Winter 2011-#2. Consumer Protection at the Vermont Attorney General's Office.

Vermont Bar Journal


Winter 2011-#2.

Consumer Protection at the Vermont Attorney General's Office

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 36, No. 4Winter 2011Consumer Protection at the Vermont Attorney General's OfficeThe Consumer Protection and Anti-Trust Units, within the Division of Public Protection at the Vermont Attorney General's Office, work to protect Vermonters across a variety of consumer matters. Led by Division Chief, Wendy Morgan, the nine full- and part-time assistant attorneys general in the two units implement and enforce consumer protections in Vermont law. This article provides a brief glimpse into several of the areas of consumer protection work by some of the Public Protection Division attorneys.

Consumer Assistance Program

Sandra Everitt,

Assistant Attorney General

The Consumer Assistance Program(fn1) (CAP) is the main contact between consumers and the Attorney General's Office. Housed at the University of Vermont, the program offers a letter mediation program to assist consumers in resolving issues with goods and services. In 2009 the CAP processed 6,754 complaints and resolved 1,092 complaints with a dollar value of $463,103.46. The program offers information and education on a variety of consumer topics and this year launched its information and complaint filing website at The CAP maintains a six-year database of complaints and information and provides the information to consumers regarding businesses upon request.

Complaint information and statistics from the program assist the Attorney General's Office to identify enforcement initiatives and areas that need increased consumer protection. In 2009 the major area of consumer complaint involved credit-related issues, including debt adjustment and collection. Credit issues were followed closely by complaints involving public utilities, mail and phone scams, and motor vehicles. In 2010 the CAP began an outreach campaign to reach consumers with limited English proficiency. The CAP now has the capacity to accept and translate complaints in other languages and work with consumers whose primary language is other than English. Please visit the CAP website or contact CAP at 800649-2424 for more information.

Debt Adjusters

Rob McDougall,

Assistant Attorney General

Vermont law regulates entities engaged in the practice of debt adjustment.(fn2) Debt adjusters are required to obtain a license from the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration before engaging in business in Vermont.(fn3) In just over a year's time, the Vermont Attorney General's Office has settled ten Consumer Fraud Act claims with debt adjusters. In addition to licensing violations, the cases settled by the Attorney General's Office have also addressed violations of the right to cancel provisions of Vermont law(fn4) and deceptive representations in advertising.(fn5) The settled cases have resulted in civil penalties and consumer refunds totaling in excess of $500,000.

Lead in Housing and Plumbing

Rob McDougall,

Assistant Attorney General

In early 2007, the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Health released the results of a year-long study of lead poisoning in Vermont. The "Get the Lead Out of Vermont" report recommended a number of actions the State could take to reduce the effects of lead on Vermonters. The Consumer Protection Unit of the Attorney General's Office has focused its efforts in three identified areas of lead exposure: housing; consumer products; and plumbing.

Lead Paint in Housing

Lead in paint and dust from lead paint are the major sources of lead exposure for Vermont children. Approximately 66% of Vermont housing and 80% of Vermont rental units were built prior to 1978, the year when lead was banned as an ingredient in residential paint. In 2007, about 1,600 Vermont children under the age of six, when tested for lead, had test results at or above the current Vermont level of concern. In the past two years, the Attorney General's Office has emphasized increased enforcement of the lead in housing law.(fn6) The law requires Vermont landlords to perform "essential maintenance practices" ("EMPs") annually in their rental housing and they must file an annual compliance statement attesting to performing the EMP, with the Department of Health, their insurance carrier, and tenants. The Consumer Protection Unit has worked with landlords through outreach, education, and, in some cases, through enforcement action, to increase awareness of the lead law and achieve state-wide compliance. The Attorney General's Office considers violations of the lead law in housing to also be a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act (fn7) because the rental of non-compliant housing is considered an unfair act and practice in commerce. The Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program has been promoting assistance to tenants for the past year and incorporated awareness of the lead law as a part of the consumer complaint resolution process.

Lead in Plumbing

In 2008, the Attorney General's Office advocated for the passage of Act 193, which limits the amount of lead in plumbing fixtures. Effective January 1, 2010, "no person shall sell or offer for sale in or into the State of Vermont, or use in the State of Vermont, solder or flux for plumbing containing more than 0.2 percent of lead, or plumbing fixtures whose wetted surfaces contain more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead."(fn8) A violation of this section is a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act. The Attorney General's Office has been active as a resource for manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, and plumbers since the passage of Act 193.

Toxic Substances in Consumer Products

Elliot Burg,

Assistant Attorney General

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the long-term effects on human health of harmful elements and compounds used in consumer products. Since 2008, the State of Vermont has enacted four laws designed to limit exposure to such substances-lead, phthalates, bromi-nated flame retardants, and bisphenol A. This section describes each of these laws in turn.


Act 193 of 2008, 9 V.S.A. §§ 2470e-2470l, was enacted to phase out most lead from children's and some non-children's products, and to warn consumers about the dangers of lead. Lead is highly toxic, particularly to young children, and it can cause neurological damage such as decreases in I.Q. Act 193's quantitative limits on lead in children's products are the same as the limits imposed later in 2008 by the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA)(fn9) and are not preempted by federal law.(fn10) Act 193 also incorporates the federal standards into state law by reference.(fn11)

The current state (and federal) limit on lead in children's products-products that are designed for use by children age twelve and under(fn12)-is 0.03 percent, or 300 parts per million (ppm), a level that by federal law is likely to drop to 100 ppm on August 14, 2011.(fn13)

Act 193 also addresses the issue of lead in five types of non-children's products, either through quantitative limits or through mandated disclosures:

1.Adult jewelry that is small enough to be swallowed(fn14) and contains more than the state/federal limit on lead must be (a) prominently advertised as adult jewelry, and (b) accompanied by a prescribed point-of-sale disclosure about lead.(fn15) 2.Wheel weights on new motor...

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