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Making a Complaint Against a Local Business in Massachusetts
If you have a complaint about a local business in Massachusetts, there is an established pathway that can be followed to make a complaint and seek a resolution. Both state and federal agencies can help to investigate and seek to resolve your complaint. Failing a satisfactory resolution by government agencies you may be able to resolve your complaint through the civil court with the help of an attorney.
The basic steps involved in filing a complaint against a local business in Massachusetts
Step 1: Gather evidence that supports your complaint
Complaints against a local business are varied in nature, so no procedure is exactly the same as another. However, whatever the complaint, whether it is a faulty electronic item that the seller is avoiding warranty responsibility, a plumbing repair that hasn’t been done properly, or a lemon you purchased from an auto dealer, you must have concrete evidence that supports your complaint. The actual evidence you need depends mostly on the nature of the complaint, but without it, it is unlikely that you will get assistance from government agencies and are unlikely to have any chance of winning a lawsuit.
Step 2: Take your complaint to the business involved
The issue may be an oversight, or once the issue has been brought to the attention of the business management, you may find that the issue is resolved without having to take it any further. Any correspondence or interaction with the business should be retained, such as letters, emails and phone conversations (you can record these). If the issue cannot be resolved and you believe that the business is at fault, then this material will constitute part of the evidence you need to file a formal complaint with a Massachusetts or federal government agency.
In this state, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act requires unhappy residents who believe they have experienced a deceptive or unfair practice by a local business to send a 30 Day Demand letter to the business involved. The letter must set out the nature of the complaint and include whatever documents or other evidence you have which support your complaint. This might include such things as:
- cancelled checks;
- repair orders;
- repair orders;
- sales receipts;
- any other documentation.
It pays to send the demand letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. This means that you know that the business has received the letter. By state law, the business must respond in good faith within 30 days of receipt of the demand letter or risk penalties which could include attorneys’ fees if a lawsuit follows or triple damages incurred.
Step 3: File a complaint with one or more government consumer protection agencies
Both state and federal agencies are available to handle complaints against a local business.
In Massachusetts, there are two main state consumer protection agencies. These are:
- the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation; and
- the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General.
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation enforces the state’s Lemon Laws and is in charge of Lemon Law arbitration. This means that if you have a complaint about a recently purchased car, or have a complaint about a landlord (or a tenant), or are a business and have had a data breach, then you should file your complaint with this state agency.
The Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General and the Attorney General’s office in particular, deals with all other consumer complaints.
The federal government also has agencies that can help with a complaint against a local business. These include:
- the Better Business Bureau (BBB);
- the Fair Trade Commission (FTC); and
The Better Business Bureau will try to resolve any complaint you have against a local business. The FTC tends to focus on cases where business fraud may be involved and econsumer.gov will attempt to investigate complaints against businesses that are based internationally rather than local businesses.
Step 4: Take legal action against a local business through the civil court
Although filing a complaint with one of the state or federal consumer protection agencies listed above may be a first option, there is no guarantee that any of these agencies will be able to resolve your complaint to your satisfaction. If this is the stage you are at, then you may decide to sue the business through the civil court. Cases involving relatively small amounts of money (less than $7,000) may be taken to the Small Claims Court. This is a simpler process and doesn’t need an attorney involved.
When your complaint cannot be taken to the Small Claims Court because of the amount of money you have lost is greater, then you may decide to sue the company by filing a lawsuit. This step shouldn’t be taken lightly as the cost is potentially considerably higher. You are strongly advised to discuss your complaint with an attorney who deals with business law first before filing a lawsuit. If you lose the case, then you will be left with court and legal costs and will still not have resolved your complaint. The attorney will know whether you have a reasonable chance of winning the lawsuit based on state and federal consumer laws.