Monday, April 12, 2010

Rent-A-Center & the Civll/Criminal Continuum

One of the types of cases that bothered me tremendously when I was a Prosecutor and continues to bother me as a Defense Attorney is what are most commonly known as the Rent-A-Center cases that pop up regularly in court.

The scenario is simple: Someone who can't afford some of the furnishings and/or appliances that they would like for their home goes to Rent-A-Center who allows them to rent said appliance for a weekly or monthly fee. The customer signs a CONTRACT and then exits the store with the merchandise. After paying on it for a bit, the payments stop coming in and Rent-A-Center files theft charges on the person who entered into the contract.

Now, before I dive off into this topic, please understand me. I'm not saying that Rent-A-Center (and similar companies) aren't entitled to be paid for what they contracted for and/or they should get their leased merchandise back.

But, it seems to me that Rent-A-Center cases approach a very fine line in the difference between criminal law and civil law, and the Harris County District Attorney's Office seems to be getting used as a de facto collection agency in the process.

Here's a couple of things for your consideration:

#1 - I'm not trying to be judgmental here, but most of the clientele at Rent-A-Center are usually hurting financially. Hurting VERY BADLY financially, actually. yet, this does not in anyway dissuade companies like Rent-A-Center from letting these folks walk out the door with items you like they just won the Showcase on the Price is Right. Things from king size beds to 50 inch flat screen TVs are given to people with worse credit ratings than M.C. Hammer.

#2 - The folks that rent these items are often evicted or move because they can't afford a place to stay, and who knows what becomes of the items they got from Rent-A-Center.

#3 - in most Rent-A-Center cases, there are several payments made on the property before they stop coming in.

So, here's where I get confused.

Under Section 31.03 of the Texas Penal Code, dealing with Theft, it reads: "A person commits an offense if he unlawfully appropriates property with int to deprive the owner of property."

To some, that would mean that at the time the customer took possession of the rental property that they knew they would never make the payments.

Otherwise, we aren't talking about a theft case.

We're talking about a breach of contract.

What's the difference?

You can't go to prison for a breach of contract.

Look at it this way, if you default on payments of your house, you can get your house foreclosed on, but you don't get taken to jail, do you?

The response to this from those who support the notion of filing criminal theft charges against people on these Rent-A-Center cases are that Rent-A-Center will send out demand letters for the return of the property and only then will the D.A.'s Office accept charges.

But, as I point out above, in so many of these cases, the Renter of the property has been evicted or moved on and they never receive those notices.

But to the D.A.'s Office, that doesn't really matter. As long as Rent-A-Center bothered to send the letter to the last-known address, then they have done all they need to.

Theft charges are filed.

To me, it just seems that these are (more often than not) a breach of contract where Rent-A-Center needs to sue for return of the property. But the reality of that situation is that they would never get their money that way, would they? How do you get blood from a turnip?

It's far easier to call the police and file theft charges and let the District Attorney's Office threaten the freedom of someone until Rent-A-Center gets their merchandise back and all the back rent they are owed, isn't it?

Here's a thought:

Maybe Rent-A-Center shouldn't be renting big screen TVs to people they know can't afford them.

And if Rent-A-Center doesn't want to stop doing that, then maybe they should clean up their own messes instead of wasting taxpayer money by using the police and the District Attorney's Office as their personal collection agency.


Rorschach said...

I seem to recall that Elkins (or maybe it was Vinson, it has been a few years.) of Vinson & Elkins fame was brought up on charges of illegal loansharking for a similar setup some years back. He called it a leaseback agreement, but never made an effort to repossess the unpaid merchandise. People would bring in some article, usually a TV, and Elkins' company (not sure what his loansharking operation was DBA, it wasn't the same as his law practice.) would buy it and then lease it back to the seller. The seller would make a few payments and then the payments would stop. it was a criminal, not a civil trial. the DA was getting tired of doing Elkin's dirty work back then too I gues. I was a member of the jury pool during voir dire... I managed to mouth off and get myself dismissed, I couldn't afford to miss that much work. so I don't know what the final result was.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good type of case for jury nullification. I don't think I would ever convict someone of theft in that situation.

Texas Ghostrider said...

I agree, cases like that should be civil and not criminal. Those type of businesses are popping up everwhere from rent a center to rent rims or rent tires. It sounds like a civil contract and the companies need to do a better job of collections or screening their "renters".

David Jennings said...

I didn't realize that companies like RAC could do this. Completely agree with you.

When you were with the DA's office, did you have a choice not to file?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

I got in trouble once for rejecting all Rent-A-Center cases, no matter what. Then, I was strongly, um, encouraged to be more open minded on the cases. I looked at factors like the ones a mentioned in the post. If somebody made a minimal payment at the store and walked out the door with the merchandise and never made another payment, I was comfortable that the Office could prove an intent to deprive at the time of acquisition.

But, man, I hated those cases. Lykos and her group should really examine whether or not they are charging people criminally for civil infractions.

Frank M. said...

I've heard this all too many times and I see how some people would agree with this. What I do not understand is why it is ok for the Court to do collections for the bank or landlord when they issue an eviction notice and then go with the Sheriff's Department to physically remove someone from their home. Why is it treated as a stolen car if you fail to make rental car payments? Not only will you get arrested, the Police will have your car towed to a safe location for the rental car company to pick up.

I could go on with a lot more examples, but in the interest of time, let me just say it appears to be a big double standard when the Rent-to-Own industry is involved.

jigmeister said...

Aren't they rent to buy contracts? Pretty much the same as buying a car or anything else on time, except that that merchant self finances instead of a bank. And the item rented is collateral. No question in my mind that it should be handled by suit. Waste of resources. Bet many of them go no arrest until they are stopped for some traffic offense.

If the rental companies had to handle themselves, they would be far more particular about who they rent to.

Anonymous said...

Although I philosopically agree with all of your comments vis-a-vis rental centers and that civil charges should be instituted where payment is not made rather than tying up law enforcement and the courts with these issues, an argument could be made that these issues give rise to a theft of service charge under TEX.P.C., sec. 31.04 (a)(4) under the theory that the contract is a "service agreement." I doubt that is the manner in which the charges are filed though. See also 31.04(b)(2).

Anonymous said...

I agree with this line of thinking, yet I believethe not returning rental car cases are different. Someone knows when they are driving a car they have not paid for or returned.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have never heard of this before. I guess we do have debtor's prisons. I'm not sure that I like my tax dollars going to fund RAC's collection efforts.

Anonymous said...

Certainly the DA shouldn't do all the work for a company whose business model is founded on the riskiest of clients. But, by far the greatest injustice in Harris County (if we're talking classes of cases, as opposed to individual cases) are those where HCSO or HPD could cite and summons, but refuse to do so. That alone could damn near solve our budget issues by making the crazy jail overtime and using private jails for overflow unnecessary.

The greatest surprise/disappointment I've had since the last election was that Garcia won't use it, and I've been fairly amazed that Houston's "liberal" mayors won't either. I guess they see it as a county budget problem though.


Anonymous said...

Further to Anon 8:50, these cases are prosecuted under 31.04(a)(3). I defended one in JP court brought by a mom-and-pop video store in Pasadena for failure to return a DVD of Scooby-Doo. I really wanted to see Alison Baimbridge tell a jury why she was trying the case but client preferred to pay $15 restitution.

What frosts me is that the State and us taxpayers have to pay for these stores' collection efforts. I agree that clear abuse cases (no payment, lessee skips) should be prosecuted, but not the typical ones.

Anonymous said...

Not to belabor under what statute a prosecution would lie per the issue raised by the Harris County Lawyer, I can see prosecution of these failed movie rental returns under 31.04(a)(3) because the rental period has ended, but I do not believe that this same provision would control the Harris County Lawyer's hypothetical facts in most isntances since the rental period has not ended before the payments generally have stopped (that is unless the rental contract specifies that each month initiates a new rental period). Thus, I think 31.04(a)(4)is the statute to be used. I do not believe that the Harris County District Attorney's office though should serve as the collection conduit for these merchants, although quite candidly I can feel more sympathetic towards the movie rental merchant than I do the rental centers who prey on the lower income and generally disadvantaged individuals. Whereas the movie rental merchant has a reasonable expectation of the property being returned, and timely, the rental centers have no such expectation of being paid or the property being returned.

Anonymous said...

I can give you an even worse example. In NM statute authorizes the District Attorney to collect a "processing fee" for every check they prosecute under the worthless checks act. If you fail to pay in full within 3 days it is a 'prima facia' case of check fraud and the DA will file felony charges (for any check over $25). Then the DA will waive prosecution if you pay some portion to the complainant --- keeping their fee, of course. I worked in a small city that had two full time ADAs (plus support staff) doing nothing but "check fraud", and I'd estimate that at least 90% were not fraud. But facing a felony charge, people just want to pay and get the charges dropped (cuz they owe on the check anyway even if they win the criminal case). When they deal in bulk, the 'fees' (typically $10 to $50 a check) add up quickly. And the local merchants gave a lot of love to the DA. Most DA's don't go 'whole hog' like that, but that is cold comfort for those who live where the DAs do.

Anonymous said...

AMEN, Murray!!!!

Anonymous said...

I work at RAC and found your blog interesting; you made some thoughtful points. I can’t argue from a legal perspective (I’m no lawyer) but I can provide info and a different POV. Our company training takes collections issues seriously and doesn’t allow us to use criminal action as a collection tool. We spend significant store labor hours collecting on our accounts and, we try to make it easy for customers whose situations change, too. If a customer can no longer make payments (laid off/evicted, etc.) if they let us know, we can pick up the items and they can simply re-rent them in the future and pick up payments where they left off – they don’t lose what they paid in. If a customer can't make payments and refuses to give back the merchandise, after our repeated efforts to reach them and work with them, it would be far more common for a store to submit for civil proceedings, not criminal.

I can’t speak for other rental companies, but I can tell you that, at Rent-A-Center, any single store submits, on average, only one criminal charge about every 15-16 months. As a company, we serve over a million customers at any given time and have ~3,000 stores so we’re talking about an extremely small percentage. We have strict guidelines that we follow and that must be approved before submitting a criminal charge and they require that we show there was an intent to steal. I just did a search on the internet and whether it’s putting accounts in other people’s names, writing down incorrect addresses, or moving a few weeks after getting merchandise and never contacting the store again, there *are* instances where people show an intent to steal.

I used to work standard big-box retail and we filed criminal charges for theft on a far more regular basis than we do at RAC. Customers making several payments, paying a small portion, doesn’t mean that there’s no intent to steal, either. It reminds me of, in retail, when a customer switches a tag on an item, changing the price so that’s it’s significantly less… it’s still stealing.

Texbella13 said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Rent-A-Center needs to change their policies, instead of using criminal courts to solve their problems. Tax payer money is wasted, and court dockets are backed up. Obviously Rent-A-Center wants the money, but they need to take responsibility for bad choices. These cases need to be taken care of in Civil court. What the heck is wrong with the DA's office?!

Anonymous said...

If you're credit is so bad, your income so poor, and you are getting constantly evicted from wherever you live, you don't need a 52 inch wide flatscreen TV. You need an education or a marketable skill.

Rent a Center needs to change it's business priorities.

Anonymous said...

Not to quibble, but you're skipping the "unlawfully appropriate" element. In every single instance you've given, RAC knowingly consented to the individual leaving the store with the property. Whether the individual, in his heart of hearts, actually intended to pay or not is irrelevant. He signed a contract, which was RAC's only apparent requirement for consenting to his taking the property. Much the same as when I loan you a book you then like so much you refuse to return it ever, the person who left the store with the big screen TV had the lender's blessing. No unlawful appropriation, no theft, no matter how many payments I made or skipped, or when you said you'd give my book back. No amount of later notice, to any current or forwarding address, can modify the legality of the appropriation at the time it originally occurred. These are civil matters -- contract cases or torts of conversion -- plain and simple.

nhglaw said...

My client is charged with theft. He rented some rims and did not pay. His vehicle was repossessed. The asssistant district attorney wants two years TDC. I asked her about paying the debt, but she said that it is too late. The case is in the 263rd District Court.

nhglaw said...

A Florida court of appeals was less friendly toward an RTO company in a case decided in July 2005, State v. Sanders, 905 So.2d 241 (Fla. 2d Dist. Ct. of App. 2005). To begin with, Florida has had a troublesome history with its theft of leased property statute. In 1997, the legislature amended the theft statute specifically to exclude RTO transactions. The genesis of this amendment remains shrouded in mystery. Florida rental dealers worked with the legislature for several years before finally getting language back into the statute to cover RTO transactions. The new statute requires that rental companies put written notice of the criminal statute in rental agreements if they intend to pursue criminal remedies against customers who refuse to return rented property. Sanders rented a sofa, a chair and a spider lamp from the rental company under an RTO agreement with a total RTO price of $1,500. Sanders quit making payments at some point during the agreement and the rental company sent her a certified letter demanding return of the merchandise. The letter was returned undelivered because Sanders had moved away without leaving a forwarding address. The rental company swore out a criminal complaint against her.

The specific issue in the Sanders case involved a constitutional question of due process. The Florida theft of leased property statute has a presumption in it, like many theft statutes around the country. If a customer does not return property within five days of a written demand from the rental company, the law presumes that the customer intended to steal it. If this presumption is a mandatory one (i.e., if a jury must reach that conclusion regardless of any other evidence adduced at trial), the presumption violates due process, which requires that the prosecution in a criminal case prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The statute would be unconstitutional, because instead of having to prove intent—that the customer intended to steal the merchandise— the law attempts to allow a set of circumstantial facts—demand letter and no return of property—to assume criminal intent. If, on the other hand, the presumption is merely permissive— i.e., the jury can reach that conclusion from the facts, but is not required to do so and, depending upon the evidence, can reach a contrary conclusion if supported by the evidence—then the statute satisfies due process and can be enforced.

The Florida court of appeals in a pair of failure-to-return cases examined this issue in detail and held that the presumption in the Florida statute is permissive, and thus the statute is constitutional. In doing so, however, the court in the Sanders case had harsh words for the rental company and the legislature: “Why the legislature would want to do this, essentially encouraging the state’s attorney to become [the rental company’s] repossession and debt collection agent at state expense is a mystery to me, but that appears to be the intent behind the statute…Being poor and unable to pay your debts is still not a crime in Florida…Maybe Ms. Sanders’ husband or boyfriend ran off with the furniture and she cannot return it.Maybe her house burned down and the furniture was destroyed. Maybe the landlord evicted her and kept the furniture. Maybe the furniture was destroyed in a hurricane.” This case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings and it is not yet known what will happen to Sanders. And so the debate about RTO and the criminal law continues throughout the land.

Anonymous said...

I'm baffled at how an ADA could prove intent especially if payments had been made towards the purchase or rental. The Harris County District Attorney's Office is a joke and consistently inconsistent. On many theft cases, the HCSO states that without video, they won't bother investigating the case (ask Sgt. Peterson and her boss Sgt. Ellis). But who do their cases get submitted to for prosecution? The Harris County D.A.

The Harris County D.A. states that judges and Grand Juries refuse to watch video or listen to audio of evidence against those committing thefts. To make matters even worse, there are individuals that truly believe that recording a conversation (audio or video) without someone's knowledge is illegal in Texas.

For the record: Texas is a one party consent state. As long as the party recording the conversation is part of the conversation, the one party consent qualifier is met.

Fortunately, strained budgets and reduced efficiency will soon lead to downsizing and elmination of some departments.

Grandad used to say, "Sooner or later, everybody gets what they deserve."

nhglaw said...

Texas Penal Code 2.05 provides that presumptions are permissive. Here is a link to the Sanders case. It was decided June 22, 2005.,%202005/2D04-4607.pdf

Here is a link to a similar case Rygwelski.,%202005/2D03-3877.pdf

steve said...

I am really shocked to see some of the replies here. First off nobody get's surprised by arrest for rental theft.
they have been usually called several times, had many letters and repo men at the house to get the property. That is unless they where one of the scams that fakes their address or has the property delivered the day before they move, in such cases intent to steal is almost certain.

Harris county will not take just any RTO theft, as an RTO store manager who used to work in Harris county I know. cases of people who have paid for more than a couple of payments are not accepted at least for theft charges. I do think that charges of theft of services or interfering with collection of a secured debt could be made more often.

I live in Jefferson county now and the crooked DA out here will not file for our industry for anything, even fraud. Although he will file for Hertz or Avis or Home Depot for rental theft.

And just because there is a civil remedy does NOT mean that a DA does not have to keep his/her oath to see justice done under the law. I mean there is a civil remedy for murder, rape and child porn also. The DA out here will not even file theft for thieves who refuse to return AFTER a writ has been filed and served and the thief admits to the constable the property has been disposed of.

Anonymous said...

Rent a centers policy for filing criminal charges is very strict and most cases get denied by our legal department, I know this for a fact because I have seen what it to takes to get our legal Dept. to approve these cases. What you have here are Store Managers taking the risk and filing criminal charges without corporate approval and the local Magistrates office are taking these cases in some not all jurisdictions. If anyone from the DA's office(or customer) were to call 1800-275-2696 and ask if these charges were approved I would say 90% of them are done withoutlegal department knowledge and approval and the charges would be withdrawn immediatly. I know this as fact Because several Managers in our area file charges faithfully each Monday and spend several hours sitting down there. Our District court in our area sends the court papers to these customers that are already struggling to show up for theft of leased services and when it goes to court they are told to return it or make $50.00 monthly payments to the court what a waste of taxpayers Money. The managers that file these charges do so to help thier collections program stay in check and use it as a scare tactic. Meanwhile that Store Manager is pocketing anywhere from $60,000- $90,000 per year. Beacause the if they keep the charge-offs low thier bonuses will be BIGGER!! That would be incentive enough for most Managers to continue taking thier customers to courtand let the court and taxpayers money do thier dirty collections work after they have broken every fair credit collection practice in the book. Yes upper management really belives that the stores follow the collections guidelines but that is such a joke just go out to any low income niegborhood on a Saturday and just watch the Rac trucks flying up and down the street. I will you-tube it one day so you can see it to believe it

Anonymous said...

Its all very simple folks pay for the merch if you cant afford it return it. if you can afford it at a later date start right where you left off on the agreement. If you decide not to pay and keep the merch then you are fraudulant. end of story

marsha solomon said...


marsha solomon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Seeing how you cannot just up and move a house your example was very poor. If you move and take the property, never return phone calls, and return the letters that are sent then it is theft by conversion or in some states deception. You knowingly take the property without notifying RAC then right there you are stealing. Either way if things are done right by RAC then the case is Criminal.

Anonymous said...

The justice system should just cut off their hands. Then they will not do it again. The courts can be freed up and the tax payers can benifit from less scum out there scaming small business.

Anonymous said...

I guess since i chose to forgo an education and go into business for myself, i just don't understand why most of these post overlook the fact that we are talking about physical merchandise that is received by an individual that fails to pay for it and does not return it. Seems to me that it should be a criminal matter if an individual decides to not return an item when they stop paying. I'm not sure i care how the law can and is interrupted since apparently it is interrupted many different ways. The fact is if you take something that you are suppose to pay for, then you pay for it, or return it, or GO TO JAIL because you have now become a thief. Everyone knows that if you go to small claims court for someone that will not pay there 15 bucks a week for a plasma, you will waste about $100 bucks in filing fees and 2-3 hours of your time because you will never see any money or your merchandise.

Anonymous said...

I am from florida i rented a system and computer and paid faithfully just reently i obtained my balance and they tried to say it was more than i owe i refused to pay what they stated because i keep all records of everything i pay.. well rac rep came to my house telling my ill parents that i support i am in the buisness of ripping people off and i will pay for this product as they say so i contacted an attorney for harrassment.. RAC is a joke and i will not allow them to take the products i paid triple on

Anonymous said...

If you have paid the actual retail value of the merchandise, and stop paying the RAC corporate in the state of TN will not approve the legal action, and will charge it off, due to cost of legal fee's, etc, and because most judges here will not support people having to pay the full 430% rate charged on Rental Agreements. I know this, because I have worked for RAC, and now Aarons. Legal fee's are to much, plus the added headache and time is not worth it. These stores only pay 40% of retail value for all thier merchandise. The hope is 1 in 3 will pay all the way out, or at least keep and pay 3 months, then the rest is profit.

Anonymous said...

Im a single mom of a special needs 10 year old boy and we live in Mongomery County...I find myself cought up in rent a center deal gone ex of 8 months at the time of christmas 2011 and now 11 monts..after not speaking and having nothing to do with him after 8 months he shows up out of the blue clear sky and says he wants to get my son something for christmas. I told him no we will manage because I did not want to begin all that crap again as the break up already affected my son 8 months ago...he kept saying please I just want to get him something...hesitantly I agreed but only with the ex knowing that there is no strings attached and that he would still not be allowed in our life and the gift didn't change the fact that we are over and that once he gave my son the tv it was my sons and he could never have it back and I said it would be a gift from "Santa" all that he agreed to. I have not spoken to him in 4 mos. On Thursday March 29,2012 @ 8:15pm I received a phone call inwhich I did not recognize number so I let it go to vm. It was the ex calling saying he lost his job lost his truck moved back in with his mother and could not find a job due to his past(registered sex offender & car theft many times over) (that he failed to tell me at the time of dating) and could not pay on the tv, they were going to put him in jail and he did not need to go to jail.....well I didn t listen to this till friday right before the school nurse was calling me to pick up my son he was sick...when I get home with my son rent a center is at my door cussing, threating me trying to get my my apartment and telling me I needed a lawyer and since he dropped the tv off at my house I am now responsible for the merchandise and they will also call the cops and have me arrest with a felony charge of theft and possession of stole property. What really topped it off is when they started calling me a lier and then they had the ex on the phone and the rental girl said that the ex was in the process of actively calling the police department on ME!....well with my sick son and me shanking to the point of uncontrollable tears my son is scared I am scared I wasjust embarrasted in front of my neighbors and friends and child and I hurried and gathered him and his meds got in my car and left them sitting in the parking lot.....ok how is any of this my problem I had no idea where the tv came from when he brought it over with a bow on it..... 1) what do I do first? 2) what do I tell my child since he still believes in Santa 3) am I responsible ( he assumed this tv after him and I were no longer seeing each I am not any where on any paper work and not a reference and have never stepped foot in a rac store) 4) do I need a lawyer 5) how is this stolen if there is a contract in place 6) why would I give a tv back with out the ex hear to witness and sign off on it (rac is shady like that ..I.e. picking up merchandise and saying that they didn't) 8) why aren't they at my residence and not his 9) what do I tell the police when they come here? 10) they said it didn't matter if they received the merchandise or not that the ex and I would still be prosecuted for theft....I don't understand that....I want him to be arrested he needs to dare him do this to anybody but especially a child. My son is asking why is Santa taking my christmas gifts back because im bad mommy? This is tearing me up inside....and this is not the way I wanted my son to stop believing in Santa...and my son is upset and crying and doesn't understand...I told rent a center I would give the merchandise back when my son wasn't here sick watching his tv....but now that I have time to think about it if I need an attorney and will be prosecuted regardless if my sons christmas gift is returned or not then why even try to do the right thing

Anonymous said...

Maybe people should be responsible adults and return the shit until they can afford to get the item back considering they get it back right where they left off. No one put a gun to their head and made them get that TV. Stop running from your problems and let the store you rent from know the situations. Its your fault if you don't return the stuff. Stop blaming rent a center for your mistakes.

Anonymous said...

I was just arrested for this on my bday a few days ago...I have never been in trouble with the law and I am a RN who now may lose her license, I made an attempt to pay and they wouldnt accept payment 1 month late...They came to get laptop and I wasnt home...I then called them and asked a driver to come by and get it response. Now 4 months later cops surround my home and scare my children to death and take their mom away on her bday...My life is ruined. The laptop is sitting here and I am more than willing to give it to them and pay any charges...I am looking at a thrid degree felony. I just cant believe this happened to me...I never knew it could be criminal and not civil. Sad times folks!!

Anonymous said...

I was just arrested for this on my bday a few days ago...I have never been in trouble with the law and I am a RN who now may lose her license, I made an attempt to pay and they wouldnt accept payment 1 month late...They came to get laptop and I wasnt home...I then called them and asked a driver to come by and get it response. Now 4 months later cops surround my home and scare my children to death and take their mom away on her bday...My life is ruined. The laptop is sitting here and I am more than willing to give it to them and pay any charges...I am looking at a thrid degree felony. I just cant believe this happened to me...I never knew it could be criminal and not civil. Sad times folks!!

wickedmouse said...

The comment previous to mine struck a nerve. My husband goes on trial Jan of 2013 for allegations that he assaulted a RAC employee who tried to force his way in to my home. I had previously complained about this particular employee and his behavior was getting increasingly harassing.

False allegations were made and we were also sued in civil court by the employee. My husband had a squeaky clean record before this and it has turned our life upside down.

The employee and district manager either falsified a doctors report or convinced the police officer to lie in the police report.I obtained the irrefutable proof from the "victim" during civil trial.

In the end it has cost us thousands of dollars and my husband a career we spent a long time planning for.
I feel for you and wish you the best.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why everyone thinks its perfectly alright for someone to "rent" something they can't afford then never pay for it. There are more deadbeats than you'd ever believe out there.

A thief is a thief, intentional or not. I have no problem with the DA doing these cases.

How ridiculous for folks to sit here saying no they shouldn't go to jail.

They are THIEVES. If they rob the rent to own store, they'll rob your house. Then you'd be crying a river.

Thieves need locked up and dealt with.

Anonymous said...

Van Zandt County is the worst in the state. They file theft of service charges AFTER the rental company has been allowed to pick up the property by the renter. Then they always set the bonds at more than double what the property was worth. For example... $1,500 for a laptop or $5,000 for a child's bed.

The court's intent seems to be to force people to pay whatever the rental company demands prior to going to trial.

Anonymous said...

You have a great point they allowed my younger brother to leave their premises with property that got broken on his way up two the second floor and because he disposed of the property they have filed a warrant for theft by conversion saying he needs to appear in court.

Anonymous said...

They deserve the full force of the law. The rental-purchase agreements clearly state that the renter does NOT own the property until the entire rental agreement is completed or they exercise an early purchase option. The rental agreement is only valid for the said term (i.e. weekly payments renew the agreement every week). If the payment is not made then the contract is not renewed. The previous contract was fulfilled by making the payment and the renter maintaining possession.

So in actuality you are wrong my friend. It is not a breach of contract as there no longer is a valid contract. Now the renter, or former renter, maintains possession of property that ownership belongs to someone else (RAC, etc) and WILLINGLY does not return the equipment, satisfying the theft law requirements.

I don't care about a persons money situation. They are not tricked in to anything. Prices are clearly stated including total cost of purchase. Income does not always tell the full story of someones situation and being that we are in a free country, people should have their own sense of mind to live within their means. If they cannot, then they are not granted a free pass in to maintaining possession of property that clearly belongs to someone else.

So in every aspect this IS a criminal theft issue and its unfortunately people like you are too blind in your anger at the rent-to-own practice that you cannot clearly see this. Or perhaps you just haven't taken to time to actual read a rental-purcahse agreement and learn the facts of how they work

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 4:11,

The fact that a contract no longer exists because it has been breached is the exact point. Just because you declare that it no longer exists doesn't make it so. That's not how the law works.

The intent at the time of acquiring the property is what controls legally.

I don't have any rage towards Rent-A-Center, but they are an unethical company that preys on the poor and then tries to use the Government as a collection agency.

Anonymous said...

So my situation is this... My family and I were given the opportunity to make more money outside of Texas and we took it. Our Rent a Center account was paid up to date until last week. We are now on the 2week of non payment. The merchandise is with us out of state, but plan to make payment in 10 days or even pay it off. What would rent a centers proceedings to my situation be?

Anonymous said...

In reading all these post, I can say I'm worried. I spoke to the manager of the Rent a Center store that holds our account. Our first mistake was to move out of state. We are going on two week default in 3 days. My husband has had problems with his phone, so honestly calls don't ring in. I took it upon myself to call the store, because my cousin Facebook messaged me. I explain to the Rent a Center manager that in no way are we trying to avoid contact or pay. I gave her my current address and agreed to pay up to date by Friday Jan. 31, 2014, which the amount would be $169.00. She stated that once that payment was made, the account would be transferred to a near by store. I really hope she keeps her word, because my husband and I are good people with 4 boys. When we started the account it wasn't that our credit wasn't good, but that we did not want to add anything to our credit in hopes to buy a new house. Then a 6 months later my husband gets laid off, after 2months of no work he started working for a school district taking a huge pay cut, but we continued to pay on rent a center because we didn't want to loose out on all the money we've put in so far. He now is at a new job, which pays him triple the salary of his last job, but as we all know with new jobs, they hold 1 to 2 work weeks. Our last pay from the last employers are on hold at the bank, because they were mail to us in check form. I believe that the customer should have at least 90 days, to repair their account before legal proceeding are served. People who rent merchandise from rent to own store are not necessarily poor, but some may have temporary standing still situations. Those of you who talk about others like you've never hit rough times, "shame on you!" I pray you never hit rock bottom.

nichole cordero said...

I have been renting from rent a center for 2yrs now and almost have my things paid off I recently moved and then lost my job.i don't want to just give it back since ive basically already paid it off and am just paying the intrest can they prosecute me for not returning the tv and tv stand??? please help!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have been renting from rent a center for 2yrs and have basically paid the merch. off and am paying the interest I just lost my job and really don't want to give back the tv and stand since ive pretty much paid it off can they send me to jail??? please help

Anonymous said...

I'm currently in the same situation with RAC otherwise known as Conns. I've paid $240 upon signing the contract and four months of payments and then was laid off. My washer & dryer was $1200 total, I bought the cheapest set because I didn't want to overspend. I wanted to work things out with them but they harassed me so much and harassed my family so much that it really upset me to the point where I didn't want to pay. I know that's irresponsible but they already told me regardless the whole amount would end up going on my credit even if I turned the merchandise in and leased the same set I have in my home from Rent A Center. They recently started calling me and my family members threatening to put me in jail and file "burglary charges." I'm so upset they can kiss my ass, and I'd love to sit in front of a jury to explain my side of the story.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to the consumer taking responsibility for their choices? If you find you can't afford the merchandise, why would you think it's ok to keep it? Also, these customers are adults. If they don't understand a contract, they shouldn't sign it. There are consequences to bad choices in life. If you have good credit, you don't need to use these programs. They provide a service. If you don't like it, don't use it. And certainly don't expect to steal with no consequences.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon June 22, 2014,

For the Umpteenth time, nobody is saying that they should avoid responsibility. They can still be sued and have to pay all kinds of penalties. The issue (and the point you seemed to miss from the title of this post) is that we don't have Debtor's Prison in this country.

And if we are going to talk from our high horse about taking responsibility, how about the company that targets low income households as customers and then rents to them at prices that they can't pay and then wants to call the police to act as their debt collectors? Is that what you want your tax dollars going to?

jennifer pepsin said...

My husband WAS arrested for "failure to return rented merchandise" in norfolk , va. The twist is , he signed for the furniture for his old boss, who was in excellent standing with RAC , but...was trying to purchase a home and couldnt have any more debt on his credit. Needless to say, he stopped paying on the furniture, They came looking for it, I told them it wasn't here and we honestly did not know where his boss lived. My husband went to work on a military base one morning, showed his ID and was arrested on the spot. Went to court, has to pay the 1743.00 by TOMORROW, and the boss is 500.00 short. Acceptance Now says , no partial payments, the case was nol processed , and now I just found off , the account was charged off last month. If he sends the payment to Acceptance Now, will he be re arrested? I am copying this article , just in case, to show to his lawyer, who does nothing is in the criminal courts , not civil....any suggestions, email

By the way, Acceptance Now knows where the furniture is NOW, knows who has possession, who picked it up, but hasn't tried to retrieve it from him at all, or charge him, because my husbands name is on the contract.

Anonymous said...

This is to all the heartless pricks calling people thieves after they've explained they've more than paid for their merchandise and are still being harassed, screw you! There is no reason for the harassment from employees or high and mighty richies. Some people have no other choice but to make due with RTO companies. They sign the contract they make their payments and somehow someway RAC goes to one extreme or another to tarnish a person's character and our demeanor.Free
For everyone. ..

Sean Betts said...

***Please read***
When we rent a car the rental company expects to have the car returned. In a Rent to own contract the seller or leaser has no expectation of having the item returned. RTO changed "financing" to "lease" or "rent" and then the DA becomes a free collections agency. They also bypass usury laws. People should pay there obligations. RTO is the predator in this situation. Debtors prisons were abolished. Change your sell over time contract to a lease to sell contract. If you don't get paid have the DA do the dirty work and jail the debtor. They should also sell them all kinds of things they don't need and cant afford. A bank for a loan or lease will look at your debt to income. RTO should be forced to do the same.

David Reyes said...

My life is ruined over a situation like this. I was evicted and the property took the furniture and I was charged with theft. Never had a criminal record just financial problem. Now I can't even get a job. They should out law this. The attorney I had stole my money and up my charged when I went to court.