Rent-To-Own Stores Can No Longer Use Prosecutors as their Debt Collectors

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014


Virginia has many rent-to-own stores where you can “buy without credit” things like computers, appliances, furniture and electronics.   The idea is that if you make all the rental payments, you will own it.  To read more about rent-to-own, check out our fact sheet.

On the surface, this sounds great, right? But what happens if you miss a payment?  Will the store repossess your purchase?  Yes, the store might repossess it and until a few days ago, the store could send you a letter saying you must return the property or face prosecution for theft!  Customers that didn’t or couldn’t return the property might then find they had a felony arrest warrant issued for them.  Many prosecutors, however, would then agree to dismiss the charges if you paid for the property.

How did the rent-to-own stores get the right to use the criminal justice system as a means to get customers to pay?  They were using a statute that was intended to address a different situation. If you rented tools or a tent from a rental store for a few days or if you rented a car from a company like Enterprise or Hertz and then didn’t return it, it seems likely that you may have stolen the property.  That is different from buying a car and making monthly payments or buying property from a rent-to-own store with weekly payments.  The General Assembly agreed and amended the law as of July 1, 2014 so now it is clear that it doesn’t apply to rent-to-own transactions.

What does this mean for you?  Virginians can no longer be charged with a crime for simply failing to return property to a rent-to-own store.

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