THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Dumpster blues: when the collection agency calls

I get nostalgic whenever I'm reminded of the bright orange, 20-foot-long Dumpster that used to be parked in front of my house. That's because I remember all the junk it was full of: ugly cabinets, stained carpet, cheap vinyl flooring– all the hideous old stuff that had to go, in the process of remodeling my house, so that fabulous new stuff could take its place. 

On the other hand, my dealings with van der Linde Container Rentals were free of the stress Shiloh Whitehead says she went through with the same company; by the time she emailed me on December 20, things had gone so far south that she referred to the situation as her "personal plight." 

Whitehead rented the same size Dumpster I had, which holds 30 cubic yards. When she called on June 28, she claims she was quoted the following fees: $100 each for delivery and pick-up, $58 per ton of trash, $2.85 daily rental fee, and a $250 deposit, which was due before delivery. The employee Whitehead spoke with also told her about a Container Rentals coupon in the back of the phone book that would take $19.95 off the total, and she was grateful for the tip. 

Whitehead paid the $250 deposit, and the Dumpster was delivered on July 6 and removed on July 24. It was mid-September before she received a bill, however, and when she did, she claims two items were incorrect. First, the pick-up or "pull" fee was $125, not the $100 she says she was quoted, and second, the coupon for $19.95 she'd given the delivery driver hadn't been deducted. The two came to $44.95. 

When she couldn't get a response to voice-mail messages, she says, she deducted $44.95 from the total and included a letter of explanation with her check. That was on September 22. She claims she heard nothing more until late November, when she received a bill dated October 31 that listed a past-due amount of $144.95. After confirming that the check she'd mailed on September 22 had been cashed, she wrote a second letter explaining that she had paid in full and attached a copy of the earlier bill and the detailed explanation she'd included when she paid it. 

She heard nothing more until December 18, when she got a bill from a collection agency. Two days later, she contacted me. 

I spoke with Peter van der Linde, who seemed chagrined to hear about Whitehead's experience. He had done some checking before we talked, but apparently hadn't heard all the details. When I told him Whitehead's account had been sent to a collection agency, he exclaimed, "I just can't believe it." He also rushed to assure me that he'll make things right; in addition to canceling the outstanding balance, van der Linde intends to send Whitehead a letter of apology and a $50 refund for her troubles. 

Regarding the incorrect bill, he agrees that the $19.95 coupon should have been deducted. As for the $125 pull fee, however, van der Linde strongly denies that Whitehead would have been quoted $100. The various charges, he says, can be confusing to consumers, and I can attest to that; I remember feeling a little overwhelmed by all the details when I called to get my own quote, but the pull fee was indeed $125– which is also the amount listed prominently on the company's website. 

I told van der Linde that my bill had also been long in coming. Although the container had been removed in late April, I didn't receive a bill until mid-August– and it didn't include the $250 deposit I'd given the delivery driver. van der Linde agreed there had been problems in the billing department, and said the company has since taken steps to correct them. 

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, Charlottesville, VA 22902.