Bamboozled: Customers say they’ve picked up unfair debt

 

Mary Lou Casavant says she and her husband are being threatened with collections by their former garbage company over a bogus charge. (Jerry McCrea/NJ Advance Media)

Mary Lou Casavant says she and her husband are being threatened with collections by their former garbage company over a bogus charge. (Jerry McCrea/NJ Advance Media)

A trash removal service said Mary Lou Casavant is delinquent on a bill.??????????????????

Casavant, 73, of Bridgewater, says that’s garbage.

She and her husband were loyal customers of Republic Services — formerly Raritan Valley Disposal — for about 36 years. But several months ago, after talking to neighbors, the couple decided they were paying too much for garbage pick-up services, so they decided to switch to another service provider.

Mary Lou Casavant said she called the company to cancel service on Dec. 1, 2014, the day before a scheduled Dec. 2 pick-up at her home.

“I was told that I needed to put out the container which would be picked up within four days,” she said. “I was also told I would be charged for the container pick-up, which was the first I heard of this.”

Casavant said she didn’t argue with the rep about the canister pick-up charge, but she knew it wasn’t right.

Thirty-six years ago, when the Casavants started using the company, homeowners provided their own canisters for trash. At some point — she couldn’t remember when — the company switched it so that homeowners would use a company-provided container.

When that happened, Casavant said, the couple never signed any kind of agreement that stated there would be a fee of any kind upon termination of service.

“Republic Services, which was formerly Raritan Valley Disposal, never indicated that I had a written contract or any statement that indicated I was to pay for container removal,” Casavant said.

garbage can

Mary Lou Casavant moves the garbage container from her new service company. Karin Price Mueller | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

In January, the couple received another bill for service — same as the ones they had received in years past — even though Casavant had already cancelled. It said nothing about a container removal charge, but was simply for the regular service charges.

“I called billing to say that I had cancelled and was again told I owed for the canister pick up,” she said. “This time they said I owed $20. I told them I was not paying for a canister pick-up.”

Then on Jan. 28, Casavant received a letter marked “Final Notice.”

It said: “Despite several previous written notices to you, your account remains seriously past due.”

It said she owed $21.70 — the canister removal charge — on a bill dated Nov. 15, 2014.

That couldn’t be correct. Casavant didn’t cancel service until Dec. 1, at which time her account was current.

The letter went on to say: “Unfortunately, we must turn your account over to a collection agency until full payment is received within ten (10) business days from the date of this invoice. We also reserve the right to initiate further legal action and report derogatory credit information to one or more of the major credit reporting bureaus.”

Casavant was furious.

“I feel it is heavy-handed of this company. How can a company decide to tack on a charge after the fact?” she said

So not only does Casavant feel the charge is bogus because she said she never signed a contract that indicated there would be a charge upon cancellation, she also questions how she could received this so-called “Final Notice” when she had never received anything in writing before.

“My husband is like, ‘Oh God, just pay the money,’ but I feel it was the principle. There was no contract signed and no advance notice,” Casavant said. “We were never advised until termination that if we terminated a fee would be imposed for removal. They are threatening go to a collection agency for $21.70?”

She contacted Bamboozled for help.
WHAT’S IN WRITING, AND WHAT’S NOT

We reviewed Casavant’s bills from Republic Services, and then we reached out to the company with phone and email messages. No one responded.

We expected the company would say there was something in the contract about the fee, but since Casavant was sure she never signed a contract, it was impossible to know if the company could produce one.

So we got the next best thing. Casavant asked around her neighborhood to find another customer of Republic Services. Several, she said, reported they also didn’t sign any contract. But a couple said they did.

And Casavant got a copy.

The one-page “Residential Service Agreement” explains pricing, container size, pick-up schedule, when bills had to be paid and what would happen if an account was in arrears.

It said only one thing about termination of the account: “You understand this Agreement is for 1 year of service from Republic Services, but you can terminate this Agreement at any time by giving Republic Services 7 days notice.”

Not a word about a container pick-up fee.

Of course, that contract belongs to a neighbor, not to Casavant, but Casavant said she never signed an agreement like this at all.

So can a company send a “final notice” without sending “overdue” notices? It seems that it can.

Casavant may find she has more protections if Republic Services does send the bill to collections.

“If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you,” according to the Federal Trade Commission’s web site. “You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice.”

But, it said, a collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

So if this account goes to collections, Casavant should explain that this container pick-up fee was never in writing, nor was it something she agreed to verbally, and she should ask the collections company to go back to Republic Services to ask for proof — in a contract, not just a bill — that she owes the money.

She should first contact Republic in writing explaining why she doesn’t owe this debt.

Perhaps someone there will see reason.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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