PLATTSBURGH - Although not returning a rented DVD or game may not seem like a big deal to some, it is actually punishable by law. It's also costing one local video store owner a lot of money.
Becky Leonard has been the owner of Under One Roof in three different locations for the last 21 years. Owning a West Chazy branch from 1990 to 2002, Leonard estimates she lost about $102,000 worth of unreturned inventory. In the Morrisonville location, which she owned from 1993 to 2008, she estimates she lost another $127,500. Finally, at her Plattsburgh location, which opened in 1996 and remains open, she estimates she has lost another $119,000, for a grand total of $348,500.
She feels lack of unreturned property was one of the reasons for the closure of the West Chazy and Morrisonville locations.
"I think there's a mentality," said Leonard. "One person may think, 'Oh, it's just a DVD, I'll bring it tomorrow.' They don't realize that it's a lot of people doing the same thing, thinking the same way. Of course, it adds up."
In 2010 alone, Leonard believes she lost about $8,000. However there are ways for her to get back what she has lost.
If a person has failed to return a rental after three days, someone from Under One Roof will give a courtesy call.
"We don't want their balance to get too high," explained Leonard, who added every day a rental is past due, there is a $1 "additional day rental fee."
If a customer is unable to be reached by phone, she'll attempt e-mail. If there is still no response, Leonard has two options.
"Depending on the value of the property, I send them two types of letters," she explained. "One, a certified letter if the value is $100 or more. Because that is a misdemeanor."
Leonard explained the misdemeanor, called "failure to return rental property," is punishable by law, and can lead to jail time and a fine of up to $2,500. In 2010, she estimates she sent out at least 100 certified letters.
"If the value of the property is less than $100, Ihave to file a commercial civil suite, which means I go to civil court and pay a $25 filing fee per time Ifile," she said, adding she is limited to five filings per month. "Right now I'm doing paperwork for that five days a week."
If a certified letter is sent, Leonard must wait 30 days for a response. Then, she brings the information to either the Plattsburgh City Police Department or Clinton County Sheriff's Department, depending on the customer's residence, and files a complaint.
"Then it's up to them to do their part," Leonard said, referring to the police.
However, if someone knowingly has unreturned rentals, Leonard said she is more than willing to work out a deal with them.
"Basically, all I want is my property back," she said. "I don't want to go through all this. I don't want to cause a customer to not want to come back. I don't want to cause any hard feelings or have a bad reputation in the community."
"If they've lost a DVD or friends borrowed it and they can't get it back, just replace the DVD, she added. "I'll normally wipe off all the late fees."
Leonard said she will also forgive late fees completely depending on the situation. Last year, Leonard forgave a little less than $10,000.
"What that means is if someone has an outstanding balance," explained Leonard, "I will review their account and if I find it would be worthwhile to create a rental relationship again, I will take off the late fees and give them another chance at renting again."
However, the customer must take the first step and call or come into the store.
"Just call us or e-mail us," she said. "Tell us your situation and I guarantee you will be happy with what we work out. Nobody's ever walked away unhappy."