A Basic Guide To The Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law from the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs
Many people and businesses are unaware of the rights and responsibilities that arise from the Massachusetts Consumer Protection law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A. This statute is commonly ignored or misunderstood by Massachusetts residents. A short summary of the law’s main provisions may prove helpful.
As originally drafted, Chapter 93A did not contain any private right to sue – only the Attorney General had that power. The state legislature quickly fixed that omission and now individual consumers and businesses can enforce their statutory rights in a private lawsuit.
What Violates The Consumer Protection Law?
What type of business actions violate Chapter 93A? The law does not list them in any definitive fashion but states that “unfair or deceptive practices” are illegal. Well then, what is “unfair” or “deceptive?” Like most legal questions, this one is answered by that age-old adage “it depends.” A court’s analysis of what is unfair or deceptive will not be limited to merely contract, negligence or breach of warranty claims. Harassment, defamation and invasion of privacy all can fall within the list of illegal actions so long as the conduct happens in the consumer realm. Fraud, deception and unfair methods of competition also violate Chapter 93A. Unfair methods of competition claims must be tied to conduct harming the marketplace as a whole and not just to a single consumer or business.
Certain actions are deemed to be violations of Chapter 93A by their very nature. Under the law, these illegal activities include certain debt collection practices, landlord-tenant actions and sales tactics.
Aside from these detailed violations, the law simply and basically fails to provide specificity about the scope of illegal conduct. While this may frustrate those looking for easy answers, such an approach allows a case-by-case, fluid determination of violations. One commentator has noted that, over time, this may protect “those unexpressed standards of fair dealing which the conscience of the community may progressively develop.”
Although each case is judged on its own merits, some examples of unfair or deceptive practices that might fall under Chapter 93A would be when:
- A business charges a consumer higher rates than the marked, published or advertised price.
- A business does not meet its warranty agreement.
- A business fails to tell you relevant information
- A business misleads you in any way.
- A business uses “Bait and Switch” advertising – a technique by which the seller advertises an item for sale at a particularly good price or terms but does not really want to sell that item. The seller discourages the purchase of the advertised item and instead tries to convince the buyer to purchase a different item for a higher price or on less favorable terms.
These are some classic examples. Many other scenarios may also implicate Chapter 93A.
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This publication provides general information about Massachusetts consumer issues and procedures. It is not designed to address all questions in detail and consumers are encouraged to seek further guidance by contacting the agency directly.