We all have such clauses in our contracts. Like most reputable dealers, I allow my customer to cancel at anytime after the end of the contract with a 30 day written notice.
So if the customer has a 3 year contract, at the end of the contract it is then considered on a month to month basis, but we use the Evergreen Clause to keep from having the customer sign a new contract year after year.
And if the equipment was a lease purchase, the customers rate would in fact go down not up. This is something large companies cannot afford to do. They figure that once you are accustom to paying them their kings ransom, you should continue to do so forever, and in fact hit you with increase after increase, for equipment it has been long since paid for. I can't tell you how many customers that had Rollins System 6 systems they paid a fortune to install, and paying $40+ a month for monitoring and a very limited service contract, if any.
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Read the passages below. It describes how to beat companies like Brinks at their own game.
Angry Man From Gauteng
Ed Foster's Radio Weblog
Friday, March 18, 2005
An Evergreen Brink's Heist
How far can a vendor go in enforcing unfair contract terms? I don't know, but it appears that at least one company, Brink's Home Security, thinks it can use the "evergreen clause" in its contract to financially punish any customer who threatens to go to a competitor.
A Florida resident whom I will dub Mrs. House has been a customer of Brink's home monitoring service for over eight years. "I think I had called them four or five times total over the years, mainly just to check the system," Mrs. House says about the service, for which she paid $30 a month. "But the last time I called it was because we were having a lot of false alarms." She was informed the alarm system wiring for some of her window screens had gone bad and would require some expensive re-wiring not covered by her "Platinum Service" maintenance plan.
As she and her husband had been planning on re-modeling their home anyway, they ultimately decided to cancel the service. "When I called to cancel, that's when I found out about Brink's 'evergreen clause,'" Mrs. House says. The contract she had signed eight years ago was, as she knew, a three-year commitment that she had long since fulfilled. What she had not realized was that the contract also said that:
"Thereafter, this agreement will automatically continue for successive one year renewal terms unless you or Brinks give written notice of cancellation to the other at least 60 days before the initial or renewal term ends."
Since Mrs. House was just a few months into her ninth year of service when she cancelled, Brink's was therefore claiming she owed them for another nine months of service. "Right after I called, the local dealer came and collected all their equipment, so we could no longer use the system even if we wanted to," she says. "Then almost immediately I received a cancellation notice with an invoice for $269.05 and a remittance form and envelope."
Mrs. House found it hard to believe that Brinks could or would charge a consumer for nine months of service that weren't going to be used, and she started searching for help. Although home security systems are hardly one of my regular topics, I have been known to write about evergreen clauses on occasion. So she eventually found the GripeLog and messaged me about her predicament. While it certainly seemed very wrong for her to have to pay Brink's invoice, I certainly couldn't advise her about what she could do about any legal or collections actions Brink's might take if she didn't pay up. But if nothing else, I felt I could at least confirm with Brinks what their enforcement policy is in regards to their evergreen clause.
Brink's answer surprised me. "The annual renewal and 60-day notice is on the front page of the agreement, and we regard it as a valid part of the contract," a Brink's spokesman told me after checking the details of their policy. "But we are reasonable about this stuff, and in a situation like you describe, the customer should have a dialogue with our customer affairs staff and I'm sure they can work something out. Maybe we'll split the difference -- we don't want someone who has been a good customer for eight years to go away mad." What really surprised me though was the one area where he said they do strictly enforce the evergreen clause. "If she were going to a competitor, that's where the provision kicks in."
Why should it make a difference whether the customer was going to a competitor or not? It so happened that Mrs. House didn't install a rival system, because of her re-modeling, but how fair is it for any company to have that kind of a weapon to hold to a customer's head? If you don't like our service anymore, fine, but it will cost you extra to take your business elsewhere.
With Brink's it would also appear that even threatening to go to the competition is enough to invoke the full retribution of their evergreen clause. When Mrs. House called the number for customer affairs that I'd passed on from the Brink's spokesman, she was essentially told that a contract is a contract. "He just started reading me the clause from the contract I had signed," says Mrs. House, who then learned that her account file contained a note saying she had told her local Brink's dealer she was going to the competition. "I explained I was angry at the time about them trying to corner me into re-wiring the screens at an outrageous price. The customer affairs person said that he was sorry, but there was nothing he could do."
After I made a few more calls to the Brink's spokesman, the customer affairs folks got a little more reasonable. (I never actually identified her to Brink's, but by this time I think they had figured out which of their evergreen victims she was.) Early this week, she notified me she has received a new invoice from Brink's Home Security saying she owes nothing. But what if Mrs. House hadn't managed to find a journalist who believes evergreen clauses -- which, by the way, in at least some states are by law not enforceable in consumer contracts -- should be illegal everywhere?
There are those who will point out that Mrs. House did in fact sign a contract, so she should have known what it said. But even if you know the evergreen clause is there, what do you do if the day you decide you are no longer happy with the service happens to be 59 days before the next annual renewal kicks in? Must you pay for 14 months of service you don't use just because of bad timing? With Brink's at least, I guess what you do is not admit it if you're thinking about installing another company's system. But better yet, if you know that the evergreen clause is there, don't do business with that company in the first place.
Read and post comments about this story here.9:42:34 AM © Copyright 2005 Ed Foster.