What Is the MD Consumer Protection Act – And How Does It Affect You?

If you live in Maryland and have been the victim of an unscrupulous landlord, service provider, or seller of consumer goods, you have a powerful tool to help you fight back and win restitution: The MD Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Created in 1973 to protect citizens against unfair and deceptive business practices and “restore an undermined public confidence in merchants,” the legislation is designed to “set minimum statewide standards for the protection of consumers,” with the recognition that existing laws were “inadequate, poorly coordinated and not widely known or adequately enforced.” It’s also designed to bring awareness to consumer rights and responsibilities within the state.

More specifically, the CPA strives to offer “strong protective and preventive steps to investigate unlawful consumer practices, to assist the public in obtaining relief from these practices, and to prevent these practices from occurring in Maryland.”

Realizing you’ve been duped or scammed is frustrating, embarrassing, and can cost you money that you can’t afford to lose. Call the skilled and compassionate attorneys at Lusk Law, LLC. As Advocates for Life’s Obstacles and Opportunities, we are committed to getting justice for our clients.

The CPA Protects Consumers

The MD Consumer Protection Act is a state law enforced through the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General. It protects consumer rights in Maryland and covers a wide range of goods and services: “the sale, lease, rental, loan, or bailment of any consumer goods, consumer realty, or consumer services.”

If you have a grievance with a business, you may call or file a complaint online or via mail with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Upon receiving your complaint, the division will conduct an investigation. They are empowered to settle disputes through mediation or negotiation, arbitration, or legal action (litigation).

You should be aware that complaints submitted to the Consumer Protection Division become public record, accessible via information disclosure requests. This does not pertain to certain types of sensitive information, like personal financial information or confidential medical and psychological records.

Does the CPA Apply to All Maryland Businesses?

Written into the MD Consumer Protection Act are a number of exemptions to the law. Section 13-104 states:

  1. The professional services of a certified public accountant, architect, clergyman, professional engineer, lawyer, veterinarian, insurance company authorized to do business in the State, insurance producer licensed by the State, Christian Science practitioner, land surveyor, property line surveyor, chiropractor, optometrist, physical therapist, podiatrist, real estate broker, associate real estate broker, or real estate salesperson, or medical or dental practitioner;
  2. A public service company, to the extent that the company’s services and operations are regulated by the Public Service Commission; or
  3. A television or radio broadcasting station or a publisher or printer of a newspaper, magazine, other form of printed advertising who broadcasts, publishes, or prints an advertisement which violates this title, unless the station, publisher, or printer engages in an unfair or deceptive trade practice in the sale of its own goods or services or has knowledge that the advertising is in violation of this title.

However, despite this long list of exempt businesses, there are plenty of others that fit squarely within the CPA. It covers most businesses engaged in the following types of commercial activities:

  • Debt collection and debt collection attempts
  • Renting, selling, or leasing any commercial realty, goods, or services
  • Offers involving the renting, selling, or leasing of any commercial realty, goods, or services
  • Consumer credit activities
  • Services related to education and teaching
  • Residential real estate
  • Motor vehicles.

If you are unsure whether a party you have been dealing with is subject to the CPA, schedule a consultation with an attorney experienced in these matters to know for sure.

Examples of Unfair or Deceptive Trade Practices

Businesses violate the Maryland Consumer Protection Act when they engage in unfair or deceptive trade practices. What is determined to be unfair or deceptive varies from industry to industry.

For example, a landlord who engages in the following activities has likely violated the CPA:

  • Communicating false or misleading statements or representations that deceive potential tenants
  • Making misleading representations about a property for rent
  • Lying about the particular standards or quality of a property
  • Omitting key facts about a property
  • Adding clauses to leases that waive a tenant’s right to a legal defense.

When the party in question is a provider of goods or services, violations of the CPA might take the following forms:

  • Misleading or attempting to mislead consumers using written or verbal communications
  • Directly making false statements in order to disparage or denigrate a product or a service
  • Falsely claiming that certain goods or services possess certifications, seals of approval, or sponsorship
  • Falsely stating that a particular good contains certain ingredients when it does not
  • Attempting to sell goods as new that are used, damaged, or refurbished
  • Claiming approval or affiliation when untrue
  • Withholding material information when withholding that information would lead to the deception of the customer
  • Offering to sell items or services that are not really for sale.

These examples are only some of the conduct that the CPA prohibits. If you feel you have been subject to these or any other unlawful behaviors, you may be entitled to receive help from the attorney general or even monetary damages.

Damages Available Under the MD Consumer Protection Act

The CPA establishes a private cause of action that allows private individuals to seek damages against those who violate the CPA. The only requirement is that the individual bringing suit must have suffered actual harm. Harm could be an injury, or it could be a monetary loss. The key is that there be some sort of damage done. If there are no injuries or harm, the victim of the violation is limited to reporting the violation to the Attorney General.

If there are injuries or losses, the victim can seek the services of an experienced attorney for representation and to get an evaluation of their case. Normally, doing so could lead to unbearable, steep litigation costs that might dissuade many from pursuing litigation, especially in the case of small claims.

However, the legislature saw that this could be a problem and included fee-shifting provisions in the Act. Fee shifting is the practice of shifting the burden of attorney’s fees from one party to another. In other words, if you sue for a violation under the CPA and are the prevailing party, you can seek reasonable attorney’s fees as well as monetary damages.

The fee-shifting provision demonstrates that Maryland lawmakers take consumer rights seriously. It also provides a powerful deterrent for businesses against engaging in activities that violate the CPA.

Help Is Available

Businesses in Maryland are required by law to meet a certain ethical standard in their transactions with consumers and to respect consumer rights and responsibilities. If you’ve been the victim of a shady vendor, call Lusk Law, LLC, Advocates For Life’s Obstacles and Opportunities, at (443) 535-9715. We will discuss how we — backed by the CPA — can help you in your dispute.