General Question

funkdaddy's avatar

Rental account closed two years ago (and paid in full) just sent me a bill. What are my options or obligations?

Asked by funkdaddy (17765points) January 26th, 2011

My wife and I rented a washer and dryer while in an apartment. When we moved out in early 2009 we paid the balance in full, gave them a forwarding address and they picked up the equipment. We had a check ready for the driver for whatever he said the balance on the account was.

January 1st of this year, just after midnight, I receive an email that said I owed $70 on the account, even though it was closed. I figured it was a mistake probably due to a glitch in their accounting/invoicing software and flipping to the new year.

Two weeks later I received a reminder that I was now late with my payment for $70. I contacted their customer service by email, said I thought there had been a mistake and asked that they clear it up if possible.

4 days later I receive an email from a customer service rep saying the balance was indeed due and attaching an invoice showing the original amount of $70 wasn’t correct, but I did owe $45 for a pickup fee, some small portion of a monthly charge (which was only $32/mo in full) and various other taxes and fees. They said an audit of closed accounts revealed the balance but they had never invoiced me for it. She said they did expect payment for this updated amount.

The invoice has my current phone number, address, and email on it, so they have several ways of getting in touch but the email on the first of the year was their first attempt. None of the amounts add up with the amounts of our monthly bills, even figuring in the pickup fee and the inconsistent amounts don’t make me confident that this new amount owed ($45) is any more legit than the old amount ($70).

I don’t mind paying my bills, and realize the amount isn’t a life changing sum, but the whole thing seems to be a string of errors on their end that has ended up with me somehow owing money. I’d look through my records to prove payment, but I don’t even know what to look for, apparently I was never made aware that this was due.

Can any company I’ve done business with just pop up after I’ve closed my account and ask for additional payment years after we did business? Doesn’t it seem like there should be a time limit on this sort of thing?

Dearest jellies, what are my options to handle this in a civil way? I feel like a letter is most appropriate but I’m not entirely sure what to include. Should I state I won’t be paying the bill? Is there an obligation on their end to notify me of the amount due in a timely manner?

What would you do?

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14 Answers

Austinlad's avatar

I suspect other jellies will disagree, but given the small amount they say you owe and the hassle that’s bound to follow if you pursue trying to correct what may or may not be an error, I’d just pay it and get a letter confirming final payment. To answer your specific question, I do think a company can bill you after the account is closed if they believe, correctly or incorrectly, that you still owe them money.

marinelife's avatar

I agree with Austinlad. They have the ability to screw up your credit rating. I think the easiest thing to do is just pay it.

You could contact them in writing asking for a copy of the contract that shows that you will be charged a pick-up fee, and asking why the amount was not provided in the final bill amount that you paid.

funkdaddy's avatar

Thanks to you both, I may do just that, it just feels wrong.

Things keeping me from just paying it…

— It’s an automated system, they sent out dozens or hundreds of these to others, how many just pay?
— They waited until the 1st of the year to get this on this year’s finances, I don’t know why, but it appears they knew about it before then and delayed, I doubt the eureka moment was New Year’s Eve.
— If I’d paid off and sold my car, then two years later the auto company said I had two more payments due because of an accounting error. Would I just pay those? They’d have to show me something more substantial than an invoice.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I would pay it but I would spend one hour telling everyone I know the name of the company and would write it in as many places as possible in bold font with the word “problem” within 3 words of the company name. That way if anyone googles it in the future they would be forewarned.
During my one hour I would also make an entry in Yelp, Yahoo Business and Google Business and any other site with a rating service. Just stick to the facts and express no opinions. Keep the documentation as your proof.

Remember, you are not doing it for yourself. You are doing it to help the next person.
I would make that $70 be the most expensive payment they ever received.

lillycoyote's avatar

If you want to dispute it, and if you do that will at least give you some time, I believe you can and have to dispute it under the provisions of the Fair Credit Billing Act and if you do that does require you send a real, snail mail letter to the company for the provisions governing what they can and cannot do to kick in.

Here’s a summary of the steps you need to take to dispute a bill.

And this is a sample billing dispute letter from Findlaw.com. and you can find some more sample dispute letters here

There you go @Austinlad, Billing Dispute in a Box. The ultimate billing dispute kit. :-)

snowberry's avatar

Don’t forget to put a notice in Ripoffreport.com. They keep accounting of every problem that anyone has ever had with any company. The company has a chance to rebut or document what they have done to resolve the problem too. I really like it and I think it’s much better than the Better Business Bureau, because you get to see how companies resolve problems.

jca's avatar

I would write to the company President, and put in all the details that you told us. Moved, provided forwarding address, had check ready for driver when he came, got email two years later with $70 amount owed, etc. I hope you have that email still so you can attach a copy of it. (this is also a lesson learned about keeping a file cabinet with copies of such documents like the rental agreement so you could attach that too, if you had it handy). I would tell the president I would like more proof of what you owe, since you thought you paid it in full two years ago, and I would state that the company seems unsure of exactly what you owe. I would ask him to look into this on your behalf.

If he writes you (or has someone write you) and provides proof that you owe what they say you owe, I would pay it. I would not just pay it easily, without making them do a little work on their part. If I were you I would also contact the agencies that other Jellies have provided and inform them that this company is fishy, and why.

I have a file with many letters I have written and I found that writing to the President of the company instead of just a customer service rep steps it up a notch, gets things looked at more thoroughly and accurately and will be more likely to result in satisfaction for the customer.

lillycoyote's avatar

Why is everyone so quick to think that is is a ripoff, that it’s fishy or is somehow underhanded? Businesses make mistakes too and they are allowed to correct their mistakes as long as they do so within the restraints of the law. Consumers are allowed to dispute bills if they believe and error has been made. Businesses like to, try to and have to balance their books. They do regular audits to make sure that they aren’t owed money and also, to make sure that they don’t owe anyone money and if they do they issue a refund.

It’s not entirely one sided. After my dad died I payed one of his outstanding medical bills twice by mistake. It was only for about 11.00$. I never knew that I had until I got a refund check from the company. I forgot to cash that and about a year later I got a call from them about the check because they wanted to issue another one and make sure they had the right address. They do this because if they can’t find someone that they owe a refund to they are required by law to turn the money over to the states unclaimed property fund. They don’t simply get to keep the money.

@jca are those letters to the presidents about billing errors or other customer service issues? It’s just that there are procedures for disputing a billing error and if you don’t follow them it could result in late fees and negative information on your credit report.

john65pennington's avatar

If you know that you paid any outstanding balances, before you moved and can prove it, I would not worry about it. Make them prove how you owe the money, by submitting you an itemized statement of all your charges and payment.

My water utility decided that they were going to charge its customers for three months in advance. Our advance money was drawing interest for 60 days. When the third bill came around, it showed a credit of a few pennies. I got wise to that game and filed a complaint. The end results was that I was correct and they were wrong. The utility had to pay back the interest it had gained, by this devious method.

Point here is this: if you know you are correct, without a shadow of a doubt, fight this outstanding balance. If they are doing it to you, they are doing it to others. These places are hurting for money right now and they will take any opportunity to keep their bottomline in the black.

jca's avatar

@lillycoyote: my letters were due to billing issues and also customer service issues. You said if he didn’t follow the procedures it could result in late fees. Well he did follow the procedures and they are billing him late fees, so…..

The reason I feel it is fishy (I am not the only one who responded with suspicion and doubt but i can’t speak for all the rest, just for my own suspicion) is that it took two years which is an abnormally long amount of time. Usually companies balance their books quarterly and then annually. Two years seems to me kind of strange (like if there were an error, it would not be caught at the quarter audit and at the annual audit?.

The other reason is that the renter paid the driver when he returned the machines. It would be to a company’s advantage to be pretty accurate with that final bill, as I’m sure many renters don’t provide adequate contact info or forwarding addresses, and will be gone forever. Therefore, the company probably would want to make sure they close out the account pretty efficiently.

A third reason why i think it is suspicious (and possibly incorrect) is that they emailed the renter with an incorrect amount. When he questioned it, they came back and said that was incorrect, here’s another amount that you owe.

In my opinion it is worth questioning, and I would do that questioning to someone higher up. I think if they can provide him with a copy of his original contract (since he does not seem to have one handy) showing the fees that can be incurred that would be great. If i were him I would still want to hear from someone higher up. It can’t hurt to try.

lillycoyote's avatar

@jca Of course it’s worth questioning. In my first comment I posted information on how to dispute the bill. And, yes many people have suspected “fishiness” that’s why I said “Why is everyone so quick to think that is is a ripoff…” only the last part of the comment was directed at you. I guess my real problem is with the suggestion (s) that @Austinlad simply pay the bill and then complain and possibly defame the company on the internet without disputing the bill and allowing the company to prove that he does indeed owe the money and try to resolve the matter. Dispute the bill, and people, including you and I have made suggestions on how to go about that, make them prove that he owes the money, give them a chance to resolve the matter and if they don’t then complain about about a ripoff. Don’t roll over and pay a debt that you don’t think you owe and then complain that you got ripped off. It’s not reasonable and it’s not right.

blueiiznh's avatar

If its just an email notice, this does not server as legal notification. You have a right to contact the company and ask for a mailed paper bill so you can reconcile it.
You can also put collections on hold if you deispute, but it all has to be done in written paper format.

lillycoyote's avatar

OOPs! In my last comment that should have been “that @funkdaddy simply pay the bill…” Sorry @Austinlad, a little slip of the mouse there and it’s too late to edit.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Are you positive it’s not a scam? It would be easy to hack acquire closed account data, and send out bills for small amounts/fees, and collect money.

Contact the rental office that you worked with, not their collection agency, and the Better Business Bureau before you pay anything. A coworker’s son is doing time for something similar to this.

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