THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Flyer buyer: Ignore come-ons, get references
"I don't remember anything about that," Doug Taylor replied when asked about the landscaping work Charlotte Mabry says she hired him to do in August 2005. Mabry emailed me an overview of what she calls her "nightmare ordeal" after reading my recent column on Taylor, who owns Eddie's Tree and Landscaping ["Getting snippy," January 25].
Mabry wrote that she was "sorry" someone else– Young Hahn– had had an experience similar to hers. In Hahn's case, although she had a contract that stated Taylor would complete the work (removing three trees, trimming another, and mulching a garden bed) by September 21, 2006, he did not complete the job despite the agreement and being paid in full. More than five months later, he resolutely declines to do the remaining work, despite admitting that it would only take "about two and a half hours."
Mabry says she hired Taylor to do $2,200 worth of landscaping because he had previously done satisfactory work. The second time around, however, there was a major difference in Mabry's circumstances: She was now a recent widow.
After "many broken promises" over several weeks, during which Mabry claims she did "quite a bit of the cleanup work," Taylor did conclude "that horrendous experience" by finishing the job.
"I would advise anyone," she says, "to never pay him until the job is finished as promised." Indeed, like Hahn, she paid in full before the job was completed. In the end, her children stepped up to help persuade him to finish the work.
When I asked about Hahn's uncompleted job– which Taylor had promised me he would do over the weekend of January 20-21– he said, "I haven't been able to get to it." The dispute looks likely to end in Albemarle County General District Court. Hahn says she hired Taylor only because he had distributed his business cards throughout her neighborhood, and she now regrets not asking for references.
Here's a tip for consumers, and it comes from both the Better Business Bureau and the American Association of Retired People: Don't hire a contractor, landscaper, etc. just because he's stuck a flyer or card in your mailbox; depend instead on word of mouth and references.
The judge speaks
"Today Jeanne Seering and I had our day in court," Laura Watkins' email began; they were there because Seering had refused to refund Watkins' deposit when she moved out of the Greenwood cottage she'd been renting for nine months. By the time Watkins left, on December 1, she claims, the roof had been leaking badly for close to a month.
Seering refused to return Watkins' deposit, claiming her cats had caused damage, but Watkins had already hired Walt Leytham of Commonwealth Inspection Services to go over the cottage and record his findings. And he had some.
As I reported in an earlier column ["This old house," December 14, 2006], Leytham found six inches of standing water in the crawl space, bare electrical wires in the kitchen that he classified as "extremely dangerous," mold on bedroom and closet walls, and a bathroom floor so badly rotted that the shower was not safe to use. He also called the combination of a wood stove with no smoke detectors a "very dangerous situation."
Watkins showed Leytham's report to Judge William Barkley on January 29 in Albemarle County General District Court, and says he "did not dispute" that the cottage was in "appalling and dangerous condition." Barkley allowed Seering to withhold $100 from the deposit for cleaning, but ordered her to pay Watkins the $650 balance.
Watkins has this advice for anyone who reports problems to landlords: Create a paper trail of complaints. Although she made only verbal complaints– which Seering then disputed to Barkley– Watkins did something very right by hiring a neutral third party to inspect the cottage. While she had to pay Leytham's bill, she was able to get a measure of justice.
Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at 100 Second Street NW, Charlottesville 22902.