Sep. 5, 2013 at 7:32 AM ET
Rose Zapotochny bought a leather sofa from Jennifer Convertibles in 2005 for nearly $1,700. But she says that within a year, it was already falling apart. “You sit on the couch and when you get up, parts of it peel off,” she said.
And it turns out she's not alone: Scores of customers are complaining about clumps of leather peeling away from couches sold by Jennifer Convertibles around the country. And many of those customers were sold a protection plan they believed would cover any problem.
Zapotochny paid $200 for her warranty. "Bumper to bumper," she said. "That's what they told me." But in the fine print, the warranty excludes "cracking and peeling."
TODAY cameras went undercover at two stores to see if the company's salespeople would disclose that exception. At one, the clerk got it right, admitting that wear and tear isn't covered, even if the leather starts cracking. "They don't cover that part," he said.
But at a different Jennifer Convertibles, the saleswoman did not mention the exception. "We do have a protection plan for five years so if something happens, food and beverages, rips, cuts, tears, punctures, they're all covered: They get you a brand new sofa within five years," she said. "Definitely you should get the protection plan."
While she said what is covered, she never mentioned that cracking and peeling isn't.
TODAY showed the hidden camera video to Claire Rosenzweig, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York, and asked if two different salespeople from the same chain should be saying two different things about the warranty.
"No, it should be consistent," Rosenzweig said. "We encourage transparency. We encourage disclosure."
Jennifer Convertibles said, "We train our salespeople to present the products and services ... honestly and proudly ... if we find that a salesperson has done something against this policy, we will deal with it accordingly."
The company said that Zapotochny's warranty didn't cover the problem, saying they went "above and beyond," offering her replacement parts or a refund of the warranty. Zapotochny says there was no offer of replacement parts; they only refunded the $200 warranty.
"I'm a single mother," Zapotochny said. "I have two children. I don't have the extra money to go out and buy another sofa."
Now the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs is investigating the company for a wide range of problems, including accusations that salespeople are misrepresenting the warranty.
So, before you go shopping for a new couch, research the company first. Are there complaints against them?
Before you buy the warranty, ask to read it first, for the exceptions in fine print.
And if you do have a problem with your sofa, document everything and file a complaint with your local Department of Consumer Affairs.