What is the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)
The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs represents one of the city’s agencies that regulates the activities of businesses in the city. This Department is concerned especially with enforcing the rights of consumers and employees.
What Complaints Come Before Department
The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs receives complaints on a wide array of matters. Below is just a sample of the possible disputes:
*Wheel locks, or boots, paced on cars in private parking lots and towed at the owners’ costs
*Contract disputes involving beauticians, funeral directors and gyms, among others
In in addition, the Department may issue its own complaints, or summonses, for reasons such as conducting conducting business without a DCA permit. The list of businesses that must have one is it extensive, but include home improvement businesses, employment agencies, electronics stores, car washes, pawnbrokers and tow truck companies and their drivers. DCA may also cite you for not displaying property or at all signs advising consumers of their rights.
Complaint and Summons
Upon receiving a consumer complaint, the DCA attempts to settle the dispute. In this mediation process, you will get from DCA a notice of the claims or accusations against you.
If the parties cannot or do not settle, DCA may refer your case to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) or tell the consumer that he or she may file a lawsuit in the New York State court system.
In a summons, the DCA explains the charges against you and what laws or rules it says you broke. Depending upon the charge, you may get an opportunity to cure the violation. Notices containing “cures” often are issued if for failing to display one of the required signs at your establishment. Other summonses impose a civil penalty, such as for conducting business without a required license.
Responding to the Summons
Failing to contest the summons can result in penalties or other remedies being imposed against you without an opportunity to defend.
For some charges, you can fight the summons by mailing your written defense, submitting it online to the OATH Hearings Division, or having a phone or webcam hearing with an oath hearing officer. In other situations, you must appear in person for a hearing.
What you need to defend depends upon the specific charge. At a minimum, gather your contract, agreements, receipts and work orders. Photographs or videos can help you show, for example, that you properly performed the work or that the vehicle or other product was in good condition or proper working order when you made the sale or when you finished the work.
What Happens at a Hearing
Generally, the DCA will have the burden of proving to the Hearing Officer that it was more likely than not that you committed the actions for which you are accused. The Hearing Officer may treat a sworn summons or an inspector’s report attached and sent with the summons as proof, in the absence of anything to the contrary, of the facts that constitute your violation of the law.
The hearing before OATH is your chance to vindicate yourself or otherwise defend your actions. As a result, you will need to find your witnesses and make sure they can attend the hearing. Have ready all of your relevant materials, such as the contract, photographs, papers that show your legal right to conduct business in New York City and receipts. If you rely on an excuse or justification for the actions that otherwise violate the law, you have the burden of proving that defense by the “preponderance of the evidence” imposed on DCA in proving its case.
In many respects, the hearing will resemble a trial in court. Both sides, starting with the DCA, make opening statements. The DCA will then present its evidence and you then offer yours. Closing arguments follow, with the DCA going first.
Decision and Appeal
If the Hearing Officer decides against you, the next step is an appeal to OATH’s Appeals Unit. You get 30 days from the date of the written decision, or 35 days after the date if it was mailed to you, to appeal. The Appeals Unit reviews only the evidence presented to the Hearing Officer. You do not get the present new evidence in an appeal. If the Appeals Unit upholds the decision against you, you can seek review before a New York State court.
Appealing does not relieve you of the requirement to pay any civil penalty imposed. If the fine is overturned, it will be refunded to you.