WASHINGTON, D.C. – Millions of new home purchasers each year are forced into binding mandatory arbitration by deceptive “warranties,” and those warranties may violate the law in as many as 17 states, Public Citizen has found.
This conclusion is contained in a report titled “Home Court Advantage: How the Building Industry Uses Forced Arbitration to Evade Accountability.”
These warranties are particularly insidious because consumers often do not learn of their details until after moving into their new houses. Although builders often portray the warranties as gifts, bonuses or extra protections, the warranties actually serve to exempt the builder from liability for all sorts of problems (such as mold, building code violations and “consequential damages”) while relegating buyers to pursue legal disputes in a private forum chosen by the warranty company.
Public Citizen today sent letters to attorneys general in states that ban the use of forced arbitration in insurance contracts. Those states are Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. The letters are posted here.
Public Citizen’s report exposes the troubling consequences of forced arbitration for home buyers, a process that is rife with bias and exorbitant costs – and is so devoid of safeguards that an arbitrator’s failure to follow the law is specifically disallowed as a ground for appeal. Among the outrages revealed in the report, available here.
“Because of forced arbitration, my husband and I have been stuck with a house riddled with costly defects,” Michelle Rechtien said during a press conference to discuss the report’s findings. “The building company we bought our new home from has used arbitration to force complaints against it into a rigged system so it can avoid accountability.”
Added Fogal, who also spoke at the press conference, “Our story is shared by millions of Americans caught in the snare of this cursed [arbitration] clause. Arbitration is the privatization of the justice system where the rules no longer apply.”
Although proponents of forced arbitration often call for more “study” of the problem rather than a cure, scant information is available to the public for real research – a problem for which the arbitration industry also is to blame. The process is inherently secretive, and arbitration firms routinely flout the few laws that require them to disclose basic information about their cases. The American Arbitration Association, the country’s largest arbitration firm, is supposed to abide by a California statute’s requirement to disclose a prevailing party in arbitrations, but does so in only 4.3 percent of its reports. Public Citizen has sent letters to California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. and the city attorneys of five California cities urging better enforcement of the state’s arbitration disclosure law.
“The arbitration companies know that their futures depend on keeping the people who hire them happy, and that means the builders and warranty companies,” said David Arkush, the director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “As a result, the system is stacked against the consumer.”
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org