A little-known quirk of Texas law allows the state’s rent-to-own industry to file criminal charges against Texans who are unable to pay their debts. A new investigation by the Texas Tribune and NerdWallet found that the law, written decades ago by rental lobbyists, has resulted in unexpected legal and financial consequence for many rent-to-own customers in the state.
Jay Root, an investigative reporter for the Texas Tribune, says some people who thought they were financing furniture purchases were actually entering into rental agreements, making them subject to the rent-to-own law. Others simply defaulted on rental agreements. In both kinds of cases, the rent-to-own law allows creditors to seek felony charges against debtors.
“The way the law is written,” Root says “it says that if you sign a rental contract, and you don’t adhere to the terms of the contract, and the goods have not been returned, you are presumed to have stolen [them.] It’s kind of like a guilty until proven innocent clause.”
Root says the Tribune/NerdWallet investigation has gotten the attention of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, who say they would like to reform the law.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.