The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP)-formerly Consumer Affairs (DCA)-today announced that new rules to protect consumers when they use a bail bond agent go into effect tomorrow. Beginning May 11, 2019, bail bond agents in New York City must provide consumers with DCWP’s Bail Bond Consumer Bill of Rights, and also disclose the fees that can be charged and required business information.
“The bail bond industry makes billions of dollars off of families who are desperate to bring their loved ones home-many of whom are already struggling financially,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “These new protections add a level of transparency to an industry that had very little and ensures consumers know their rights-in their language-when using a bail bond agent.”
The City Bail Law (Local Laws 142 and 143 of 2018) and the related rules require bail bond agents to:
- Provide every consumer with the Bail Bond Consumer Bill of Rights that DCWP created before entering into a contract. The consumer must sign and date it and the agent must keep a copy of the signed document for five years. The document must be provided in English and, if the consumer speaks a language other than English, the agent must also provide the Bail Bond Consumer Bill of Rights in their language if the translation is available on DCWP’s website. In addition to English, the document is available in Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Russian and Urdu.
- Post a Bail Bond Fees sign that DCA created, which discloses the maximum fees and the formula for calculating the fees that can be charged. The sign must be at least 17″ x 28″.
- Post an informational sign where all customers can easily see it and provide every consumer with an informational flier before they enter into a contract. The informational sign and flier must list the bail bond agent’s name as it is registered with the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), the agent’s license number, the addresses and phone numbers on the license, and the names of any sublicensees. Both the sign and the flier must be at least 8.5″ x 11″.
The Bail Bond Consumer Bill of Rights, Bail Bond Fees sign, and the template for the informational sign and flier are available on DCWP’s website here. DCWP also mailed information about the new requirements to bail bond agents. Bail bond agents with questions about the new requirements can contact DCWP’s Business Compliance Counsel at BCC@dca.nyc.gov.
Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said, “Addressing problems associated with money bail is one of the City’s strategies to ensure a smaller, safer and fairer system. I applaud the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection’s actions that will provide greater transparency to ensure loved ones of those being held on bail understand their rights. Ensuring that key information is available so people can make an informed decision about using a bail bond agent is a big step toward fairness in the justice system.”
“The bail bond industry has taken advantage of too many New York City families for far too long, and it is about time the industry is held accountable. The Council’s legislation – including my own which requires bail businesses to provide a consumers’ bill of rights to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) – provided the framework for DCWP’s new rules, and we are glad to see these important laws being put into action. I thank my Council colleagues for spearheading the rest of these bills and DWCP Commissioner Lorelei Salas for being a proud partner and enforcing these laws,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“Being financially exploited is the last thing that should happen to anyone struggling to secure freedom for their friends or family. These new informational requirements for agents are an important first step in securing protections for New Yorkers dealing with the bail bond industry,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal.
Friends and family members who cannot afford to pay cash bail may turn to the for-profit bail bond industry and post collateral-which may be cash, property, or anything else of value-in order to get a surety bond through the bail bond agent. This industry has a history of exploiting economically disadvantaged consumers in their most desperate hours: after the arrest and incarceration of a loved one.
New York City has introduced a number of strategies to reduce reliance on money bail, including Supervised Release, a diversion program that serves as an alternative to bail and has prevented over 12,500 defendants from entering jail since it launched citywide in 2016. The City has also supported a number of ways to make it easier and faster to pay bail, including a citywide bail fund, the expansion of the bail expeditors program and implementation of an online bail payment system. Since 2013, the number of people in jail has fallen by more than 30 percent, and those detained on bail of $2,000 or less is down 65 percent.
As part of the City’s efforts to bring fairness to the bail system, DCWP also conducted investigations into deceptive practices in the industry. In February 2018, DCWP filed charges in New York Supreme Court against bail bond agent Marvin Morgan and several insurance and management companies for engaging in deceptive and unlawful trade practices that preyed on vulnerable New Yorkers. DCWP has settled with Crum & Forster Insurance Brokers, Inc., Williams National Corp and Evergreen National Indemnity Company. Consumers who believe they were harmed by Morgan and want to participate in the settlements, should contact DCWP as soon as possible but no later than July 15, 2020. The case against Morgan and several of the insurance and management companies is pending in state court.
To report illegal business practices like a bail bond agent refusing to post or provide copies of the required documents, failing to provide a complete receipt or providing an illegal receipt, or false advertising, consumers should file a complaint with DCWP by calling 311 or at nyc.gov/dca.
About NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection
The NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCWP licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCWP protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCWP empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCWP also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities.