Consumers complained most about home improvements and household goods in 2001, according to the 11th annual NACAA/CFA Consumer Complaint Survey conducted by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA) and the Consumer Federation of America.

The survey also singled out West Virginia as a hotbed of predatory lending activity.

Like a stubborn itch you can't reach to scratch, aggravating home improvement problems have consistently been within the top five complaint categories for the past half decade and is now the fastest growing type of consumer complaint, as home owners attempt to shore up the value of their home against the soft economy.

Complaints involve everything from shoddy work to work paid for but not completed.

The survey also named the booming home improvement contractors industry as the type of business most likely to go out of business and most likely to reopen under another business name.

Companies that go out of business often leave consumers with no recourse after making a deposit for goods or services. Also, it's difficult for consumer agencies to track down shuttered companies, even if they reopen under another name.

Conditions are likely to worsen before they improve.

In an anemic economy, consumer agencies expect consumers' problems with closing companies to multiply.

Household goods -- appliances, electronic equipment and computers, and furniture, as well as other retail items -- has held the number two complaint spot for two consecutive years after moving up steadily for the past four years from fifth to fourth to third to second place. Complaints involve defective goods, failure to honor warranties, refunds and deceptive advertising.

Credit and lending problems, including identity theft was also high on the list.

The survey was based on 41 NACAA member responses to questions about their 2001 complaint records. Almost all of the respondents were city, county or state consumer agencies. NACAA is a membership organization of consumer protection agencies at all levels of government. CFA is a non-profit federation of almost 300 pro-consumer organizations. The two groups have partnered in the survey since it's inception in 1992.

After home improvement and household goods, consumers complained most about automotive sales, automotive repairs, credit and lending issues, business practices, general services, telecommunications, collections, pyramids and business opportunities and recreation and vacation services.

A report, generated by the survey, made the following national recommendations, among others:

  • Require that anyone completing home improvement work be licensed and registered.
  • Strengthen penalties for violating existing home improvement laws/regulations.
  • Provide additional resources to local consumer affairs offices for home improvement related law enforcement.
  • Strengthen protection for personal financial information.
  • Improve consumer protections to combat the rise in cases of identify theft.
  • Restrict the use of Social Security numbers as a means of identification to government use only.
  • Strengthen laws against predatory mortgage lending, a significant problem in West Virginia, due to one of the highest rates of home ownership.
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