Institution Update: Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection
Established in 1971, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) enforces the County's consumer protection laws, which prohibit unfair and deceptive business acts to ensure a fair marketplace for consumers and businesses. The OCP investigates and resolves consumer complaints, engage in consumer education and outreach, licenses certain businesses, and administers several programs.
Functions of the OCP
The OCP serves several functions outlined on its website. The OCP aims to
Enforce Laws: The Office is empowered to investigate complaints and may issue subpoenas and hold investigative conferences if necessary. If it is determined that a merchant has engaged in a practice that is deceptive or unconscionable, the OCP may issue Civil Citations. The OCP may seek $500.00 civil fine and an Order for Abatement, which may include restitution for the consumer. The OCP may also enter into cease-and-desist agreements whereby the merchant agrees in writing to stop the practice. Such agreements may also provide for restitution to consumers, civil penalties, and payment of investigative costs. Under appropriate circumstances, and solely in its discretion, the OCP may request a complaint to be filed by the County Attorney, on behalf of the County, for legal action against a merchant. If accepted, the County may sue for civil penalties, restitution, injunctions against continued law violations, and any other relief which the Court deems appropriate.
Investigate Complaints & Resolve Disputes: The OCP has jurisdiction to investigate complaints arising from consumer transactions in Montgomery County. It doesn't matter where you live or where the merchant's place of business is. The key factor is where the transaction occurs. The office's function in this area is to uncover facts relevant to the complaint, review the facts to see if the law has been violated and attempt to work out a voluntary resolution between merchant and consumer. The OCP can't give legal advice or represent a consumer as an attorney would, nor can the OCP order a merchant to settle a case. If a voluntary conciliation can't be reached, the OCP can advise the consumer what other remedies may be available.
License Businesses: The OCP registers new home builders and sellers, radio, TV, and appliance installation & repair firms, commercial parking lots, and auto repair and towing firms. It also licensed secondhand personal property dealers.
Educate Consumers & Businesses: The OCP provides consumers and merchants with information about its functions and powers. The office prepares publication provides speakers for community groups, publicizes its enforcement actions, and has staff members on tap at all times to answer telephone inquiries. Public information is an essential function since it helps consumers protect themselves and helps merchants know what the law requires.
Mediate Conflicts: When appropriate, the OCP can refer a complaint or dispute to free formal mediation administered by experienced professional mediators.
Miscellaneous: The OCP also administers the County's Domestic Worker Law and is tasked with advocating for consumers on issues related to Energy and Environment. OCP also provides the Patient Advocate under the EMS Insurance Reimbursement Program.
If you have a complaint that is not resolved by the merchant does not resolve your complaint, call OCP. The office's hours of operations are between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. An investigator is on duty daily to provide advice. Once a written complaint is filed, it is assigned a complaint number and checked to ensure it is within OCP's jurisdiction. Once jurisdiction is confirmed, the investigators will review the facts to determine if the law has been violated. The OCP will attempt a voluntary settlement between merchant and consumer if no violation is found. However, it should be noted that the OCP is unable to give legal advice or representation for consumers, nor can the OCP order a case to be settled. However, if a voluntary conciliation is impossible, the OCP can provide advice for other remedies to the complaint.
OCP Boards, Committees, and Commissions (BCC)
There are over 75 BCCs in Montgomery County for the public to serve. The County Executive must appoint BCC members who then must be confirmed by the County Council. Along with its primary function, the OCP works with two such DCCs, the Board of Registration for Building Contractors and the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection. The Board of Registration for Building Contractors certifies an applicant or organization's County and State building codes compliance with the Director of the Office of Consumer Protection. They also conduct hearings and have the authority to pursue action against a registrant, including revocation of their registration. The Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection advises the OCP in carrying out its duties and functions and may hold public hearings on any topic related to consumer protection.
Others services provided by the OCP
The OCP's website highlights several other services provided, which include:
Complaints-Where the public can search complaints and records.
Consumer Services-Where consumers can educate themselves on consumer rights, get consumer advice on various topics, check on property tax estimates, and search home build licenses.
Business Services-Bussiness can find information about scams affecting businesses, learn about mediation, and information about Business Eviction Response Team (BERT), which protects consumers from losing personal property, including financial documents, when a merchant is being evicted.
Licensing & Registration-Provides information about the commercial parking lot registration, motor vehicle repair, maintenance & towing, radio, television and electrical appliance installation and repairs, and secondhand personal property.
If you need assistance from the OCP, feel free to contact the office at (240) 777-3636, or you can leave an anonymous tip at (240) 777-3681