Date: Wed, Aug 11, 1999 12:07 PM
Subject: 16 CFR Part 453 - Funeral Rule comment
Date: August 11, 1999
To: Secretary, Federal Trade Commission
From: Jed Hendrickson, Santa Barbara Monumental Co., Inc.
Re: FTC's Review of the Funeral Rule - 16 CFR Part 453
I am writing to support the position taken by Monument Builders of North America (MBNA) and the California Monument Association (CMA) regarding expansion of the Funeral Rule to cover all segments of the death care industry. I believe that the scope of the Rule should be expanded so that it becomes more than just a Funeral Rule, by providing separate rules, definitions and regulations for each segment of the funeral-cemetery-monument industries. This would benefit consumers and should be an integral part of any expansion of the Rule.
Our firm and its clients often deal with cemeteries that set rules and regulations designed to protect and isolate themselves from normal competition. A frequent problem, particularly at many religious cemeteries, is that of cemetery staff advising lot owners that the cemetery is not responsible for any damage to a monument or marker if the monument is not purchased from the cemetery. This regardless of the cause -- even if the damage is caused by cemetery staff. This tactic is very effective because consumers are worried that their monument, markers or gravesites will not be properly maintained. Consumers are afraid of this so they buy their monuments from the cemetery. This has the effect of forcing the consumer to purchase from the cemetery. I believe that the care of memorials and grave spaces should not be conditional on the purchase of the memorial from the cemetery and that responsibility for damage to memorials should not be conditional on the purchase of the memorial from the cemetery.
Many cemeteries require that the foundation and installation of monuments and markers can only be preformed by the cemetery, regardless of where the monument or marker was purchased. These cemeteries are artificially protecting themselves from competition by independent monument retailers, enabling the cemeteries to charge consumers higher prices for installation services. Cemeteries should not require that only the cemetery can provide foundations and installation services.
Other cemeteries impose fees or unreasonable rules in connection with installations by independent monument retailers, which have the effect of forcing the consumer to buy from the cemetery. These fees include inspection fees, road use fees, installation fees, and post-inspection fees. I believe that "tying" of monument or marker installations to the cemetery hurts the consumer. Fees charged by cemeteries should be reasonable and uniform.
Failure to provide information is also a serious problem. Cemeteries usually have written rules and regulations. These rules cover such items as limitations on the size or type of markers, monuments or other memorials permitted, perpetual care procedures and requirements for installing memorials, including any applicable fees. These rules are subject to change without notice to lot owners or competing monument retailers.
Frequently these rules are not available in writing to consumers or independent monument retailers. By not disclosing these rules, cemeteries make it difficult for consumers to shop for a monument or marker elsewhere. This makes it very difficult for independent monument retailers to overcome the built-in advantage that cemeteries have in selling monuments. Monument retailers are often unable to quote an installation or foundation fee because the cemetery will not disclose this information. Sometimes, monument retailers are told of increases in cemetery charges after they have already quoted to consumers based on previously announced charges. The retailers must re-quote or absorb the cemetery's price increase.
I believe consumers are hurt by these practices. They often pay higher prices for monuments and markers and especially for installation. Their choice of memorialization is artificially limited. I urge the FTC to expand the scope of the Funeral Rule and make it a Death Care Rule and subject all segments of the industry to consumer friendly rules and regulations.