New York’s Automatic Renewal Law (ARL) protects consumers by prohibiting businesses from engaging in certain practices when making an automatic renewal offer in the state. The New York ARL tracks California’s strict statutory requirements, which means that businesses must follow guidelines about disclosing renewal offer terms to consumers, giving customers the opportunity to affirmatively consent before they sign up for an auto-renewal program, and allowing customers to easily cancel their subscription afterwards. NY consumers who have enrolled in a subscription program without their consent should immediately reach out to a qualified New York false advertising attorney who understands both state and federal laws on auto-renewal offers.
To learn more about the New York automatic renewal law, keep reading this blog.
NY Automatic Renewal Bill: SB 1475
New York’s Automatic Renewal Law (ARL) is set forth in New York State Senate Bill S1475A. The law went into effect in February 2021 after being passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo. SB 1475 greatly expanded the scope of the state’s previous automatic renewal law, New York General Obligations Law § 5-903. The new ARL added substantial requirements for businesses that offer either automatic renewal plans or continuous service plans to consumers, including a stricter requirement that businesses notify consumers of the subscription terms after enrollment. Additionally, SB 1475 expanded the old law’s scope beyond service, maintenance, and repair contracts to also include consumer contracts involving “any goods, services, money, or credit for personal, family, or household purposes.”
New York businesses that offer auto-renewal subscription services to consumers must comply with SB 1475, relevant federal laws, and any other state ARLs which may be applicable if the purchase was made online by an out-of-state customer. Additionally, these businesses must also comply with New York’s older ARL, which remains in effect even after the passage of the new law.
New York ARL Requirements for Businesses
The New York ARL imposes the following requirements on businesses that offer consumer contracts for automatically renewing subscription services:
- Auto-renewal terms must be conspicuous. The auto-renewal terms should be in visual proximity to the section where the consumer provides affirmative consent, and the terms should also stand out visually from the rest of the offer. (E.g., different text sizes, different fonts, and different colors.)
- Auto-renewal terms must be clear. The terms and conditions of the subscription service must be easy for the consumer to understand. The exact language used by the NY ARL is that the offer terms should be presented “in a manner capable of being retained by the consumer.” (E.g., the offer should clearly state that the subscription will continue until the purchaser cancels.)
- Must obtain affirmative consent from purchaser. The customer needs to affirmatively consent to the automatic renewal terms before it becomes a legally binding contract. Otherwise, NY law stipulates that any goods received by the consumer are an “unconditional gift” and do not need to be paid for.
- Must send enrollment acknowledgement to consumer. After the customer has enrolled in the subscription program, the business needs to send a letter, email, or other type of written acknowledgement that states the program’s terms and cancelation policy.
- Cancelation policy must match method used to subscribe. When a customer uses a company’s website to enroll in a subscription program, the company must allow the customer to cancel online.
- Free trial offers must have cancelation options. If the company offers a “free” trial period before the subscription automatically renews for a monthly fee, the company needs to provide the consumer with the ability to opt out of the paid subscription service. Additionally, the cancelation policy must be presented clearly and conspicuously in the original agreement.
- Must disclose any material changes to the agreement. It is common for businesses to modify their agreements later. But if a business wants to change the terms of an auto-renewal plan, they must have already alerted the consumer to this possibility in the original offer. Moreover, when making material changes to its subscription plan, the business must disclose those changes to the consumer and give the consumer an easy way to cancel their subscription.
Defenses Available to Businesses Accused of Violating the NY ARL
Although New York’s ARL provides strong protections to consumers who enroll in auto-renewal plans, there are some exceptions to the law that allow businesses to raise possible defenses against an alleged violation. For instance, the new ARL only applies to contracts for subscriptions involving consumers; business-to-business contract are addressed by the state’s old ARL.
SB 1475 also has a “safe harbor” provision that gives companies a possible defense when the violation was unintentional. If the company can show that they made a bona fide error despite taking reasonable measures to comply with the law, the New York Attorney General may choose not to bring charges.
What Remedies Are Available to Consumers in NY ARL Cases?
Compliance with the New York ARL is enforced by the NY Attorney General. The statute gives the state Attorney General authority to fine businesses as much as $100 for each violation of the auto-renewal law. When the violation was knowing and intentional, the fine can be increased to $500 for each violation. For companies with popular services and large subscription bases, these fines can add up quickly and serve as an effective deterrent against further abuse.
The individual consumers who enrolled in the unlawful subscription services also stand to benefit financially under New York’s auto-renewal law. That’s because the statute specifies that consumers who receive a service or product without providing affirmative consent for enrollment in the subscription program will not have to pay for the goods or services received. Additionally, they may be eligible to join a consumer class action lawsuit brought under one of the state’s consumer protection laws.
Contact the New York False Advertising Lawyers at Tauler Smith LLP
Tauler Smith LLP is a law firm that represents clients in consumer fraud litigation throughout the United States, including New York. Our experienced NY false advertising lawyers have filed complaints on behalf of clients in both federal and state court, and we know how to win these cases. Call or email us to speak with a member of our litigation team.