3 Florida dealerships investigated over lease-end fees

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Three South Florida dealerships are under investigation by the state attorney general’s office, accused of charging illegal fees to customers who ended their automotive leases.

Gunther Volkswagen in Fort Lauderdale, Homestead Hyundai and Lexus of Clearwater were issued subpoenas by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office. None returned phone calls seeking comment.

The office’s action was prompted after an investigation by an ABC affiliate in Miami.

Moody’s office has requested the dealerships provide: all leasing policies, contracts dating to 2018, arbitration and lawsuit settlements, refund requests and communications with finance companies.

The TV station, WPLG, chronicled consumer complaints of being charged hidden fees, electronic filing fees or the cost to have their vehicle inspected before it could be turned in at lease end. The customers say none of those fees was disclosed when they leased the vehicle.

Moody told the TV station her office has received about 40 complaints about lease-end fees. The federal Consumer Leasing Act of 1976 stipulates a dealership can’t assess fees that aren’t originally disclosed in the lease.

Moody told WPLG she has spoken with other state and federal entities that regulate the auto industry.

“It may not be something only our agency looks at; it could be other financial agencies,” Moody said. “But we are, and we have been.”

The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on junk fees at dealerships. Two cases involving this issue were settled this year despite the dealers denying the allegations.

Napleton Automotive Group of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., was the subject of a suit the FTC and the State of Illinois filed alleging that employees there were adding illegal junk fees for unwanted add-ons to vehicle purchases and charging Black consumers more in financing. Passport Automotive Group of Maryland was sued over allegations it charged illegal fees and discriminated against Black and Latino customers.

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