A new Texas law recently went into effect that offers broader protections for customers of rent-to-own companies who fall behind in their payments. Previously, rent-to-own companies routinely had customers prosecuted if they failed to make their payments as agreed. Although rent-to-own companies still may proceed in pressing charges against customers who abscond with the rented furniture and electronics that they failed to pay for, but they cannot press charges against those customers who simply are unable to pay.
Critics of the previous law pointed out that it allowed the unconstitutional prosecution of individuals for debts, which really is a civil matter. The loophole in the law essentially created a debtor’s prison for low-income people who tend to be customers of rent-to-own companies.
This “theft of service” statute made it easier for these individuals to be subject to arrest warrants, criminal convictions, and time spent in jail. Furthermore, the previous statute created a presumption that customers intended to steal the goods if they didn’t return the goods that they rented or respond to a certified letter from the rental company after failing to make a payment. There was no requirement that the rental company even prove that the customers received the letter; the fact that they sent the letter was adequate to create the presumption of intentional theft.
The newly enacted law did make some concessions for rental car agencies and companies renting expensive equipment. The time period in which customers must respond to letters before the companies can pursue charges against them is reduced, thus making it easier for the companies to recoup cars and other expensive items.
Essentially, although it is still possible that prosecution can occur for customers who intend to steal rental furniture or electronics, it is not generally an option in the absence of intent to steal from or defraud the rental company.
The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our criminal defense attorneys.