Lawn care services can lead you down garden path

March 21 2016 by Ellen Roseman

When you sign up with a lawn care company, you give it the freedom to bill for services you don’t receive — and to continue billing for the following year without your consent.

A reader told me about his experience with a company called TruGreen, beginning in 2014. Here’s his story.

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Our 100 foot frontage property is about 300 feet deep. We answered a “cold call” at the front door and met with a sales representative, who offered a no obligation quotation for weed control and fertilizer treatment.

I did a “walk about” of the whole property, pointing out the weeds that were stubborn and the parts that posed a particular challenge.

TruGreen was the only local company with equipment and hoses that could cover the entire property, the salesman said. He assured us a good response to fertilizing and weed control throughout the property.

Since he gave us a good price with a discount for prepayment, I signed a contract. Pretty soon, I noticed favourable results in the front area, but not at the rear.

Concerned that part of the property was not responding, I called to confirm that the whole property was treated each visit. I was suspicious because of a fine-print disclaimer on the invoice, saying that treatment was offered for a maximum of 3,000 square feet.

The whole property was being treated, I was told, adding that the company would put a special note on file to ensure that the technician did so.

In the end, after several conversations, TruGreen acknowledged that the whole property had not been receiving treatment, after all. The costs would be significantly higher than my contract specified if the whole property were to be treated.

I was not satisfied. Knowing of the continuous service language in the contract, including “your plan continues from year to year without any action on your part,” and “your plan will continue unless you contact us to cancel,” I made clear at the end of the season that I was cancelling the arrangement.

The following season, I was lucky enough to be at home when the technician arrived to begin treatment of my lawn for the second season. This happened despite my clear communication on the matter.

I noted that TruGreen was named in several press articles surrounding billing practices, such as this one in The Record.

Now that spring has arrived, consumers can expect any number of cold calls from roofing, window, eavestrough, siding and pool contractors, as well as lawn services. We need to be vigilant and protect ourselves with measures such as the following:

* Secure all understandings in writing, signed by a service representative who is authorized to bind the service.

* Review and act, as needed, on all the contract terms including contractor provisions for “continuous service” and customer cancellation privileges.

* Take special note of waivers and guarantees.

* Look for professional credentials and memberships (TruGreen has not been a member of Landscape Ontario, for example).

* As much as possible, monitor the service and be satisfied that you receive the service you contracted for.

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Great advice and thanks to the reader for sharing his experience, to which I will add a final point.

You have 10 days under Ontario law to cancel contracts signed at your door. Use this cooling off period to do your research and pull the plug on lawn care contracts with big holes in them.

1 comment

  1. Ian

    May 19 2016

    Great advice! Lawn care companies often seem like the most innocent salesman. In my opinion, this is because of the resemblance they have to young teenagers or children offering to do similar services for a cheap price.

    Contracts like these can be risky and your tips will help many people avoid the issues presented in the article. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!