‘Weeding out’ Shady Contractors: BBB offers tips on how to hire a landscaper and avoid problems with lawn care services.

June 05, 2014

Spring is here and homeowners planning to hire landscaper should be careful to weed out shady contractors, advises the Better Business Bureau.

In the past month, the BBB has received over 1500 inquiries regarding lawn care, maintenance, and landscaping companies. Complaints about these companies generally report consumers encountering difficulty cancelling service contracts. In addition, many complaints outline that after yearly contracts are complete, the contracts are being automatically-renewed without the homeowner’s consent. Consumers have also reported harassing phone calls from businesses trying to renew lawn maintenance contracts.

The BBB offers 10 tips on how to hire a landscaper:

  1. Decide what landscaping you are looking for. Are you seeking a complete yard remodelling, a maintenance contract, or remedy of a problem?

  2. Obtain at least three detailed written estimates of the work you want. Some agreements break down costs; but for most residential work it is common to indicate a lump sum, and then detail what's included in the cost. Furthermore, if you have specific instructions on items NOT to be done, (for example, your prize rose bush is to be left alone) these instructions should be noted on the estimate or work order.

  3. Allow the landscaper to make suggestions and recommendations for your specific landscaping needs. If you see an example of the way you wish the job to look upon completion, show it to the landscaper, and question its feasibility for your yard.

  4. Ensure the landscaper checks for specific health hazards and care of all the items in question.

  5. Always obtain any expressed or implied warranty on the company's workmanship in writing.

  6. Ask for references, and follow up on them. Many companies carry a portfolio of pictures and letters from customers. Try to ensure a majority of the work is to be done at the same time, so that the age and condition of the yard are similar.

  7. Check out the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org. If the company displays a BBB logo in its marketing or advertising, it should be verifiable.

  8. Specifically request any refund or repair information. Ask questions about whether the company automatically renews the contract each year.

  9. It is a good idea to be on site when the actual landscaping takes place. Oversee the job, and keep in mind that if you become concerned that the job is not what you originally contracted for, you have the right to tell the contractors to stop the work they are doing.

  10. If a contractor provides services without your authorization and charges you for the work, you can contact the BBB to file a complaint.

When it comes to lawn care, consumer complaints usually centre on a dispute about what services were supposed to be provided.  In many cases, agreements with lawn care businesses are made over the phone, which can frequently lead to miscommunication between the business and the consumer.  Often times, consumers claim they are getting service packages they did not order or they find themselves being charged for a service that was never requested.

Here is how to avoid problems regarding lawn care service packages or unrequested services:

  1. Do not deal with lawn care businesses – or anybody else – based on an unsolicited sales call. 

  2. Ensure you receive a written estimate outlining what services you are getting, on what schedule, and at what cost.

  3. Ensure you agree with all the terms and conditions set out in the contract. If you do not agree with the listed terms and conditions, refrain from dealing with the company.

  4. Pay special attention to anything in a contract that discusses renewal or continuous service. Sometimes contracts will give a business the right to automatically renew your contract the following year, unless you cancel in writing before a specified time.

  5. If you are on the phone with a lawn care business to inquire about their services, clearly state that you are only asking for information.  Do not leave room for anybody to later argue that they believed you were ordering the services.

  6. If you receive a bill for services you did not order, notify the business in writing. Articulate that you did not authorize their work and that you want them to stop immediately. You have no obligation to pay for any goods or services you did not order.

For more consumer news and tips, visit bbb.org