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Late fees can have lasting effects, says store owner

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."

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