Septic service company misled me about repair costs

May 9, 2014 21:55 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I had an issue with our septic service and got a quote from a company who said they could fix the problem for $195. After coming out to my property, they told me that additional work would be necessary, which would cost between $2,000-$3,000.  I told them I could not afford that, but they warned me that if I neglected to have the additional work done, I would end up having severe sewage issues.  I don't think it's fair that they gave me a low estimate and then tried to force me to pay ten times that much.  What can I do?

Consumer Ed Says:

It sounds like the septic company's $195 offer was misleading.  Under State and federal law, it's considered deceptive and misleading to advertise goods or services if you don't intend to sell them as advertised. One form of this is "bait advertising," which is an alluring but insincere offer to sell a product or service which the marketer doesn't actually intend or want to sell as advertised.  Its purpose is to switch consumers from buying the advertised merchandise or service in order to either sell something else, or sell the same thing but at a higher price.  

If the quote provided to you wasn't a bona fide or genuine offer, it could be considered deceptive and misleading.  However, establishing that an offer or quote was not made in good faith can be tricky.  If the company disclosed that the actual price of septic services may be more than the quoted price based on the actual condition of your septic system after an inspection, the lower priced quote-though possibly what lured you to schedule an inspection-may still be legitimate.  An important point:  any difference in the price of merchandise or services from the prices in an advertisement should be fully disclosed before the purchaser becomes financially obligated for the goods or services.

If you believe the septic company you dealt with misled you by offering a flat rate and then refusing to stand by it, see below for agencies you can contact to voice your concerns.  Before hiring a septic company, the best thing you can do is ask questions and seek out information, so you can make informed decisions.  Below are a few tips to consider if you think you may need your septic system serviced.

Ask for referrals: Check with friends, family members, coworkers and neighbors for company referrals. Your own personal network may be your best source of information.  Ask if they were happy with the work performed on their septic system, what work was done, the price paid and if they would hire the same company again.

Ask for quotes:  Call different septic tank service and pumping companies, get quotes (at least 3), and compare them.  Consider their prices, additional fees, services covered under the quote and whether the company guarantees their work.  If possible, get the quote (and the terms of the quote) in writing.

Ask questions:  When you receive a quote, ask questions before scheduling a visit.  For example:  Will I be charged anything for you to just inspect my system? What exact services does the quote cover?  What is the maximum amount of waste that will be pumped under the quote?  Does your quote include all fees? What additional fees may I be charged?  What guarantee do you provide on your services?

Be on the lookout for additional fees: A septic service company may add additional fees to their service price.  Make sure you know what other fees are possible so that you're not caught unaware once the company is at your home.  Ask what additional fees are typical or what the company normally finds in these circumstances that may involve additional fees.  Septic companies often name their fees differently but a few common fees include:  extra sludge fee; over the line fee (when your septic tank is overflowing and they charge extra for pumping because you've exceeded the tank's capacity); tank opening fee or entry fee; digging fee; confined space fee; additional hose fee; trip charge; service or estimate charge; and diagnostic fee.  Again, any additional fees, as well as a clear explanation for them, should be disclosed to you before you sign any agreement and/or become financially obligated for the service.

Verify the company's certification: Septic tank contractors must be certified by the Department of Public Health (DPH) to operate in Georgia, so you should check that the company you are considering is properly certified.  Visit the DPH Wastewater Management webpage at http://dph.georgia.gov/wastewater-management and check the certified companies listed under the "Homeowner Resources" section.  For the most current information, you can also contact the State Environmental Health Office at (404) 657-6534. 

Educate yourself: A deceptive company may try to take advantage of your lack of knowledge, so it's a good idea to know the basics about septic systems generally and about your system specifically (for example, where your tank and absorption field are located and your septic tank's capacity). The DPH offers an informational video titled Understanding Your Septic System as well as A Homeowner's Guide to On-Site Sewage Management Systems to educate homeowners on septic systems. 

Take action: If a septic company has been deceptive or used misleading practices, including bait and switch tactics or generally deceptive advertising, you should try to resolve the dispute with the company first.  However, if you are unable to resolve the problem with them directly, you have several options:

 

  • Take your business elsewhere. If you believe a company is being deceptive or has misled you, the best thing you can do for yourself and for other consumers is to not do business with them.
  • If appropriate, file a complaint with your county environmental health office. County offices handle local septic system inspections and permitting. If you believe the company you dealt with violated DPH rules and regulations (for example, punching holes in the septic tank, not properly disposing of waste, installing or changing a septic system without a permit, operating without being certified, etc.), you can issue a complaint with your county environmental health office.
  • File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Visit https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started and follow the instructions provided.
  • File a complaint with the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection. Visit our website at http://consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-services/filing-a-complaint and follow the instructions provided. 

 


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Satellite TV Provider is Charging for Movies Never Ordered

September 12, 2013 18:58 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

My satellite TV provider charged me for movies that I did not order and refuses to give me proof showing that I did order them (which they claim to have).  What are my legal rights in this situation?

Consumer Ed Says:

Satellite TV is considered a type of cable television service.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and local cable franchising authorities (the city, county or other government organization responsible for regulating cable television services in your area) regulate certain aspects of the cable industry, including some rates and business practices.  However, for the most part, price and service decisions are determined by each cable company, and your right to dispute billing charges is set by your provider's complaint procedures as laid out in your service agreement.

Below are some suggestions for handling billing disputes with your satellite provider:

 

  • Contact your satellite provider first, by phone and in writing, and attempt to resolve the dispute following the company's complaint procedures.The customer service representatives at your satellite provider are your first and best line of defense, especially since rates for premium movie charges are not regulated by the government.
  • If you aren't satisfied with your satellite provider's response, or if it fails to respond, contact your local franchising authority.  The name of the franchising authority (which may be the Board of Commissioners in the county where you receive service) should be on the front or back of your TV bill.  If this information isn't on your bill, contact your satellite provider or your local town or city hall.
  • Your local franchising authority may have adopted the FCC's Customer Service Guidelines, which gives cable/satellite subscribers additional rights, such as the right to a response to a written complaint about billing matters within 30 days.  Or your franchising authority may have its own customer service or billing rules regulating local cable service providers, which may provide you with additional rights or procedures for handling billing disputes.  Some local franchising authorities have online complaint forms that you can use to complain about unresolved billing disputes and practices.
  • If you are still unable to reach an agreement with your satellite provider, you may consider contacting the Better Business Bureau to file a complaint.
  • At each step, keep clear and detailed notes about each development, including names, dates and contents of each person and communication in which you participate.

 

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Management may be overcharging for water bill

April 16, 2012 23:22 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I live in an apartment and have to pay my water bill to the management company.  My bill has risen by about $50 per month since a new management company took over.  I have spoken to others in the complex and their bills have gone up the same.  I believe the company is overcharging us.  How do we get someone to correct this?  With over 500 apartments in the complex, they could be pocketing thousands each month.


Consumer Ed says: 

Under Georgia law, the management company can charge tenants for water usage in the apartment complex, including the common areas, calculated by either installing meters measuring individual usage or by mathematically dividing the amount on the water bill among the tenants (also called allocation). Note that residential buildings constructed after July 1, 2012 will be required to have individual water meters. 

In your lease (or in a separate document given to you before you signed the lease), it should state how your water usage will be calculated.  If this information isn’t in the lease, or you’ve lost the paperwork stating how the water bill will be allocated, you can ask the management company for another copy of it.  If the paperwork detailing the allocation of water bills says that the billing will be determined by individual meters, you may be able to call the water company directly and figure out your individual usage. 

If there’s only one meter for the entire building complex, you can ask the management company to see the water bill for the entire complex (which will show the total amount for everyone).  Take the amount the complex’s bill shows for your individual water bill and multiply it by the total number of units in your complex. Then compare it to the total amount shown for the complex.  Georgia law says the sum of all the bills of the tenants in your apartment building cannot exceed the bill paid for the water in the complex.  However, the management company can charge an additional, “reasonable” fee for providing water and maintenance; this figure can vary by unit, simply because there may be more people in one unit as opposed to another.  Unfortunately, the law does not provide any way of calculating just how much would be considered “reasonable”.  A safe guess is that surcharges totaling at least half or more of your actual water bill may be excessive but, again, this isn’t written in stone.  If you decide to sue, it would be up to the court to decide whether the surcharges are reasonable.  We should point out that making these threshold calculations will rest on your ability to get the complex’s total water bill from management; you may or may not have the right under the lease to be shown anything except your own water bill, so if management resists showing you the entire bill, it may be difficult to force them to do so. 

Even if the management company refuses to give you the total water bill for the entire complex, you can still estimate the total usage, if you know where the water meter is located for the complex (please note that this would be an estimate, and may not reflect actual usage over a month).  To figure out the apartment’s water usage, read the meter at the same time, two days in a row.  Subtract the first day’s reading from the second day’s reading to see how much the complex uses in a day; repeat, including weekends and weekdays, then calculate the average reading.  With this rough estimate, you can see how it compares to your water bills and the allocation documents. 

Remember, generally your rights are determined by the terms in your lease and/or whatever document outlines how the water bill will be calculated.

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