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The Pennsylvania Plain Language Law

Category: Tenant Rights & Laws Published: Monday, 22 September 2014 Written by ATA Admin

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The Pennsylvania Plain Language Law

"Consumer." Any individual who borrows, buys, leases or obtains credit, money, services or property under a consumer contract.

"Consumer contract" or "contract." A written agreement between a consumer and a party acting in the usual course of business, made primarily for personal, family or household purposes in which a consumer does any of the following:

(1) Borrows money.

(2) Buys, leases or rents personal property, real property or services for cash or on credit.

(3) Obtains credit.

Section 2205 is the key provision of the Act. It requires that "all consumer contracts... shall be written, organized and designed so that they are easy to read and understand." In order to effectuate this general rule, it sets forth numerous guidelines, none of which have yet been applied by the courts. Some of these guidelines include the following suggestions:

The contract should use short words, sentences and paragraphs.

The contract should use active verbs.

The contract should not use technical legal terms, other than commonly understood legal terms, such as "mortgage," "warranty" and "security interest."

When the contract refers to the parties to the contract, the reference should use personal pronouns, the actual or shortened names of the parties, the terms "seller" and "buyer" or the terms "lender" and "borrower."

The contract should not use sentences with double negatives or exceptions to exceptions.

 

The PLCCA also sets out guidelines for how the contract should look:

The contract should have type size, line length, column width, margins and spacing between lines and paragraphs that make the contract easy to read.

The contract should caption sections in boldface type.

The contract should use ink that contrasts sharply with the paper.

Finally, the Act requires that the contract recite a "general description of the property that may be taken or affected by reason of a security interest or contract if the consumer does not meet the terms of the contract."

2207 of the PLCCA makes it clear that anyone who drafts a contract which does not comply with the readability tests shall be liable to the consumer for:

Compensation in an amount equal to the value of any actual loss caused by the violation of this act;

Statutory damages of $100. If the total amount of the contract is less than $100, these damages are limited to the total amount of the contract;

Court costs; and

Reasonable attorney fees

It is important to recognize that a violation of the PLCCA does not invalidate what might otherwise be a valid contract - it merely subjects the entity drafting the contract to monetary sanctions for its violation. Moreover, there can be no violation if all parties have finished what was required under the contract, and it is a valid defense if the creditor, seller or lessor made a "good faith and reasonable effort" to comply with the Act. § 2208. But do not bother drafting the contract so the consumer waives his or her rights under the Act - such a waiver is void according to § 2210.

 

 

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