This Just In: The Latest Edition Of Consumer Connection Is Here!

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The latest edition of the Consumer Connection magazine is now available! This edition of our magazine features:

  • Pill…or candy?
  • Protecting against HVAC service fraud
  • E-cigarettes: Helpful or harmful?
  • Reimbursement help after school closures
  • Stronger security with credit card chips
  • New vehicle smog check test

The Consumer Connection magazine is full of informative and fun to read articles. Share what you read and help others become more informed. Check out the magazine HERE.

CSLB Turns Up the Heat Against HVAC Scams

cslb logoAs the temperatures continue to drop, you’re likely to see ads offering low-cost air duct cleaning services and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) tune-ups. You decide to get some servicing done and the next thing you know, the HVAC contractor says that you need to replace your entire unit.

DCA’s Contractors State License Board (CSLB) says this type of HVAC visit is becoming all too common.

As part of its efforts to curb unethical activity, CSLB seeks to reduce the following predatory practices:

  • Using hard-sell tactics to obtain grossly inflated contracts.
  • Misrepresenting work as urgent, critical, or safety-related.
  • Failing to provide the three-day right to rescind a home improvement contract.
  • Failing to obtain building permits.
  • Lacking workers’ compensation insurance or under-reporting employees.

Take your time before saying “yes” to an HVAC contractor. Prior to hiring a contractor, research the contractor and their services, and follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure the HVAC contractor has a CSLB-issued State license.
  • Visit the Better Business Bureau and CSLB websites to check the contractor’s standing and to find out if there are any pending disputes or disciplinary actions.
  • Get written estimates from at least three companies.
  • Ask questions.
  • Get professional references for each contractor who is bidding on the job.
  • Make sure your contract includes the notice about the three-day right to cancel.
  • Check that the contract spells out that the contractor will obtain building permits and inspections that must be completed by the local building department to meet State energy efficiency laws.
  • Don’t pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB’s website.
  • Don’t pay in cash, and don’t let your payments get ahead of the work.

Visit the CSLB website for more tips, to sign up for e-mail alerts, or to submit a complaint.

The Gift Of A Gift Card

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Gift cards are always a favorite whether you are giving or receiving — for a birthday, holiday gift, or just because. We will all cross paths with a gift card or gift certificate at one time or another and they can be great, especially if you have some helpful tips in your back pocket to go along with that wonderful gift card.

If you’re buying a gift card or gift certificate:

  • Ask about the seller’s redemption policy.
  • In the case of a gift card usable with multiple, unaffiliated sellers (such as a mall card or a prepaid debit or credit card), ask about expiration dates and any applicable fees. In addition, ask about the locations where the unspent portion of the value can be redeemed, and how that amount can be redeemed. In California, gift cards from single stores (not multiple seller cards) cannot have an expiration date.
  • In the case of a gift card, ask the seller if the recipient can add value or reload the card.
  • Ask the seller about its policies on returning merchandise.

A recipient who redeems a gift certificate or gift card for merchandise will be subject to those policies.

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If you receive a gift card or gift certificate:

  • Ask about the seller’s redemption policy. Some merchants may redeem the gift certificate for cash or a combination of merchandise and cash, while some may issue a new certificate for any balance remaining after the original certificate is redeemed.
  • In the case of a gift card, ask the seller if value can be added to the card or if it can be reloaded. Also ask about any service or dormancy fee.
  • Use any remaining value on a gift certificate or gift card. If a gift certificate or gift card has a low balance, make a purchase with it and pay the difference out-of-pocket.
  • Ask the seller about its policies on returning merchandise.

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For more information about gift certificates and gift cards, check out FAQs and Tips on Gift Certificates and Gift Cards:

Legal Guide S-11 from the Department of Consumer Affairs online at www.dca.ca.gov/publications/legal_guides/s-11.shtml.

For a side by side comparison California law VS. federal law on gift certificates, store gift cards, multiple seller gift card (also known as a “General-use prepaid cards), and reward programs, check out the S-11 charts:

Legal Guide S-11 Charts from the Department of Consumer Affairs online at www.dca.ca.gov/publications/legal_guides/s11_chart.pdf

Now that you have all the 4-1-1 on gift cards and gift certificates, happy shopping!

Legislative News from the California Bureau of Real Estate

The 2013/2014 legiCalBRE_Logo_HiResslative season ended September 30, 2014, with the Governor signing 931 bills into law in 2014.  Summarized below are recently signed bills that affect California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) licensees and subdividers. All statutes are effective January 1, 2015, unless otherwise indicated.

Assembly Bill 2018 (Bocanegra) – This bill amended Section 10159.5 and added Sections 10159.6 and 10159.7 to the Business and Professions Code. It allows a real estate broker to delegate to a licensed salesperson, under specified conditions, the process of filing a fictitious business name. Moreover, this bill allows a real estate salesperson to contract with a broker allowing the real estate salesperson to retain ownership of a fictitious business even though the real estate broker may file the fictitious name with the county. This bill also allows a salesperson to use a “team name” without filing for a fictitious business name if certain conditions are met.

Assembly Bill 2540 (Dababneh) – This bill amended Sections 10150, 10151 and 10162, and added 10165.1 to the California Business and Professions Code. This bill requires real estate licensees to provide the Bureau of Real Estate with an up-to-date mailing address, telephone number, and email address used for licensed activity. The bill also requires applicants for licensure to disclose valid contact information in the application.

Senate Bill 1171 (Hueso) – This bill amended Section 2079.13 of the Civil Code as it pertains to real estate licensees. The bill extends to commercial transactions the duty of a real estate broker to disclose, in writing, that the broker is acting as a dual agent. Prior to this bill, disclosure of dual agency in commercial transactions involving real property did not have to be in writing.

Assembly Bill 1159 (Chau) – This bill amended Section 30 of the Business and Professions Code as it pertains to the Bureau of Real Estate. The bill eliminates the requirement that a license applicant show proof of legal presence before obtaining a real estate license. Real estate license applicants will still need to provide a social security number/individual tax identification number in order to obtain a real estate license. The provisions of this bill will be implemented on or before January 1, 2016.

New Regulations of the Real Estate Commissioner – CalBRE has adopted regulations (2907.1 – 2907.4) to implement, interpret, and clarify Business and Professions Code Section 10080.9, which established the Citation and Fine level of discipline for both licensees and unlicensed persons. The final regulation language can be found at here. The new regulations became effective July 1, 2014.

NEW PUBLICATION — 2015 Real Estate Law Book Each year, the Bureau’s Real Estate Law book is updated to reflect changes in laws and regulations, including those set forth above.

This important reference for licensees contains:

  • The Real Estate Law (from the Business and Professions Code);
  • The Real Estate Commissioner’s Regulations (from the California Code of Regulations);
  • The Administrative Procedure Act (from the Government Code); and
  • Pertinent excerpts from various California Codes.

The 2015 Real Estate Law book will be available online free of charge on January 1, 2015. The print version, which includes a CD copy, is expected to be available for purchase from the Bureau in mid to late January 2015. The cost for the book is $25 (plus tax) and can be ordered by completing the RE 350 – Publications Request form.

For more information about CalBRE, visit http://www.bre.ca.gov.

Attorney General Harris Offers Safe Shopping And Donating Tips

With the holidays comes shopping and donating – and the increased risk of becoming a victim. Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has issued tips for safe shopping and charitable giving during the holiday season. Check out the recent press release here.

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Stress Less During the Holidays

shutterstock_65364775The many joys of the holiday season—giving (and receiving) gifts, cheery decorations and sharing time with those you care about—always come with some level of stress. For some, loads of added stress.

There are worries over busting your spending budget at the mall; traveling itineraries, possibly with costly air travel involved; or perhaps hosting a holiday gathering with a house full of relatives who don’t always get along.

Several things can help you cope with stress during the holidays:

  • Temper expectations. Forget about the perfect gift, the perfect meal, the perfect celebration, the perfect family. Accept imperfections—yours and those of others.
  • Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your needs and feelings. Participate in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Be mindful of your diet, exercise (spending time outdoors when weather permits), and get plenty of sleep.
  • Stick to a budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend on gifts, and stay with it. Running up charge cards can trigger feelings of guilt later.
  • Make connections. Visit friends. Accept support from those who care about you.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress.
  • Don’t automatically participate in family traditions or activities if they are particularly stressful solely because that’s just what you have always done—consider alternatives.

If you feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist or other mental health professional. Here are some resources:

Two New Publications from the California Bureau of Real Estate

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The California Bureau of Real Estate has two new publications available on its website, http://www.calbre.ca.gov: the Quick Guide for Tenants Renting a Home and the Quick Guide for Landlords Hiring a Property Manager.

The guides feature important questions to ask for potential tenants and landlords seeking a property manager, as well as information on contracts, resources for research, and possible red flags tenants and landlords should be aware of to avoid being a victim of fraud.

Take a look!