Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Files Lawsuit Against Owners of Home Heating Oil Companies for Unfair and Deceptive Sales and Collection Practices on the North Shore
"Families across the Commonwealth already struggle to pay the high energy costs that we are faced with here in the Northeast. Failure to disclose accurate information concerning the costs associated with the delivery of home heating oil and then improperly filing inflated liens on consumers' homes as a means to excise payment is an unconscionable business practice and will not be tolerated," said Attorney General Coakley.
The complaint, filed yesterday, alleges since at least 2004, the defendants failed to disclose information concerning price and fees for the sale of home heating oil, filed unlawful and inflated liens surreptitiously upon consumers' homes in an attempt to collect outstanding balances, and failed to file business certificates in towns and cities where they conducted business as required under a prior agreement with this office, and as required by law. The complaint also alleges the defendants provided buyers with delivery authorization cards that failed to disclose cancellation fees, monthly late fees, and other charges that were routinely added to consumers' bills.
The defendants unlawfully filed excessive liens against consumers' homes, and then failed to take any action to enforce or remove the liens, clouding homeowners' titles unnecessarily, according to the complaint. The Massachusetts Lien Statute allows certain parties to file liens against a debtor's property for a debt for personal labor and services provided for the construction or renovation of a structure to real property. Most of the time, however, the defendants filed liens for amounts purportedly due for the delivery of oil. In the course of its investigation, the Attorney General's Office found that the liens that the defendants filed were often thousands of dollars more than the alleged last balance owed to the defendants. The liens impermissibly included late charges, finance fees, and lien fees as well as undisclosed cancellation fees. The defendants allegedly filed the liens without providing any notice to consumers, who then would only learn of the lien filed on their property by chance. The defendants also filed the liens under assumed names, and then failed to take any additional steps to enforce or release the liens as required by law.
The defendants were the subject of a prior enforcement action by the Attorney General's office in 2004. Astrofuel, LLC, Anita Davekos, and Peter G. Davekos entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the Attorney General's Office, which, among other things, required them to file business certificates in cities and towns where they conducted business. The Attorney General's Office investigation uncovered that the defendants conducted business without filing the required certificates in several Massachusetts cities and towns, in violation the 2004 Assurance of Discontinuance.
In filing the lawsuit, the Attorney General's Office is seeking an injunction that will prohibit the defendants from: 1) utilizing sale documents that do not disclose material terms concerning price and fees prior to the consummation of a consumer transaction; 2) improperly filing liens on consumers' homes; and 3) conducting business and filing liens under assumed names without the filing of appropriate business certificates. In addition, the lawsuit also seeks an order requiring the defendants to dissolve all improperly filed liens, provide full and complete restitution to consumers and pay civil penalties and investigation costs.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Schafer, Chief of Attorney General Coakley's Consumer Protection Division, and Assistant Attorney General Emily Armstrong, of Attorney General Coakley's Consumer Protection Division, are handling this matter, with the assistance of Investigator Nancy Ward.