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Rent-A-Center protesters arrested

Consumer lending practices by organizations such as Rent-A-Center, Inc. (RAC), were at the heart of a recent protest that ultimately led to the arrest of two activists in Astoria.
Kirsten John Foy and Minister W. Taharka Robinson, representatives of the National Action Network, a community organization run by Reverend Al Sharpton, were both arrested following a press conference by Queens Councilmember Eric Gioia to call attention to what many consider the unfair lending practices of the rent-to-own policies of RAC.
“We’ve got to shine a light on this: we’ve got to expose them,” Foy said following his arrest. “We said enough is enough; we have to bring them to account for their actions.”
RAC, a national chain store with 38 branches in the five boroughs, offers merchandise that customers can either rent on a short-term basis or put a down payment on either new or used products and pay for these over time.
For example, a typical RAC product is sold with a small amount of money down, and the consumer continues to pay a typical monthly fee until the product is completely paid for. There is also a financial services division that provides short-term loans, check cashing and money transfers at the stores.
RAC spokesperson Thomas Mulligan disputed any allegations of wrongdoing by the company, and said more than two-thirds of consumers who end up buying the products do so at a considerable savings.
“The company observes the letter of the law in every state where it does business,” Mulligan said in an email. “In New York, it follows a specific rental-purchase statute that clearly defines transactions and how they be disclosed.”
Mulligan said payments tend to be monthly, and the typical contract is between 18 months to two years.
A current bill in the New York State Assembly, proposed by Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer of Ozone Park, aims to protect consumers in rental purchase agreements. If passed, the bill would legislate greater disclosure from companies such as RAC regarding the amount of interest. Gioia is introducing a resolution in the City Council in support of this bill.
“It’s a business practice that is both immoral and potentially illegal,” Gioia said. “If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Foy said National Action Network first became involved against RAC after a bishop in Brooklyn asked to rent a television to watch the election night returns, and he notified the community organization after hearing the terms of the contract.
Brooklyn resident Harold Hammond, 60, who attended today’s press conference, said he bought a $3,000 television set from RAC and ended up paying close to $5,000.
“I’ve told my friends and neighbors as much as I could about this,” he said. “It would be cheaper for them to lay it away than to purchase it from them. You end up paying twice as much as it’s worth.”

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