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Settling a vendor/contractor dispute

April 27, 2011

Earlier this week I mentioned a problem I had with a contractor during my January vacancy on Property 5.  This was a water extraction company that I called out to remove water after pipes burst in winter weather. The temps were really cold here for Dallas – single digit type stuff and below freezing for a week.  I left the heat on in the house, cabinet doors open, faucets dripping, the gammit.  Despite the precautions, I had a house full of water after things started thawing out.  I made several big mistakes:

Check on your vacant houses everyday. This is especially true in inclement weather.  This property is 10 minutes from my primary in good weather.  I should have made the trek over through the snow to check on the place.

Get a complete invoice for current days charges before they leave.  When one of these cleaning crew type company’s come out, get a complete invoice for all charges for that days work before they leave.  Do not listen to the “Insurance will take care of everything – you won’t be out anything” story.  Don’t sign anything about future work or any invoices without a total.  This company added to the invoice after I signed it.  Get copies of everything before they leave or bring your camera and take a picture of any documents they refuse to give you.

Take pictures of the damage before anyone touches it.  Take additional pictures after any work is done as well.  Just take pictures of everything.  With digital cameras there is no reason not to just snap away.

Use the good weather today and call your insurance company. Talk to your insurance company now about possible perils and preferred contractors. Find out what contractors are on their preferred list. I recommend using one of these companies if you don’t have your trades available to do the work. Do this research now, don’t wait until you have an emergency on Saturday morning and are stuck with some after hours hotline.  Ask your agent to give you his/her personal cell number.

Don’t get caught up in the moment.  The day I went over there and discovered what had happened was a disaster. I had water everywhere. Probably took me 20 minutes to get it turned off (couldn’t find the meter with all the snow).   I then immediately started going through the phone book looking for a company that could help get all the water out of the house. I have never had this occur and I did not have such a trade or a contractor I could get out there right away.  I found everyone was in emergency mode and the quickest I could get someone out was going to be at least 3 days maybe longer.  I started getting on waiting lists and continued to make calls.  I finally found a small company that could come out in 30 minutes.

Take a 24 hour breather.  I would wait a day after most disasters before you start making any major moves.  I was racing the clock to avoid mold, but I could have waited a day.  Take your time, research the vendors, and really evaluate the situation.  I did all of this calling around and scheduling of vendors at my property with a cell phone and a phone book.  Just a 5 minute check of www.bbb.org would have showed this company’s ‘F’ Rating.  31 complaints in the last 36 months.

They billed me well above average industry rates and above what my insurance would pay. My State Farm insurance adjuster could not believe what they were trying to do.  Ordinarily he should have been able to talk to them and have them adjust their invoices — no such luck with these con-artists.

I stopped short of hiring an attorney and just drew something up that sounded legal.  I see a lot of legal contract type documents in my day job, so I just borrowed a few lines and tweaked the rest to make it sound legit.  I guess it worked I got them to settle the bill and avoided them filing a lien against the house.

Hopefully you never need a document like this, but here is what I drafted.

Settle debt letter (Sample)

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From → Landlord

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