Murali Gorur of Cupertino covers up his sofa and loveseat with quilts. He says he can no longer look at what lies underneath.
“It’s an eyesore,” Gorur said.
The material on Gorur’s furniture is peeling off. It started with little patches, and then it spread.
“Obviously, I was a bit disappointed,” Gorur said.
Gorur paid $800 for the furniture three years ago at United Furniture Club in Santa Clara. The furniture is made with bonded leather. Gorur says he didn’t know what that meant, but says the salesperson told him the material was durable, and would last at least five years. But Gorur says the peeling started after just two years.
“If I’d known they’d self-destruct within two years of purchase, obviously I wouldn’t have purchased them,” Gorur said.
When Gorur complained to United Furniture Club, he says the retailer told him the furniture had a one-year warranty, so he was out of luck.
“We expect $800 to last us more than two years,” Gorur said.
Mercedes Harrison of Oakland paid $1,300 for a furniture set from Jennifer Convertibles three years ago. She says she was led to believe she was buying genuine leather.
“It felt and smelled like leather,” Harrison said. “So we assumed it was leather.”
But the sales receipt says bonded leather. Harrison says within two years the furniture started to crack.
“If we wanted raggedy furniture, we wouldn’t have paid that money,” Harrison said.
Harrison felt some relief - she’d purchased a furniture protection plan. But her claim was denied, because cracking and peeling isn’t covered.
Consumers across the country are having the same problems with bonded leather furniture.
The Responds team at our NBC sister station in Chicago has received more than 700 complaints.
“It starts coming off in sheets,” one Chicago consumer explained.
The Leather Industries of America is a trade group for leather suppliers. They didn’t want to talk on camera for our story, but told us over the phone that marketers of bonded leather are “trying to fool consumers into thinking they’re buying real leather.”
So what is bonded leather? Not totally leather.
Bonded leather consists of ground up leather fibers that are glued to the underside of a piece of fabric. Then the top layer - often just plastic - is embossed to look like leather.
So on a piece of furniture like Murali’s and Mercedes’, there is no leather on the surface.
“No consumer should be bamboozles like this,” Harrison said. “It’s not good business.”
The federal government has guidelines about bonded leather when it comes to accessories like handbags, shoes and belts. On those products, the percentage of leather must be disclosed on a product label.
But when it comes to furniture, there are no guidelines. And according to the Leather Industries of America, bonded leather used in furniture consists of just 15-20 percent leather - sometimes less.
These consumers are frustrated they had to learn a costly lesson, but hope they can help others.
“I’m glad we’re making everyone aware of it,” Harrison said.
Jennifer Convertibles reiterated that Harrison’s receipt says bonded leather, but says she shouldn’t be having quality issues after two years. So to try and make it right with Harrison, it’s offered her $1,000.
United Furniture Club said many factors play into how long its bonded leather will last - like temperature and how the furniture is used. As an act of goodwill, it refunded Gorur $400.