to have trouble making payments, he would need to keep the stores informed.
"If they can't pay for that TV, the store will take that TV and say we'll keep it here as long as you want," May said. "When you need it back, come back, all your payments still exist and then we'll resume the payments until you can either return it or finish off payments."
Blinn, however, argues rent-to-own companies are not allowed to breach the peace or discuss a customer's payment problems with a third party.
"They're allowed to contact someone if somebody moves and the merchandise isn't there any more, but they're not allowed to contact them for purposes of exerting pressure so that their neighbors will know that they're having trouble paying a bill," Blinn said.
SEI Aaron's said it tries to help customers through financial hardships.
APRO claims aggressive collecting is not an industry trend.
"It is very rare to have these instances and even rarer every year we go," May said. "If you don't have good customer service, you don't have business."
Rent-to-own companies can go to court to get an order to turn over property or sue for the amount owed.