Vendor performed work I didn't authorize, what to do?

8 Replies

TL;DR is at the end of this post.

My tenant was having issues with the AC.  I told him to contact an HVAC company I had researched on a prior occasion.  I had previously scheduled for this same company to check on an AC at a different property, but the tenant never scheduled it.  This company had my contact info.  The exact wording in my email to my tenant:

"If you're unable to get it down to a more comfortable temp, I'll be happy to have someone come out to take a look at it, in which case I'd ask that you please try contacting [HVAC repair person] from [name of HVAC company]: [phone #]."

Tenant replied: "[HVAC repair person] is going to come out and take a look today so I'll keep you posted and have him give you a call if he expects to do anything that might cost more."

Next thing I know I get a call from the repair person saying he's got the AC system running cool again.  Said the main cause of the issue was a clogged up air filter (I know, my bad for not reminding my tenant about the importance of regularly changing filters (it's written in the lease that he must replace them every 3 months and that I'm not responsible for bills resulting in replacing filters)).  Coils were frozen so he had to defrost the coils.  That's understandable.  Then he said he took the liberty of also doing some "preventative maintenance"  Uh oh.  He said he would email me the bill.  So here's the bill:

1 Service call (July Special) 1.00 $100.00 $30.00
No Tax $70.00
2 Labor (defrost and clean condenser coil) 2.00 $100.00 $20.00
No Tax $180.00
3 Co2 Coil Cleaning 1.00 $25.00 $1.25
4 R-410a Refrigerant 2.00 $65.00 $0.00 $7.80
Subtotal (without tax) $403.75
Taxes $9.23
Grand Total ($) $412.98

As an aside, the fact that vendor added refrigerant is a red flag to me, as it's my understanding that cooling systems generally don't lose refrigerant unless there's a leak, in which case the leak needs to be addressed.

TL;DR: AC not cooling. I told tenant to contact vendor. Tenant said ok, said he'd have the vendor give me a call if he expects to do anything that "costs more." I don't hear anything until the vendor is done with the job, at which point the vendor calls me to say that the air filter was clogged, that the coils had been frozen over and so he defrosted them, and that he did some "preventative maintenance." He then sends me a bill for $412.98.

How do you all advise I handle this? Let him know that I didn't authorize the work and so offer to just pay him his service call fee? And if anyone knows anything about AC systems, do you think it's appropriate to charge $180 to defrost the condenser coil?

This isn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting.  No one cares about your money more than you especially a tenant.  When I have repair people come over I am the one doing all the scheduling and they are told specifically not to discuss any issues or costs with the tenant, most good ones bring this up first before I get to.  Get prices and scope of work up front so there are no surprises.  That said if you needed refrigerant you did and him adding it saved a service call down the road.  I’m glad you didn’t end up with a new ac like I was expecting.

Hey Chad, really confused here as I don't see anything in your "exact emails" that talk about price or a price limit.  The tenant says "cost more" but cost more than what?  There is no discussion of dollar limit.  Or are you trying to say that because you told the tenant "take a look at it" that that was supposed to be code the tenant would understand to mean give you a call with an estimate before any work was done?

As you, in my opinion pushed your responsibility onto the tenant to contact the HVAC company and there is no indication you spoke with the HVAC company prior I think any misunderstanding is on you.  

You should have called the HVAC company and told them your expectations upfront and then given them the name/number to contact the tenant.   You put your tenant in charge and from what you have told us made zero communication regarding price, limits, approvals etc.  

Also, are you upset they did work or they didn't do enough work?  They got it working but your not happy they didn't find/fix a leak too?  What exactly would you have done different if the company called you?  Asked them to spend more time looking for a leak (if there is one?))

You can always get them back out to do more work, look for a leak etc but form what I see your process is backwards and you didn't clearly communicate with either party what the rules were.  Learn from this and create a better and more clear process for everyone, including yourself to follow.  

It's your fault.

1. If you know the filter needs to be changed regularly, that should be a tenant maintenance responsibility just like changing a light bulb. Provide them a year's worth of filters when they move in, written instructions, and a notice that they are responsible for repairs if their failure to maintain results in a problem.

2. When the tenant calls for a maintenance request, it's always best practice to have a list of trouble-shooting steps. Educate yourself on how to identify/fix the most common problems for your main systems and then walk your tenant through it. Five minutes on the phone would have saved you $400.

3. Contact the vendor yourself. Make sure they understand what they are authorized to do and that any additional work must be reported back to you.

4. Notify your tenant that they will be responsible for all maintenance bills if you discover their failure to maintain was the cause of the maintenance issue.

As it as partly the tenants fault for not changing the filter, I'd get them to pay for part of it.  I'd also talk to the person and find out who authorized the preventative maintenance.  At the end of the day $400 isn't as bad as I expected.  Like others I was expecting that they replaced the entire unit.

Your lease clearly states they need to replace the filters every 3 months, you shouldn't have to remind them but given this happened, I'd also check the furnace filters and anything else (batteries in smoke alarm).

That price for all that is not bad at all. With inflation these days and cost of contractors it takes a few hundreds to get them to do anything these days. In regards to Hvac, I would replace the whole setup if your unit is over 15-20 years old. I gone the routine of fixing an older system and it would routinely have issues every couple years that added up to $500 each time a guy came out. A whole system lennox 5 ton with new everything i found in socal for $6k out the door so its worth spending if your system is super old.

@Chad Green my experience in these situations is just to pay the bill. The highest ROI I get on my time is searching for more deals. Arguing with vendors is on the opposite end of that spectrum.

Thank you to all who replied.  I've definitely learned three valuable lessons: 

1) the importance of making sure the tenants change filters regularly (and understand the consequences if they don't); 

2) the importance of talking directly with the vendor prior to any visits, and specifically re: discussing pricing and preauthorization / do not exceed limits, etc.; 

3) and that I shouldn't waste my time and energy on worrying about an "issue" as small as this (that is to say, worrying and spending time after the fact, after the work has been done).

@Chad Green   I would call the company to see why they added refrigerant. Not because of the cost of the bill but that tells me the cause wasn't just a filter if you need more refrigerant.