A new District of Columbia law designed to eliminate harassment and unfair practices in lay-away plans recently went into effect.

The lay-away law applies to items bought by an individual for personal, family or household purposes, purchased under a plan of three or more agreed payments, all of which must be made before the release or delivery of the goods.

Under the new law, the seller must provide the buyer with a copy of a clear, written disclosure that includes the schedule of payments to be made, a statement on the store's exchange and refund policies and charges, a statement of the seller's right to assess late charges, an assurance that the item will be available to the buyer upon final payment or within 14 days after final payment and a statement that the buyer shall receive a written statement, upon request, and a receipt for any and all payments made.

The buyer has the right to cancel the lay-away plan within two weeks after entering into the agreement and obtain a full refund of any amount of money paid toward the purchase. The refund must be paid within two weeks after cancellation.

If a buyer cancels his purchase of lay-away goods after the two-week cancellation period, the seller must make the refund promptly, but may retain up to 8 percent of the purchase price of the goods or $16, whichever is less, according to the new law.

In cases where the buyer is unable to make lay-away payments on time, the seller is required to send prompt notice of the delinquent payment. Then, if no payment is received within 14 days after the notice is sent, the seller may deduct up to $1 from the full amount of money paid by the buyer and refund the remaining amount.

The law also prohibits the seller from accelerating payments under the lay-away plan.