Rent-A-Center says it won't harass its customers

SEATTLE -- Rent-A-Center has agreed not to use violence or impersonate others when attempting to collect payments from customers of the national lease-to-own chain.

The agreement was part of a settlement Monday with the Washington Attorney General's Office, which sued the chain seven months ago.

Rent-A-Center has 50 stores in Washington, including in Kennewick, Pasco, Sunnyside, Walla Walla, Hermiston and Pendleton. Customers reportedly make weekly or monthly payments on furniture, TVs and other household items with a high markup.

The AG's Office lawsuit claimed Rent-A-Center employees crossed the line with collection tactics, including cussing at customers, pounding on doors, peering in windows and threatening arrest, according to a news release.

The complaint in King County Superior Court also said the chain's practice of collecting on overdue accounts was unfair and deceptive under Washington's Consumer Protection Act. It cited cases where debt collectors tried to kick in the door of a couple's home and told an 11-year-old autistic girl, who was with her baby sitter, that her mother could be jailed for theft.

"Rent-A-Center maintains it has done no wrong but agrees to comply with all the terms of our settlement, which makes it clear that harassing customers for payments won't be tolerated," said Attorney General Rob McKenna.

Under the agreement, the Texas-based chain must pay the state $243,000 in attorneys' fees and legal costs, plus $100,000 to monitor and enforce the order.

A lengthy list of restrictions includes that employees can not: speak to a customer more than six times per week to discuss an overdue account; trespass, including entering a customer's home or yard other than to reach the primary entrance; discuss a customer's account with anyone else other than a spouse; and obtain payment through a customer's bank, credit card or other account without authorization.