Lawn care company investigated by province for unfair practices

Service Alberta is investigating four complaints against Dr. Green, a national lawn care company

Customer unable to cancel after promise of free trial, threatened with legal action

Dave Turner has been battling Dr.Green ever since the lawn care company phoned his home offering a free trial they never provided and then wouldn’t fulfill his cancellation request. (CBC )

Service Alberta is investigating four complaints against Dr. Green, a national lawn care company, for unfair trade practices.

All the investigations are into complaints in the Edmonton area, but consumers in other Canadian cities tell similar stories; that once Dr.Green starts work it won’t stop, and keeps charging for services that are no longer wanted, often referring accounts to a collection agency or threatening legal action.

Dave Turner said he’s been battling Dr.Green ever since the company phoned his home offering a free trial they never provided and then wouldn’t fulfill his cancellation request.

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“My wife had a weak moment and let them push her into into getting a free service,” Turner said.

He said she was told they could cancel at any time.

“I tried. It didn’t work,” Turner said.

Dr.Green’s first visit was in May, 2013.

Turner call to cancel the service as soon as he saw the first bill.

He said he’s never had any written contract, only bills and collection notices.

Company keeps coming, leaving bills, collection notices, consumers say

Turner said he told Dr. Green on the phone, in person and in writing that he doesn’t want their services, but they returned four more times, leaving more bills in the mailbox.

Turner said he’s asked Dr. Green workers to leave his property, but they came back when he wasn’t home.

“All of a sudden they’re there, bing, bang bong, they’re gone and there is a card in the mailbox,” Turner said.

“After they came there was no noticeable improvement. My wife and I both thought, ‘well, what’s the big deal here? What have they done?’”

Each visit added $55.25 to Turner’s bill.

Turner says he’s received hundreds of phone calls from Dr. Green since last fall demanding payment, along with letters threatening legal action.

In addition to three  “Final Notices”, Turner was sent a letter purporting to be from Dr. Green’s legal department, demanding immediate payment of $278.26, or their account would be referred to a collection agency, and they could face potential court judgements of ten times that amount.

“They were threatening to ruin our credit rating. It’s been quite a ride with these guys,” Turner said.

Turner refuses to pay, saying Dr. Green has ignored repeated instructions to stop coming and is simply running up the bill.

“They have to be paid before they’ll go away, and I’m not going to pay them,” he said.

Turner called Go Public because the company is in the middle of a sales and hiring drive and he wants others to know of his experience.

“It’s immoral, it’s wrong and I’m not going to stand for it,“ he said.

Service Alberta says in all four investigations the allegations are similar.

“They’re all told they can just phone Dr. Green and cancel,” said Scott Seymour, spokesman for Service Alberta.

“But afterwards they’re told they have to settle their account. That’s what they’re alleging. That’s the common denominator.”

In the past three years hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau, and on consumer websites such as HomeStars and Yelp,  tell similar stories of consumers being unable to cancel, being billed for work that wasn’t authorized, of contracts being renewed automatically, and of being hounded by collection agencies. The BBB complaints are listed as “resolved”.

Cancelling “a simple procedure” says company official

Dr Green has been around for 26 years and responds to every complaint individually, according to Patricia Sobel, Dr Green’s Vice President of Customer Service.

“With the volume of work we do, sometimes complaints do happen,” Sobel said.

“Every complaint is taken very seriously. We strive to make sure we resolve all of them.”

Sobel said Dr Green does two types of selling, over the phone and door-to-door.

The company records telemarketing calls like the one received by the Turners and a customer’s verbal agreement constitutes accepting a contract. People who are approached in person get a written contract.

Sobel says cancelling is a simple procedure and can be done be verbally, by mail or by email.

Sobel couldn’t explain why so many complaints appear similar in nature.

“To be honest, it’s a very good question,” she said.

“We obviously have quite a few homes that we service...a very high volume. I wonder if maybe these complaints may happen, maybe something gets overlooked. But (cancelling) should be a very simple procedure.”

“Of course as a good company...we do want to retain the customer. But essentially if the customer would like to cancel we would be happy to do that.”

Sobel adamantly denies the company has a strategy of hanging on to reluctant clients and generating revenue through collections.

“Absolutely not,” she said.

“Of course there’s always going to be delinquent accounts...I think that happens in every business.”

Sobel said she would personally ensure that Turner’s account was cancelled and the amount owing forgiven, and that any other Dr. Green customers who had difficulty cancelling their contract could call her personally.

“It’s very important for us to have a positive image, and especially during this very important time  we want to be doing everything we can to correct any of these complaints and resolve all of them just as we have done in the past.”

Turner is happy to hear Sobel’s promise Dr.Green will drop its money demands and threats of legal action, but remains skeptical.

“I’m not entirely buying it,” he said.

“In the years to come if complaints go way down and compliments skyrocket, then they’ve changed their policies. I’ll believe it when I see it.”