The Washington state is investigating dozens of car dealerships for possible violations of the governor’s stay-home order in April to control the spread of the coronavirus, according to documents read by Q13 News.
Most vehicle dealerships throughout the state have been earning really low in the past six weeks to comply with the stay-home order, with some reporting its sales have declined over 90 percent. Dealerships were permitted to sell vehicles on a very limited basis in this time.
But the Department of Licensing confirmed it is investigating about 25 dealerships where the number of title transfers raised doubts. Those dealerships processed over 100 vehicle title applications between April 1 and April 16.
In a letter sent directly to the involved dealerships, the DOL wrote that after evaluating title applications, “it appears your business…is conducting business outside of the directives in Governor Inslee’s Stay Home — Stay Healthy Proclamation”.
At the bottom of the letter, the DOL added that “violators of the Governor’s Proclamation may be subject to criminal penalties”.
The state has asked those dealerships to give a list of every vehicle sold during those two weeks and the reason behind each of the sale, proving it met the criteria for doing business falling under the stay-home guidance.
Dealers could only sell vehicles once the stay-home order went into effect March 25, 2020, if it fulfills of the following criteria:
- Closing a pending transaction that started before the governor’s order
- Replacing a totaled vehicle or damaged vehicle that is impractical to fix
- Extending an expired lease
- Selling a vehicle to an essential worker if that worker had no other options available for transportation
A DOL spokeswoman told Q13 News that some dealerships have responded to the requested information within three days and said the agency is encouraged by the response but continues to wait for responses from other dealers.
Since dealerships have 45 days to process title transactions, it’s possible some of the sales were made prior to the stay-home order went into effect. That’s why DOL said it’s just looking for information at this point related to these transactions.
However, if dealerships are found guilty of violating the proclamation, DOL has the power to suspend or revoke business licenses or pursue a criminal penalty, which would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in county jail and a $5,000 fine.
If the Attorney General’s Office decided to pursue breaches of the Consumer Protection Act, a court could enforce a $2,000 fine for every violation.