Our deck was in need of cleaning and sealing. I called around a few places and got a few estimates.
I called one business to schedule an appointment for the cleaning and sealing. The secretary on the phone said I could sign up for Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday the following week (the week after Memorial Day).
The company said they would remove a barbecue grill, a table, and four chairs from the deck, and anything else above and beyond that would have to be removed before they arrived. I knew I had another commitment on Tuesday night and wouldn't be able to clear the deck off that night, so I did not want Wednesday. I asked for a Thursday appointment so I could clear the deck off Wednesday evening.
This was all done over the phone. No email or other written contract was provided to document the agreement.
For two reasons that aren't really pertinent to the matter at hand, I decided I needed to cancel the appointment. Since Monday was Memorial Day, I couldn't get ahold of the company then. I was very concerned to get in touch with them first thing Tuesday morning to get my job OFF their schedule for the week.
Tuesday I called the company, gave them my name and address and said I would like to cancel my appointment for Thursday. The secretary on the phone searched their records and said she could find no appointment for me on their agenda.
Uhhhh... okay. Well, I guess this whole telephone reservation thing didn't work out with them and I don't have anything to worry about then.
Wednesday afternoon, my phone rang at work, and my very confused wife reported she just got home to find all the stuff had been moved off our deck and it looked like someone had cleaned our deck, and there was an invoice from the company hanging on the front door.
I called the deck cleaning company and left a message there, and I sent the owner an email expressing my concern that his company (a) wasn't supposed to do any work until Thursday, and (b) wasn't supposed to do any work PERIOD because I called to cancel the day before. The owner very quickly responded to my email via BlackBerry and said he would look into it.
That was the last I heard from the company for a couple of weeks.
...Then I received the bill in the mail for the deck cleaning.
I tried calling again and left a message again. I emailed again and said I didn't think I should be charged for unauthorized work.
The owner claims they maintain a log of all phone calls and have no record of me calling on Tuesday. He said he asked each of his 3 staff members if any of them remember me calling, and they all said no. Since he has no record of me calling to cancel, he said the charge for the deck cleaning stands.
So am I totally out to lunch here?
I think the company made four errors:
Error #1) They scheduled the appointment for the wrong day. I asked for Thursday, and they put it on their schedule for Wednesday.
Error #2) They didn't follow up with any sort of email or written form of contract to confirm the scheduled date the work was to be performed.
Error #3) When I called to cancel the appointment, the lady didn't see my name on the Thursday schedule, so she couldn't cancel it. This is error-carried-forward from Error #1 and 2 above. If I had something in writing with a job order number on it, then I could have referenced that when I called to cancel.
Error #4) When the deck cleaners arrived at our house and found a LOT more than just a barbecue grill, table, and four chairs on the deck, they didn't stop to ask if this was okay. I had: barbecue grill, patio table, 6 patio chairs, kid's picnic table, an end table, two large potted plants, two hanging baskets with plants in them, two metal hanging hooks for the plants, four tiki torches, and a tupperware bin with a bunch of kids toys in it. This would have been a great opportunity for the company to call and say, "Hey, we're here to do the work on your deck, but you didn't clear the deck off in accordance with your part of the (verbal, not written anywhere) agreement. Would you like for us to remove the additional items for an additional fee?" Then we could have said, "No! Stop! Do NOT pass go! Do NOT collect $200!" (literally) "You are NOT authorized to do work on our house!"
The owner continues to insist that he has meticulous records of incoming phone calls and claims that I never called, so therefore I owe him for the deck cleaning that was done.
So, dear peanut gallery, what say you? What's my next move?
Before reading any farther, please give it a moment of thought and jot down what you would do. I don't want your opinion to be biased based on my personal thoughts to follow.
(Intermission - Click on the "Post a Comment" link and tell me what you think.)
Here are my thoughts and ideas on potential courses of action:
- Don't pay him. Blow it off. I don't think blowing it off is a good idea. My concern with doing that is my continued efforts to get my credit score back up to normal, and what if he submits this to a collection agency and it adds another negative bullet on my credit report. Plus, the bill says they will start charging interest on past-due balances over 30 days old, so he's just going to claim that I owe him more and more money over time.
- Don't pay him. Tell him I refuse to pay and that I will file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau if he continues to harass me for payment of work that was not authorized. This could still result in him sending something to a collection agency and negatively impacting my credit score.
- Offer him a choice / ultimatum. Tell him I will pay him, but if I do, it will come with a complaint to the BBB and a negative-press campaign against his company on the internet via websites like Yelp and my blog. ("Watch out! He's got a blog!!!") Alternatively, if he waives the deck-cleaning fee, then I will agree not to file any public complaints on BBB, Yelp, or anywhere else. (Is that considered blackmail?)
- Pay him for the work performed, and post my comments about his business on BBB, Yelp, my blog (i.e. add the name of the company to this here blog post).
- Pay him for the work performed and call it a done deal. They did DO the work, the economy isn't doing so well, and it's not like I don't have the money to pay it - it's just the principle of the matter.
P.S. Don't let this information sway your input one way or the other, but interestingly enough, when I went to the BBB website, I discovered this company has a grade of "C-" due to:
- Reasons for this rating include:
- Number of complaints filed against business
- Number of complaints filed against business that were unresolved
- Length of time business has taken to resolve complaint(s)