I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT FROM AVIS OR BUDGET – Part III

(cont. from part 2)

I am going to condense the rest of the story because the intricacies can be mind-boggling.

Since I could not reach him electronically I decided to contact Michael Tucker, Avis Budget’s legal counsel, by writing an actual letter. You know, the kind that involves pen, paper, envelope and a stamp. I explained my story and insisted on payment of what was now $458, including the original $297 plus court costs and my parking expenses at the courthouse. A week later, I received an email from his assistant. This was followed by a phone conversation. That was followed by contact with a paralegal, Ted Kushner, who claimed they had known nothing of my dispute.

“How can that be?” I queried, considering that the company sent a representative to the first trial.

“Why didn’t you have the court send the judgment to our headquarters?” Ted parried.

“Because a California court has no jurisdiction in New Jersey,” I replied. “All legal processes were sent to your agent for service in Sacramento. That’s why you have an agent for service.” Ted responded that he researched my claim and found my complaint(s) to be valid. He promised that Avis Budget would cut me check for the full $458.

“I’ll need to receive it before the next court date,” I warned, “or I will be back in court and you will have more problems with me.” (All quotes in this story are approximate paraphrases as no one in or out of their right mind and claim to come close to exact conversations … ever.)

A few days before the August 18 court date (yes, this had been going on for eight months!) I left messages with both Michael Tucker’s office and Ted Kushner. I warned them that the judge had issued a bench warrant and that they had better send me the check. I received no reply whatsoever.

You have probably guessed it already. Back to court I went. The defendant failed to send a representative but there was no penalty. Why? The nimrod “judge” from the previous court session never issued the bench warrant. This judge, however, said she would.

I was in a tizzy. Actually it was a Toyota. Nevertheless, I was now considering flying to Avis Budget’s Parsippany, New Jersey headquarters to try my hand at terrorism.

The next day a UPS envelope arrived. In it was a letter from Ted Kushner explaining that the issuance of the check had run into some bureaucratic complications and he is sorry for the delay. Enclosed was a check for $458. He could have called two days earlier to tell me this before I went back to court. But n-o-o-o, that would have been efficient, and from my experience I have come to believe that efficiency is not in Avis Budget’s DNA.

Perhaps Avis's clogan should be "We Try Hardly.'

The companies from whom I will never again rent a vehicle. Photo – en.wikipedia.org

Let me add one more bit of proof to that allegation. At the beginning of this story I mentioned Avis had sent me two $25 coupons when I first complained about the rental screw-up. Well, a few days before the last court appearance I decided to use the coupons to rent a full size sedan from an Avis Budget location near my home. Why the hell not? I made an online reservation and received a confirmation. And when I got to the location the next day, guess what. Yep, they had no full size cars, so I had to take an SUV. And when I returned it, there was no one at the counter. After waiting about five minutes I called out. The rental agent appeared from the next room and said, “I’ll be right with you.” I stood there another five minutes. When she reappeared, she was chewing on some food and said, “ I had to finish my lunch.” Really?

Case closed.

And that is why I will never again rent a vehicle from Avis … or Budget.

But wait! This just in. I was reviewing my monthly credit card statement this very afternoon and although the charge for the rental should have been 17 bucks., it was $33.62. I called the rental agency and the very same woman told me it was because I had only put 18 miles on the car and that when customers put on so few miles they usually (my italics) don’t replace the gas. Avis charges $13.99 for each delinquent gallon. When I told her that I returned the car with the same amount of gas as when I took the SUV, she would not budge, saying that I should have shown her the receipt and that I had only 24 hours to make a correction. This, despite the fact that I did not get my credit card statement until a month later.

I gave up on her and called my credit card issuer who promptly credited me for the $16.62 overcharge.

And THAT is while I will never, ever, ever, rent form Avis or Budget again.

 

Cleaning Your Ductwork Could Mean Getting Cleaned Out

According to Consumer Reports Money Adviser, having your home’s ductwork cleaned may clean out your heating vents … and your checking account. Unless, when you poke you head into the vent you see mold, there is no evidence that spotless ducts will make your life any easier or cleaner.

And according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

Airducts diagram (EPA)

Structural diagram of an air duct (EPA)

“Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces …  air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.”Money Adviser also warns that poorly trained workers might damage your heating system. Companies that offer free “tests” will claim to find mold and then hike the initial cleaning price quote.If you decide to have your ducts cleaned after an inspection, ask the sales rep to show you exactly what he found and to put into a written contract what process the company will use to do the job. Before you sign on the dotted line, check with your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), Yelp!, and your local consumer protection agency (it might be your state’s attorney general’s office).

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The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published in a few weeks. In preparation for the big event we need to concentrate on that project. So for the next eight weeks or so, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  a short consumer tip each week (I hope).

If you would like to learn more about our book that deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

 

 

 

Why do You Think They’re Called “Contractors”? It’s Because of that Contract.

The thought of finding a reputable contractor can strike fear even into the heart of a Green Beret. In the last edition of Inside South Valley, I discussed the ways to choose a contractor for your remodeling job. But even tougher can be negotiating the contract. Why bother nitpicking the details of a contract? You went through the trouble of finding a reputable professional, so why not trust him to do the job right? Right?

Wrong. Have you ever heard the expression, “There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip”? That means what the parties agree upon and what they remember agreeing upon can be quite different. And if there’s a dispute, you’ll need a written document. My friends Rance and Mara hired a contractor to do a second story addition on their house. The document was about two pages long, probably one-tenth of what it should have been. Their descent into contracting hell was rapid and deep.

So what goes into a contract? Everything! And I do mean everything, down to the color and brand of the paint and the appliance model numbers. Never be afraid to negotiate the fine points of the contract. Don’t let a preprinted form intimidate you. Other than for legal requirements, everything in a contract is negotiable.

Make an extensive list of everything you’ll want in the contract. While you and the contractor write the document, include any changes. It’s easier to do at this stage so you won’t have to create change orders later on. Provide for negotiating such change orders as the work progresses.

For substantial renovations, have the contractor include sketches or building plans. Mara and Rance didn’t. If the contractor doesn’t have a design department, consider hiring an architect. If you take that option, interview several architect candidates, as you would when hiring a contractor. Be sure all your needs appear in the remodeler’s contract, as some incidentals may not appear in the architect’s plan.

You can negotiate for upgrades or a price reduction before you sign. But don’t get pushy. And get a warranty – at least one year, preferably backed by a reputable warranty company – on all work and materials.

Include a completion date with daily monetary penalties for late completion.

Anytime you pay for materials or services provided by a subcontractor – plumbers or electricians for example – have the contractor give you a lien release signed by the supplier or “sub”. If you don’t, your house could be subject to mechanics liens if the contractor doesn’t pay these providers.

Include wording that describes how clean the job site will be left at the end of each day and how waste will be disposed of.

Set up the payment schedule based on phases of completion, not upon dates. In other words, when specific parts of the job are completed – say the staircase is finished – the contractor will be paid for that stage of the job (once government inspectors sign off on the work). And be sure there’s a holdback included on the final payment of at least ten percent. Final payment should take place 30 days after completion in order to ensure that all work is done properly and everyone’s been paid.

Include a provision for settling disputes, whether through arbitration or court proceedings. Arbitration means you will not be allowed to sue the contractor.

Purchasing appliances and fixtures on your own might save money or offer more options.

Include a clause entitling you to inspect and supervise the job as work progresses.

Try not to pay any sums in advance. California limits deposits to ten percent of the contract or $1,000, whichever is less. If you have to pay for materials in advance of the job start, you may want to make the checks out to the materials suppliers. Include that in the document.

Rance and Mara did very few of these things. They paid for incomplete work and eventually asked me to rescue them from an overpriced and drastically incomplete job. It cost them a lot of extra money and emotional stress – to say nothing of the additional six months – to get the job finished.

If you’re lazy about putting in your share of the work at the start, you may end up putting in a lot more effort trying to make everything right later on. Good luck.


Ellis Levinson has made a career of helping consumers with their complaints against businesses that don't meet customers' expectations. Your business might be employing money-saving strategies in the short run while alienating customers day after day.