How to File a Complaint Against a Company in California

Camila Lopez - Government Complaints - August 29, 2022

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Do you have a complaint against a California business or company that failed to deliver a product, refused a refund, or did not provide the service they were required to provide you? There are several ways you can file a complaint against a business in California. For example, you can file a complaint through the California Consumer Affairs Protection Agency. You could also file a complaint with the government entity that regulates the industry the business is in. Or you can file a small claims lawsuit. 

In this article, we cover several ways you can file a complaint against a business.

Background Information on Government Complaints Against a Company

Most of the time there is a government agency that regulates a business. This means that there are government departments that investigate complaints against businesses when they do something wrong. California has its own government regulators and the federal government also has regulators.

If you are suing an individual, make sure they are licensed with the correct California licensing board or bureau you are filing a complaint with. These agencies investigate claims against a licensee, a person licensed under their licensing requirements.  

What happens when I file a government complaint against a business?

Will you get your issue resolved against a business after filing a complaint with a California government agency? The answer to this question really depends on the government department you filed the complaint with. The California state legislator (or federal legislators) set the requirements for each government department. This means that your elected officials determine what the government entity can or can't do when investigating a consumer complaint against a business.

Here are some examples of the authority of government entities:

  • Some government departments have the authority to investigate consumer complaints and issue fines or take away a license required to do business.

  • Some government departments can investigate consumer complaints but cannot require the business to issue you a refund.

  • Some government departments can help enforce a court order or judgment if you win a lawsuit against the business.

After you file the complaint, the government agency will likely reach out to you letting you know they have received your complaint. If they are unable to help you with your complaint they will let you know. They will also let you know the time frame and their process for handling the complaint against the business.

What types of complaints against a business can I file?

Each agency accepts different types of complaints, but here are some of the most common complaints against a business an agency can handle:

  • When a business fails to refund you when they should have refunded you.

  • When you purchased an item or a service from a business but they don't respond to you.

  • When the law requires the business to do something, but the business is not following the law.

  • When you want to report bad business practices. 

Many government agencies also publish consumer guides for common problems

The government agency in charge of regulating a business knows common complaints or issues within its industry. They tend to publish consumer guides or consumer complaints so make sure you check out the agency's website to see if you have a common issue! 

Here are some common guides:

How to file a complaint against a business with the government

Each government regulator has a different process for filing a complaint against a business but in general, you are either able to file the complaint online or by mail. Go to the government regulator’s website to find out where you can complain about a business and what steps you need to take to file a complaint. 

Different California Government Agencies that Handle Complaints Against a Business 

Here are some common examples of California regulators and their complaint process:

  • Complaint against an insurance company? The California Department of Insurance handles complaints against insurance companies. Learn more here.

  • Complaint against an airline? The U.S. Department of Transportation handles complaints against airlines. Learn more here.

  • Complaint against a contractor? The California Contractors State Licensing Board handles complaints against contractors. Learn more here.

  • Complaint against a mechanic? The California Bureau of Automotive Repairs handles complaints against mechanics. Learn more here.

  • Complaint against an accountant? The California Board of Accountancy allows you to look up if an accountant is licensed with the California Board of Accountancy under the “consumers” tab on the main website. File out the form online to file your complaint against an accountant. 

  • Complaint against an acupuncturist? The California Department of  Consumer Affairs Acupuncture Board allows you to file a complaint and verify licensees online under a general online complaint form

  • Complaint against an Architect? The California Department of  Consumer Affairs Architects Board allows you to search for a licensed architect on the home page of their website. Additionally, you can file a complaint against a licensed or unlicensed individual with their consumer complaint form.  

  • Complaint against your barber or cosmetologist? The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology allows consumers to verify a license and file a complaint. All complaints must be submitted in writing to the board and sent either electronically throughwww.breeze.ca.gov or by U.S. mail using a consumer complaint form addressed to the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology P.O. Box 944226 Sacramento CA, 94244-2260.

  • Complaint against a funeral or cemetery? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau allows consumers to verify licenses and file a complaint online using an online complaint form. Consumers can also print a complaint form and email or mail it to the Bureau or call and have the Bureau mail the complaint to you. Learn more on their website

  • Complaint against a chiropractor? The Board of Chiropractic Examiners, State of California, has an option to file a complaint. Learn more on their website. 

  • Complaint against a dentist? The Dental Board of California regulates over 100,000 licensed dentists. You can verify a license on their main website and you can also file a complaint online using their online complaint portal

  • Complaint against a professional engineer, land surveyor, or geologist? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists allows you to look up licensed individuals and file a complaint on their online complaint submittal portal.  

  • Complaint against a doctor? The Medical Board of California protects health care consumers through licensing and regulation of physicians and surgeons. Search to verify your doctor’s license online using their online license verification. Learn the various ways you can file a complaint with the Medical Board here

  • Complaint against a guardian, trustee, etc.? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Professional Fiduciaries Bureau regulates non-family member professional fiduciaries like these and more. You can verify a license online on their main website and also file complaints with the Bureau. Fill out the complaint form and mail it to the Bureau or email it to fiduciary@dca.ca.gov. 

  • Complaint against a real estate appraiser? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Real Estate Appraisers allows you to verify licensed appraisers on their website as well as file a complaint. Learn how to file a complaint here

  • Complaint against a private investigator? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services licenses and regulates private investigators, private security services, etc. You can verify a license on the Bureau’s main website as well as file a complaint. You can file a complaint online using this portal. You may also download and fill out the complaint form and mail it to the address at the top of the form. 

  • Complaint about a pest control company? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Structural Pest Control Board allows you to verify a licensee or company under the “consumer info” tab on their main website. You may also file a complaint using the Structural Pest Control Board Complaint Form. Mail this form to the Structural Pest Control Board 2005 Evergreen Street, Ste. 1500 Sacramento, CA 95815.

  • Complaint against a veterinarian? The California Department of Consumer Affairs Veterinary Medical Board allows you to verify licensed veterinarians as well as file complaints. Use the portal in this link to file your complaint online. 

  • Complaint against a real estate agent? If you have a complaint against a real estate agent you will want to go to the California Department of Real Estate website. There you can verify a real estate license and file a complaint against a real estate agent. You can file a complaint using the complaint form. For more information on how to file a complaint go here

  • Complaint against a realtor? A realtor is not the same as a real estate agent so make sure you are filing a complaint with the appropriate agency. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors. Realtors have to follow a Code of Ethics, if a realtor has violated one or more articles of the Code of Ethics you can file an ethics complaint. Additionally, realtors agree as a condition of membership to arbitrate most disputes. Learn more about filing an ethics complaint and arbitration here

This list can go on and on! The California Department of Consumer Affairs publishes a list of government regulators by profession that you can look over if you need to file a complaint against a California company or business.

How to file a Complaint against a Moving Company in California 

One of the most common types of businesses we get complaints from is the moving business. Complaints against movers or moving companies in California are common and can be for a broad range of reasons. Luckily, there are various California government regulators and federal associations that handle consumer complaints against moving companies. These options include the California Bureau of Household Goods and Services, which is a Bureau under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. 

The most common reasons to sue a moving company are:

  • The moving company damaged your property. 

  • The moving company did not show up on the date of your move.

  • The moving company overcharged you on the date of delivery. 

  • The moving company picks up your belongings but they never get delivered to the new location. 

  • The moving company provides a quote but this quote does not include hidden fees. 

If any of these things have happened to you there are different agencies you can file a complaint with in California. 

File a Complaint against a Moving Company with the California Bureau of Household Goods and Services

The California Bureau of Household Goods and Services (BHGS) is a California state government office that protects consumers in California as well as regulates household movers performing moves of household goods and personal effects. Consumers can do a license search on the BHGS website as well as file a complaint. The BHGS has a formal complaint process that deals with household movers. 

Here is how to file a complaint against a moving company with the BHGS:

  1. Complete the BHGS’s Online Complaint Form.

  2. You can download (print) the Complaint Form and mail it to the address on top of the complaint form. 

File a Complaint against a Moving Company with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

If you hired a moving company to help you with your state-to-state move, you may want to file a complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and they hear complaints over the phone or you can file online. Depending on the case, the agency may take enforcement action against the movers.

Here is how to file a complaint against a moving company with the FMCSA:

  1. Online by using the FMCSA complaint tool.

  2. By phone at: (1-800-368-7238)

Filing a complaint with the American Moving and Storage Association

The moving company you used in California may be a member of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), if this is the case you may want to file for arbitration with AMSA. Members of AMSA have agreed to participate in the AMSA Arbitration Program to settle disputes. 

If you need to file a complaint that deals with damaged belongings or billing issues, you will need to fill out the appropriate forms on the AMSA website. Any other types of complaints can also be filed against your moving company on the AMSA website. Once your complaint is filed, the moving company will be contacted and a written explanation of the complaint will be obtained.

To check if the moving company is a member of AMSA call AMSA at (703)-683-7410 or send them an email at info@moving.org.

Here is how to file a complaint against a moving company with the AMSA:

  1. Online by using the Arbitration Request Form.

  2. Online by using the General Complaint Form.

How to file a Complaint against a Bank in California

In California, a very common industry that consumers file complaints against is the financial industry. This includes complaints against financial services like cryptocurrency (digital currency), banks, and debt collectors. 

File a complaint with the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation

The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) helps protect consumers when engaging in financial transactions. The DFPI regulates a variety of financial services and professionals. The DFPI also licenses and regulates financial businesses like securities brokers and dealers, investment advisers, and certain lenders. 

Here is how to file a complaint against a financial business in California with the DFPI:

File a complaint with the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency  

The Office of the Comptroller (OCC) is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The OCC regulates and supervises national banks such as Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Union Bank, etc. The OCC ensures that banks operate in a fair, and sound manner. The OCC also ensures banks comply with applicable laws and regulations. 

Follow these steps to file a complaint against a national bank in California with the OCC: 

  1. Check to see if your bank is regulated by the OCC. Use this link to search for financial institutions. 

  2. Gather all information you will need to include in your complaint. This includes your contact information, information on your bank, an explanation of your complaint, and any additional information.

  3. File online using the online complaint form. OR download the link and mail the letter to the Comptroller of the Currency Customer Assistance Group P. O. Box 53570 Houston, Texas 77052. Or fax signed correspondences to (713) 336-4301.

If your bank is not regulated by the OCC look into filing your complaint with one of the following agencies if appropriate: 

Here are helpful links for filing complaints with the OCC: 

  • For general information on filing complaints, how to see your filed complaint, how many complaints a bank has on file, etc. check thislink on the OCC main website. 

Filing a Complaint with the California Department of Consumer Affairs 

What is the California Department of Consumer Affairs?

The California Department of Consumers Affairs (DCA) is a consumer protection agency that administers licenses and certificates for all types of industries within the state of California. The DCA protects and serves consumers against many types of cases against licensed individuals and businesses. 

What types of complaints against businesses does the DCA handle?

The DCA handles a broad range of complaints against businesses. Here are some common types of complaints against businesses: 

  • A licensed individual is not following proper laws when conducting business.

  • Misleading or false business information or claims.

  • Failure to refund after a consumer request. 

How to file a complaint against a business with the California Department of Consumer Affairs 

Filing a Complaint with the Los Angeles County Consumer and Business Affairs  

In California, the county of Los Angeles has a Consumer and Business Affairs office that handles complaints against businesses. The Los Angeles County Consumer and Business Affairs office investigates a variety of different consumer complaints. These may include consumer fraud, real estate fraud, identity theft, car warranties, and more. Some cases may be referred to local law-enforcement agencies for review if there are serious offenses involved. 

The Los Angeles Consumer and Business Affairs office also provides mediations with free mediators. Mediations involve both parties and a neutral third party, called a mediator, and help parties reach mutually beneficial solutions without the need for more formal processes. 

How to file a complaint against a business with the Los Angeles County Consumer and Business Affairs

  1. Go to the Los Angeles County Consumer and Business Affairs website.

  2. At the top of the website is a link to file your complaint online

  3. In the link above you will find the option to file a complaint but you could also request mediation or ask the office a question.

Filing a complaint with the California Attorney General 

Who is the California Attorney General?

The California Attorney General (“CAG”) is the state’s top legal advisor, with many responsibilities and duties like advising the state, representing California in court, and most importantly, the California attorney general investigates consumer complaints against businesses and individuals, the type of complaints they investigate varies and includes anything from discrimination to false representations by businesses.Learn how to file a complaint with the California Attorney General. 

California counties also have District Attorney Offices that handle consumer complaints. Be sure to check your county’s District Attorney's website for a consumer protection or affairs unit. 

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Complaints Against a Business

What is the BBB?

The BBB is a non-profit that serves as an intermediary between companies and consumers. For example, if you want to complain about a California company’s bad business you can file a complaint with the BBB. 

Reasons why some businesses respond to BBB complaints:

  • If the company is accredited with the BBB and they don't respond to a BBB complaint, the business’s accreditation may be revoked and the complaint becomes part of their BBB profile.

  • If the company is not accredited with the BBB, the complaint will become part of their BBB profile.

  • BBB reviews provide other consumers with confidence when engaging with a company. Companies do not want negative BBB complaints.

Reasons why some businesses don't respond to BBB complaints:

  • They have already received too many BBB complaints and another complaint won't affect them.

  • The BBB is a non-profit that doesn't have regulatory power over them (the BBB can't stop them from doing business).

What types of complaints against businesses does the BBB handle?

The BBB handles a broad range of complaints against businesses. Here are some common types of complaints against businesses submitted to the BBB:

  • Used and new car sales

  • Disputes with phone companies (bills, overcharges, returns)

  • Disputes against any business for their product or service

  • Deceptive advertising

  • Concerns with privacy policy or practices

  • Disputes against a charity

Read More: How to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)

How to file a complaint against a business with the BBB

What to Expect Once you Submit your Complaint to the BBB

  • The BBB will forward your complaint to the company within 2 business days.

  • The company will be asked to respond within 14 days, and if a response is not received, a second request will be made.

  • You will be notified of the company’s response when the BBB receives it (or notified that they received no response).

  • Complaints against companies are usually closed within 30 business days.

California Small Claims Court

What types of lawsuits can be filed against a business in small claims?

You may also want to consider filing a small claims lawsuit in California small claims court. Many types of lawsuits can be filed against a business in small claims court, the most common lawsuits are over:

  • Used and new car sales

  • Disputes with phone companies (bills, overcharges, returns)

  • Disputes against any business for their product or service

  • Deceptive advertising

  • When you buy a good or service from a business but the business does not deliver it.

Small Claims Court Limits

To be able to file a small claims court lawsuit in California, you are capped at the amount you can sue for, also known as "small claims court limits."

If you are owed for more than the amount you can sue for, you can still sue for the maximum amount allowed, but you will need to waive any additional amount over the limit.

What are the California Small Claims Court Filing Fees?

The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in California depends on how much you are suing for. You will pay between $30 to $75 to file the lawsuit. If cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.  

What are other costs for Small Claims Court?

In most small claims cases, you can expect to pay:

If you win, you can request that the losing party pay for your court fees and serving costs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I need a lawyer to go to court? No, in fact, California does not allow lawyers to represent you at the initial small claims hearing.

  • What are small claims hearings like in California? The hearings are quick and on average are 10-15 minutes. Learn more here.

  • How long does small claims take? A court usually schedules the small claims hearing no later than 70 days from when the lawsuit is filed. Learn more here.

Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila is an attorney, consumer advocate, and certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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