There was currently in the news in the Boston area where an old man hired a three-man team to clear snow from the roof of his house, garage, walkways, and porches, as well as de-icing his gutters.
This apparently took about 6 hours, and they charged him $4,800. It’s not clear from the story how many men were involved; the first story just mentions the father and two sons who run the contracting business, while in the second story one of the sons says that the work involved the two sons plus five other hired workers.
After the customer handed over the money, his daughter called the police, who threatened to arrest the men unless they returned all except about $250 of the money. In the follow-up story, the guy who ran the operation defended himself, calling the procedure “aggressive sale” and denying that he scammed anyone.
I’m not quite sure how i feel about all this. On the one hand, that does seem like a lot of money to clear some snow, even if it’s a lot of snow. On the other hand, the initial story did make it sound like the customer agreed to the price up front. If you agree to a price for a job before the job is done, then should you really be protected by the police from the consequences of your own decisions?
Of course, it’s possible that the story’s implication is wrong, or that i’ve misread it. The guys who did the work appear to have something of a reputation as scam artists, and it seems much more likely that they started the work without agreeing on a price, and then hit the customer with a big bill at the end. Still, even in those cases, it strikes me as pretty silly of the customer not to agree on a price before the work is done. I think that you should do this before any type of service. I recognize that sometimes it’s not clear exactly how much work needs doing, but there should be some agreement that prevents the person doing the work from simply carrying on and then charging whatever he wants.
I’m also somewhat perplexed at the role of the cops here. They not only threatened the people who did the work with criminal charges, but apparently also dictated the price for the work - $250. But even if it was only the three guys doing the work, 3 guys for 6 hours is a total of 18 man-hours, or less than $15 per hour per man. Maybe that’s the going rate for snow shoveling on roofs, maybe it isn’t, but i’m not sure that the cops should be determining what the rate is. Also, if the claim in the second story is true, and it was a total of 7 people doing the work, then they earned only about $6 per hour per worker.
Personally, i think that if the cops felt that the workers committed fraud or some other illegal act, they should have arrested them, no matter what happened with the money. And if they had nothing to charge them with, then they shouldn’t be interfering in a private business transaction. If i were the guys who cleared the snow, and i had, in fact, told the customer beforehand how much the job would cost, i’d be tempted to tell the cops to come and arrest me.
I know, the guy was old, we have to protect the elderly from scams, etc., etc. But if we really believe that this should be a general principle, then isn’t the logical conclusion that old people (say, people over 70, or something similar) should be prevented from making contract themselves, in much the same way as children are? Society’s position on this right now seems to be, “Old people are independent and can take care of themselves, until they fall for a stupid scam. In those cases, we need to protect them from their own credulity.”
Anyway, i’m not completely wedded to my position, and i realize that this is a tough issue with many borderline cases, so i thought i’d start a thread about it.