WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — South Florida leaseholders hoping to buy out their cars are in for a ride. It turns out, due to low inventory, some dealerships are refusing to honor contractual buyout agreements.
"I've held up my end of the contract for three years, so why is it now starting to feel one-sided to where they don't have to hold up their end?" said Robert Dattolo, who is trying to buyout his leased car.
Three years ago, Dattolo fell in love with his leased Nissan Rogue.
"I love the color of the leather," said Dattolo.
When his lease term came to an end, he wanted to keep the car, but so did the dealership.
"I was getting calls from the dealers, every single day, 'Hey, we want your vehicle,'" said Dattolo.
On Dattolo's lease contract, there's a specified amount of how much he would have to pay to buyout the car, plus fees and taxes, but he said the dealership wasn't honoring it.
"Before fees and taxes, you know, an additional five to seven grand they tacked on to the residual of the lease buyout," said Dattolo.
Consumer protection attorney Joshua Feygin said this is happening to some of his clients.
"I really think it's a direct function of the lack of inventory and, really, the dealerships scrambling to find other profit centers," said Feygin. "At the end of the day, a lease is a contractual agreement. That lease has a buyout provision, and the dealership is obligated to meet or honor that buyout provision."
Attorneys said if leaseholders don't like the deal, walk out and go to another dealership, consider involving an attorney and always remember complaints can be filed with the state attorney general's office, the county's consumer protection division and with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which licenses auto dealerships.
"People are not powerless here," said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.
Aronberg said generally these matters are civil and not criminal. In these cases, price gouging laws do not apply.
"This is a contractual dispute," said Aronberg. "There is no state of emergency declared by the governor and so this is better dealt with on a civil basis."
After two months of spinning his wheels, Dattolo said the dealership agreed to honor the contract residual amount but is still adding on numerous fees.
"Dealer fees, vehicle inspection fees and other hidden fees that they are trying to work into there, to which none of those numbers have really come close to matching up to what is in my true contract," said Dattolo.
Buyout fees are explained in the contract. Feygin said don't get taken for a ride.
"They will charge certain fees, pre-delivery service charges, document fees, electronic registration final fees, which they simply cannot do," said Feygin. "Really, it's a matter of consumers not knowing their rights."
Dattolo said he's inching closer to a deal he's comfortable with to keep his car.
"My goal is to just keep the car that I've loved and driven for the last three years and not have to pay more than I should for it," added Dattolo.
Nissan's corporate office was reached for comment and more information on these matters and released a statement.
"We expect Nissan dealers to honor the lease agreement," it said.
When inquiring further about what happens to dealerships who refused to comply, corporate said, "We don't discuss business communication between Nissan Motor Acceptance Company (NMAC) and dealers. NMAC expects dealers to abide by the terms of the lease contracts, including honoring the contractual terms concerning the customer's purchase option."
More information from Nissan:
Information for NMAC lessees is available here at [nissanusa.com] [nissanusa.com] . Customers may al [nissanusa.com]at 800-778-4211 with questions about their purchase options. For those customers who have leased through companies or organizations other than NMAC, the expectation for Nissan dealers remains the same – to honor the lease agreement and what was decided between the dealer and customer at the beginning of the lease period. The customer should address with the dealership and leasing organization directly should there be any issue.”