By Susan Salisbury Posted Jul 28, 2017 at 12:01 AM Updated Jul 28, 2017 at 12:44 PM
Complaints about solar energy sales and used car leasing are among the new consumer problems to watch, a report released Thursday by the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators found.
“Solar energy is good for the environment and for consumers’ pocketbooks, but there are starting to be complaints concerning misleading sales practices, confusing contracts and shoddy installation,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at CFA. “Consumers should check out the company and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement before they sign on the dotted line for solar contracts.”
The report contains examples of consumer complaints from around the country as reported in 2016 to 39 consumer protection agencies in 23 states.
Solar energy has become front-and-center in Florida since the passage of Amendment 4 last year. It expanded certain tax exemptions to commercial properties. The law which takes effect Jan. 1 also requires solar contractors to make a number of disclosures to consumers about what they are getting and opens the door for solar leasing.
But it also appears solar is an industry vulnerable to its share of less than forthright players.
An 84-year-old man told the Maryland Attorney General’s Office that he was induced to sign a 20-year contract to lease solar panels.
“Assuming that he does not outlive the lease, his heirs will be obliged to fulfill the contract, and if they choose to sell the house, the purchasers will have to agree to assume the lease, which could make the property much harder to sell,” the report states.
Leasing may seem attractive because you pay little or nothing up front, but according to Consumer Reports, there can be serious disadvantages, such as winding up with more panels than needed. The panels will be removed at the end of the lease.
In January, the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to open an investigation into companies that sell residential solar panels. The group reviewed hundreds of consumer complaints dating back to 2011 which found that some companies were targeting elderly consumers with dishonest sales tactics.
Thursday, the campaign’s executive director Dan Stevens said that on July 19 the group asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate companies that lease and sell rooftop solar panels to consumers across the U.S.
“CfA’s review reveals that American consumers have identified numerous companies that have provided poor or inadequate service, falsely represented the savings customers would realize from solar power, lured them in with low price quotes that later proved to be false, required them to sign confusing contracts, and/or performed shoddy installation of the solar panels,” Stevens wrote in a letter to the FTC.
Used car leasing is another rising consumer problem. Leasing is attractive because little or no down payment is required and the monthly payments are relatively low. However, the interest rates may be high, and state lemon laws and other consumer protections may not apply to these transactions.
“Consumers who lease used cars may be stuck with lemons or be on the hook for costly repairs,” Grant said.