About

The Office of Consumer Protection:

  • Provides information on consumer rights and responsibilities
  • Mediates disputes between consumers and merchants
  • Investigates allegations of unfair or deceptive practices
  • Licenses solicitors, peddlers and tow companies
  • Handles landlord-tenant disputes 
  • Issues scam alerts and offers tips to avoid identity theft
  • Provides presentations to community groups, faith organizations, businesses, etc..
Graphic showing the many functions of consumer protection.
Resources & Information
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A Tenant’s Guide to the Eviction Process in Howard County (English and Spanish)
Content

Maryland’s moratorium on residential evictions expired on 8/15/21, and there are currently no state or federal protections in place to prevent residential evictions. If you are facing eviction, please seek help immediately. Eviction prevention information and resources are available at https://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/evictions.aspx

Rent/utility and mortgage assistance information is available at https://www.howardcountymd.gov/DHCD-COVID

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Rental Property and Stability Act
Content

The Howard County Council has passed Emergency Bill 33-2020: The Rental Property and Stability Act. The Act encourages landlords and tenants to communicate regarding contractual obligations and abilities to meet these obligations during the ongoing Covid-19 public health emergency. 

Specifically, the Act provides certain prohibitions on actions landlords can take during the state of emergency, including no increases in rent or mobile home park fees, or the assessment of late fees for non-payment of rent, and prohibits certain notices to tenants and mobile home park residents.  It also encourages the creation of payment plans to meet rent obligations and outlines provisions for payment plan agreements.  

Beginning of Emergency:  March 5, 2020

End of State of Emergency, per Governor’s order:  August 15, 2021

Three months after end of emergency, when restrictions are lifted:  November 16, 2021

 

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Consumer Complaint Mediation
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The Office of Consumer Protection attempts to informally resolve disputes between consumers and merchants through mediation. The mediation process begins when a consumer files a complaint with our office.

To file a complaint, use our online complaint form or write a letter describing your dispute and the relief you are seeking. Mail your complaint, along with copies of any relevant documents (such as receipts, contracts or correspondence) to Howard County Office of Consumer Protection, 9830 Patuxent Woods Drive, Columbia, MD 21046 or e-mail to [email protected].  

Upon receipt, complaints are assigned to investigators who read the complaints and accompanying documents. Investigators will contact complainants to discuss the complaint, ask questions or to request any additional documents that are needed. Investigators will then inform the merchant of the complaint and request the merchant’s response.

During mediation, investigators do not prejudge the validity of a consumer complaint. Rather, they will request that the merchant provide its side of the dispute and attempt to reach a fair resolution that is acceptable to both parties. They will also use their knowledge of federal, state and local consumer protection laws to ensure that any resolution is in keeping with the requirements of those laws.

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Consumer Tips & Information
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Protect yourself and your loved ones by learning more about identity theft, fraudulent or unfair practices, and common scams, including those related to Covid-19. Consumer tip sheets help people understand their consumer rights and make well-informed decisions about purchasing goods and services, charitable giving, landlord tenant issues and more.    

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Investigations & Enforcement
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The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is created and governed by Sections 17.400 to 413 of the Howard County Code which empowers the Office to:

  • Conduct investigations of deceptive or unfair trade practices, or violations of other consumer laws based on consumer complaints or its own initiative;
  • Hold hearings and issue summons to compel testimony of witnesses and produce evidence related to investigations;
  • Enter into written Assurances of Compliance or Discontinuance, and issue Cease and Desist Orders to persons engaging in deceptive or unfair trade practices;
  • File Statements of Charges against persons suspected of engaging in deceptive or unfair trade practices, and seek remedies and penalties for violations through actions brought by the Howard County Office of Law.
  • Seek remedies and penalties for violations through actions brought by the Howard County Office of Law.

The following remedies and penalties may be obtained from persons found to have violated the County’s Consumer Protection Laws:

  • Temporary or permanent injunctions;
  • Restitution and/or compensatory damages for consumers harmed by violations;
  • Civil penalties of up to $500 per violation; and
  • The Office’s costs for investigations and hearings.

Consumers also have the right to pursue private legal actions in court for violations of consumer protection laws to recover actual damages, and, at the court's discretion, punitive damages, equitable relief and reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

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Korean Language Friendly Initiative
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Korean-speaking residents can more easily access the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) through the help of League of Korean Americans (LoKA) volunteers on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; call 410-313-3820 for assistance. LoKA volunteers will:

  • work with OCP staff to help answer consumer questions; instruct callers on how to file complaints; and help callers access services from related agencies or organizations; 
  • translate consumer education materials, articles on consumer issues, and advertisements to be published in local Korean newspapers;
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Landlord-Tenant Information
Content

The Office assists both tenants and landlords in Howard County who have questions or problems involving rental housing.

  • Tenants and landlords can obtain information on Maryland laws that govern lease provisions, security deposits, habitability and evictions;
  • Tenants can file complaints if they believe their landlords are in violation of landlord-tenant laws. OCP helps tenants understand their rights; attempts to resolve disputes through mediation; can take action to address unfair or deceptive practices, if necessary.
  • Landlords and prospective landlords can get the help they need to comply with landlord-tenant laws and be successful in their rental businesses.
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Peddling & Soliciting
Content

Howard County Code, Section 14.700 stipulates that no person can engage in soliciting or peddling in Howard County unless that person obtains an identification (ID) card from the Office of Consumer Protection.

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Towing from Private Property
Content

The Office of Consumer Protection is responsible for licensing and regulating companies that tow vehicles from private property without the permission of the owner of the vehicle. Howard County Code Sections 17.600 - 17.611, commonly referred to as the "Trespass Tow Law," sets forth the licensing and operation requirements that trespass tow companies must follow.

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Scam Alerts
Content

The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) works to educate and alert Howard County residents about scams.  Our scam alerts page provides examples of and information on current and ongoing scams. 

Contact our office to report suspicious telephone calls, texts, email, letters or visits you received, that did not result in a loss of money or disclosure of personal information.  You may also report this information to the FTC

If you have lost money as a result of a scam or fraud, report this crime to the Howard County Police Department.  If you also provided personal information as the result of a scam, the FTC’s Identity Theft website has step-by-step instructions on what to do next.

Consumer Protection Advisory Board

The Consumer Protection Advisory Board works with the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) to educate and protect Howard County consumers. Board members provide feedback and recommendations on OCP's programs, alert OCP to problems and concerns they witness in their communities and assist in educating county residents on the services that OCP provides. The Board submits an annual report on OCP to the County Executive and County Council. The Consumer Protection Advisory Board is governed by Section 17.402 of the Howard County Code.

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