Residential customer files bankruptcy - what to do?

Discussion in 'Business Operations' started by Roger, Sep 1, 2006.

  1. Roger

    Roger LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,949

    One of my residential mowing customers called me one day about 7 weeks ago, left a message: "I am going to have my husband do the mowing, please don't come to my home any longer." She went on to say that "since he is around the house, he can do it."

    This lady has been a customer for about five years, and alway paid pretty well. This season was no different for the April invoice. I did notice her husband around the house sometimes when there to mow, unlike past years. We exchanged pleasantries a time or two, but nothing much.

    After several letters with overdue Statements, each letter worded more strongly than the last, I finally got a response from the husband. Heretofore, all business communication had been with his wife. He explained they were in "extreme financail crisis" and went on to say they are filing for bankruptcy. Further, he said they didn't have the money to pay (about $500) now. He had lost his employment (reason why he was "around the house"), and his wife also lost a newly found job. In the past, she was not working outside the home.

    He explained I was not included in the list of creditors because "we want to be sure that you get all the money your are owed, ... blah, blah, ... you have taken such great care of our property, ... blah, blah ...." He said that if we were on the list we probably would not get all our money.

    His plan was to pay me something each month, starting in September, until it is all paid. He said he would not give me any timetable, nor how much they could pay, but that was their plan.

    I have never had this happen, nor have I known anybody closely who has filed for bankruptcy. I expect they are filing Chapter 13, reorganization of finances, not Chapter 7, liquidation.

    However, I now believe his plan is a ploy to eliminate any chance of me getting any money. I have talked to a couple of CPAs and another person in the world of finance (none of them bankruptcy attorneys - looking at finding one to speak with), and all believe that I am a target of falsehoods. The understanding is that all debts MUST be listed, and a court appointed trustee will oversee ALL expenditures. The man's "pay you on the side, outside the bankruptcy proceedings" does not seem possible. The trustee will not permit him to pay me, while others on the creditor list have first dibs on any money. He will always have an excuse not to pay, "... the trustee says there are other creditors to be paid this month."

    Has anybody had a similar experience? Am I wrong to be skeptical of his plan? Am I better to be on the creditor list, and if so, where can I learn about the bankruptcy filing?

    I suspect my outstanding balance is a small amount compared to other outstanding debts. But, if there is any chance of getting the money, I want to do so. However, for the amount involved, I cannot afford much attorney time to help the wandering through the process.


    P.S. It is entirely possible the whole story of the bankruptcy is a ploy itself. How do I learn of the public record of their filing? They may just have made up the story, with the intent of opting out of paying me anything. I am cynical because the "husband will do the mowing" was a falsehood. I have seen a neighborhood teenager mowing their lawn, albeit much less often than I was mowing. The man did say "... we stopped your services because we didn't want to run up your bill any more ... we hired somebody else." So, he was truthful in that part, unlike his wife.
  2. firefightergw

    firefightergw LawnSite Gold Member
    from Texas
    Messages: 3,340

    Go down to the county courthouse and file a lien on his property. I assume you have a contract that they signed when you began service. If they are truly in such financial ruin, they may be forced to sell the house just to make ends meet. You will get paid when they do. Of course, I am not an attorney but this is how I understand it. Good Luck!
  3. MMLawn

    MMLawn LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,569

    If he has filed Bankruptcy you CANNOT do that, as it is illegal because he now has a Court Issue Stay that prevents any debt collection efforts, judgements or liens.

    As to the question, yes it would be illegal for him to pay you outside of his bankruptcy plan. If he does and the court fines out they can seize any money he gave you and give it to his listed creditors. Basically you're screwed now and out the $500
  4. olderthandirt

    olderthandirt LawnSite Platinum Member
    from here
    Messages: 4,899

    You are correct about everything you posted [as usual] But if I was the lawn boy on this I'd make damn sure that if they were liquidating or even refinancing it would not be with a lush green lawn :drinkup: :drinkup: maybe screwed out of $500 but the look of the lawn? priceless :laugh:
  5. 6'7 330

    6'7 330 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,821

    When a chain of electronic's stores filed bankruptcy, ouch! Landscapers were way down on the list of creditors .
  6. Brianslawn

    Brianslawn LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,002

    you are so fu@%in screwed. never do any work that you were not paid for in advance.
  7. General Landscaping

    General Landscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 801

    Is it too late to get on his creditor list?

    If you think all is lost; test his "good guy" story and offer to trade him out of some assets..... couch, guns, mountain bikes, shop tools, etc. I'm sure he didn't get into that position by just buying the bare essentials.
  8. hoyboy

    hoyboy LawnSite Senior Member
    from Chicago
    Messages: 346

    It won't be too late to get on the creditor's list, but for $500 it probably isn't worth the hassle. Even if you do get on the list, by the time the lawyers get their share, the secured parties get their share, and the rest is divied much left. Usually, you're talking pennies on the dollar.

    In this case, you may actually be better off taking their offer to try to get something on the side. If they give you anything at all, it's probably more than you will get in BK proceedings.
  9. Lumberjack

    Lumberjack LawnSite Member
    Messages: 180

    If your not on the list then the customer is not protected by the courts from you. proceed with collections.....

    Some of this depends on the type of bankruptcy filed. theres a chapter 7 and a chapter 13.
  10. BBN

    BBN LawnSite Member
    Messages: 133

    Contact his attorney. Find out if you are listed amongst his debts he's trying to wipe out and if you are handle it through his attorney. Also if you are listed in the bankruptcy you can show up at the courthouse on his day in court and contest it but you really need to talk to an attorney and find out if he's trying to rid your debt.

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