This section will walk you through the steps to becoming your own consumer advocate. It will also point you to places that can assist you along the way.
What to say to the business
First, get ready: Before you storm into the business and start shouting, sit down and figure out exactly what happened and what you want them to do about it. (Do you want a replacement product, an apology, a refund?)
Get together all your records: receipts, warranties, repair orders, cancelled checks. Do not let anyone have your original papers. Give copies only.If you do not have records, start keeping them.
- Keep a log of all calls and conversations with the company.
- Keep a copy of all letters and correspondence.
Then, start talking: Begin with the salesperson that sold you the product or service. Tell the salesperson what went wrong and what you want. If the salesperson will not listen, speak to the manager.
If the manager does not help, you may want to call the company's headquarters. Many have toll free numbers.
If talking doesn't get results, then it is time to write a letter.
Put it in Writing
Who do I write to?
The company consumer affairs department, or if you can't find one, the president. Contact the manufacturer or parent company for the product. It may be different from the brand name that you find on the product.
How do I find them?
If possible, call the company's toll free number. Look for it on any papers you have received from the company, or try directory assistance at 1(800) 555-1212. Check the product label or warranty.
To find a DC business, call the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) at (202) 442-4400. DCRA has the addresses of the companies it licenses.
What do I say?
Be calm, not angry or threatening. Type your letter, if possible, or make sure that your handwriting is neat and easy to read. Include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and account number, if any.
Make your letter brief and to the point. Include the date and place you made the purchase; who performed the service; information about the product (such as the serial or model number, warranty terms); what went wrong; who you talked to when you tried to resolve the problem; and what you want done to correct the problem. Give them a date by which you expect to hear from them before taking further action. Include copies, not originals, of all documents.
How should I send the letter?
You may want to send your complaint letter with a return receipt requested. This will cost more, but it will give you proof that the letter was received and will tell you who signed for it. Keep a copy of the complaint letter and all correspondence to and from the company.
Mediation is a way to try to resolve a problem by having a neutral party help you come to an agreement with the business. There are several services and resources available to DC residents. Make sure you will still be able to go to court if the mediation does not work out.
District of Columbia Superior Court: The District court system provides free help before you file a lawsuit, including mediation, conciliation and referrals.
Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Program
District of Columbia Superior Court
500 Indiana Avenue, NW, Room 1235
Washington, DC 20001
DC Bar: For the Public Website
Call for Action: This nonprofit organization provides free mediation to consumers with problems with businesses or government agencies. They also work with local media outlets to publicize consumer information at http://www.callforaction.org.
Call for Action, DC Local Office
WTOP AM & FM
5272 River Road, Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20816
Tuesday through Friday from 11 am to 1 pm
WTOP Call for Action Website
Better Business Bureau: This service provided, by the local business community, offers mediation and arbitration for a fee.
Better Business Bureau
1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 393-8000; Fax: (202) 393-1198
The Key Bridge Center for Mediation offers free mediation to individuals and organizations throughout DC. They offer mediation from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm Monday through Friday and Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
The Key Bridge Center for Mediation
5335 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Ste 440
Washington, DC 20016
Ph: (202) 274-1822 Fax: (202) 274-1824
I want to go to court (or talk to a lawyer)
If you have been unable to resolve your complaint with the business directly, or through mediation, you may want to take your complaint to the next step. Many people who cannot afford a lawyer use small claims court.
The following organizations can provide advice, referrals to attorneys, or representation for low-income DC residents.
Under the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act, you may sue a business that acts unfairly or deceives you. Small Claims Court provides an avenue to plead your case without a lawyer for claims up to $5000. You may be able to get three times your actual damages or $1500 per violation, whichever is greater; plus attorney's fees; punitive damages; and an order that the business must stop an illegal practice. There are small filing fees.
Small Claims Court:
District of Columbia Courthouse
Court Building B
409 E Street NW, Room 120
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 879-1120
DC Bar Small Claims Court Information
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 am - 5 pm
Wednesday, 6:30 pm - 8 pm; Saturday, 9 am - noon
Who Else Should I Tell About My Problem?
It's a good idea to tell a government agency as well. Agencies need a heads-up from you to find out when problems are developing that they should look into. You may help to prevent someone else from becoming a victim.
DC Agencies and Organizations:
- Deceptive or Anticompetitive Business Practices
- Cable Television
- Financial Fraud
- Insurance and Securities
- Mortgage and Banking Practices
- Local and federal agencies and organizations