While translation of consumer contracts is inarguably a good business practice in its own right, it is increasingly a legal requirement in a number of US states.
On September 25, 2020, the California state government passed AB 3254 — a law expanding the translation requirements for consumer contracts negotiated in a language other than English.
Previously California’s legislature stipulated that businesses negotiating certain contracts in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean (the five most commonly spoken non-English languages in California) must provide the consumer with a translated copy.
Under AB 3254, these translation requirements have been extended to non-party signatories. Now, the right to a translated contract is available to any person signing the contract including guarantors and co-signers.
Which Business Contracts Require Translation under California Law?
Both AB 3254 and the previous California legislation specifically reference contracts for:
- auto sales and leases,
- apartment leases and rental agreements,
- legal services agreements, and
- any loans and other extensions of credit intended for personal, family, or household purposes.
The only exception to the above is when a professional interpreter is used to communicate between parties. In these instances, the translation requirement does not apply.
That said, when a professional interpreter is utilized for the negotiation, we at Legal Language recommend that the business representative (or the attorney for the business) have the interpreter sign an affidavit of accuracy upon the conclusion of the communication of contract terms.
Also, while the new law does not explicitly state what legal consequences, if any, would be incurred should the business representative fail to issue the limited English proficiency (LEP) consumer a translated contract, it seems that the consumer would be within their rights to withdraw from the terms of the contract without penalty.
Other State Laws Requiring the Translation of Consumer Contracts
While California may have the strictest requirements in the US when it comes to the translation of consumer contracts, it is not the only state to have such consumer protection laws in place.
For example, in Illinois under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, if a business representative negotiates a contract in a language other than English OR if the business representative acts as an interpreter during the negotiation (rather than hiring a trained professional), then the contract must be accompanied by a signed form attesting to the consumer’s complete understanding of said contract.
Another example is a current Texas law which requires that any loan contract, retail installment transaction, or home equity loan negotiated in Spanish must be accompanied by “a copy of a summary of those terms and other pertinent information [to] be provided to the debtor in Spanish in a form identical to disclosures required for a closed-end transaction under 12 C.F.R. Section 226.18 [Truth in Lending Act Disclosures].”
Then, too, in Florida, the Insurance Code stipulates that when transactions take place in a language other than English, HMOS, prepaid health clinics, and prepaid limited health service organizations must provide consumers with a written translation of their contract. Additionally, farm labor contractors are also required to post a translated document disclosing terms and conditions of employment.
Other state laws impacting the translation of consumer contracts also exist, but the above is illustrative.
The Importance of Working With Professional Linguists
When negotiating a contract, businesses should be cognizant of the consumer laws at play in their respective states, especially when said negotiations occur between English-speaking retailers and non-English speaking consumers.
In order to ensure the legality of any contract negotiation, it should be considered best practice that businesses provide LEP consumers with a professionally translated copy of the contract. Not only will this protect the consumer from unwittingly signing a document they do not fully understand, but also it will protect the business from potentially costly litigation.
Perhaps most importantly, legal translations provided by professional companies such as LLS can be certified for use in a legal proceeding. Such certification should be procured at the time of the negotiation and/or translation.
And, as we noted at the outset of this discussion, it’s common sense good business practice to provide transparency to a consumer in a signification translation.
Contact LLS to learn more about how we can assist you with your legal translation needs. Please call (913) 341-3167 or simply fill out our online inquiry form. (Calling from outside the US? Add 001 before dialing our US area code.)