THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS CELEBRATES 40 YEARS OF ENSURING A FAIR AND VIBRANT MARKETPLACE
Nations First and Strongest Local Consumer Protection Agency Continues to Blaze Trails with its Office of Financial Empowerment
Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Jonathan Mintz today
announced the 40th anniversary of the nation’s first municipal consumer
protection agency. Founded in 1969, DCA has ensured that New York City consumers
and businesses benefit from a fair and vibrant marketplace by regulating 57
industries; licensing more than 71,000 small businesses; enforcing the City’s
Consumer Protection, Licensing, and Weights and Measures Laws, as well as New
York State and federal regulations; and by mediating thousands of consumer
complaints every year.
In 1968, the City’s Department of Markets, which included the City’s Weights
and Measures division, merged with the Department of Licensing to form one
unified Department of Consumer Affairs. But it was not until the passage of New
York City’s landmark Consumer Protection Law in 1969 that the Department gained
its broad authority to protect the public from deceptive business practices.
This law made DCA the first municipal agency of its kind in the country. The
passage of Local Law 20 of 1973 expanded DCA’s authority even further, requiring
that businesses compensate wronged consumers.
Over the years, DCA continued to enhance consumer protections by licensing
debt collection agencies, process servers, employment agencies, and used car
dealers. In 1984, the Department established the Home Improvement Contractor
Trust Fund to compensate victims of unscrupulous contractors. More recently, the
Department rid the City of polluting sightseeing buses, licensed retail
cigarette dealers to ensure that they did not sell to minors and made it easier
than ever for all businesses to be licensed by making license applications
“Even before the Department of Consumer Affairs was founded 40 years ago, New
York City led the way in ensuring consumers were treated fairly in the
marketplace. With the authority of New York’s landmark Consumer Protection Laws,
we have expanded these consumer protections for New Yorkers, making our
Department the strongest local consumer protection agency in the nation,” said
DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. “But the Department has also reinvented itself
to meet new challenges, addressing issues from false advertisements that arose
about miracle AIDS drugs in the ’90s, to including protections for consumers in
the financial services marketplace beginning in 2006.”
Led by Mayor Bloomberg and his aggressive antipoverty agenda, DCA blazed an
unprecedented consumer protection trail in 2006 when it launched its Office of
Financial Empowerment (OFE), the first local government initiative in the nation
aimed expressly at educating, empowering and protecting those with low incomes.
DCA’s OFE has emerged as a national leader in the field of municipal financial
empowerment through programs like the $aveNYC Account, the Your Money Helpline
and the City’s Financial Empowerment Centers. These programs have served as
replicable models for other cities across the U.S., particularly through the
Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Coalition, where member cities can spread
the best practices in municipal financial empowerment. This Coalition, which DCA
founded and co-chairs with the City of San Francisco, has enabled DCA to spawn a
national financial empowerment movement.
In the past five years, DCA has issued nearly 60,000 violations, mediated
32,000 consumer complaints and returned more than $31 million in restitution on
behalf of New York City Consumers.
Some DCA milestones include:
Largest settlement: reached in 2001, following an investigation into
H&R Block’s Rapid Refund promotional campaign. DCA issued more than 2,200
violations, leading to a settlement which exceeded $4 million. A portion of
this settlement was then used to fund the City’s Earned Income Tax Credit
public awareness campaign, which quickly became a national model.
Largest restitution to consumers: issued in 2007, a sum of $600,000
was refunded to 123 homeowners from DCA’s Home Improvement Contractor Trust
Fund. Although the contractor subsequently agreed to reimburse the Fund fully,
this marked an historic settlement in DCA history.
Largest fine: levied in 2008, when DCA forced Party City to pay a half a
million dollars to the City as a result of a lawsuit charging the company for
repeatedly displaying and selling illegal fake guns.
For more information about the Department of Consumer Affairs, to file a
complaint, check a business license or request a publication, visit www.nyc.gov/consumers.
DCA enforces the Consumer Protection Law and other related business laws
throughout New York City. Ensuring a fair and vibrant marketplace for consumers
and businesses, DCA licenses more than 71,000 businesses in 57 different
industries. Through targeted outreach, partnerships with community and trade
organizations, and informational materials, DCA educates consumers and
businesses alike about their rights and responsibilities. DCA’s Office of
Financial Empowerment is the first municipal office of its kind in the nation
with a mission to educate, empower and protect New Yorkers with low incomes.
DCA’s OFE administers a citywide network of Financial Empowerment Centers and
other products and services that help these New Yorkers make the best use of
their financial resources to move forward economically. For more information,
call 311 or visit DCA online at www.nyc.gov/consumers.