Fine for bullying tree loppers

Information status

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A tree lopping and garden maintenance business, which used bullying tactics against consumers, has been fined by the Perth Magistrates Court after being prosecuted by Consumer Protection.

Tracey Gordon is the registered owner and Sean Robert Weinthal is an employee of Manageable Tree Services in Wanneroo, and were previously involved with Metropolitan Tree Services (deregistered) that was named by Consumer Protection in the past.

Mr Weinthal was charged with using coercion in connection with the payment for services by a consumer in Churchlands and Ms Gordon was charged as his employer. They were fined $1,500 and ordered to pay court costs of $1,742 each on 11 February 2013.  A second set of charges involving another consumer in Salter Point was dismissed.

The court was told that Metropolitan Tree Services had been engaged by a Churchlands couple to cut down a tree, take away the cuttings and grind down the stump in August 2011. The tree was cut down but the tree loppers left the cuttings and failed to grind the stump. The consumers refused to pay the full amount of $520 because they had engaged another contractor to finish the work.

In March 2012 the couple received an invoice for the same amount from Manageable Tree Services, a business which was registered by Ms Gordon in February 2010. Metropolitan Tree Services was deregistered in December 2011. The invoice came with a written threat to dump garden waste on their property if the consumers did not pay.  The threat was repeated verbally in a subsequent telephone conversation.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said it was unacceptable for tree loppers to use bullying and threatening behaviour to resolve payment disputes.

“Under the Australian Consumer Law, it is an offence to use coercion to force payment from consumers and traders must find better ways to deal with customer dissatisfaction,” Ms Driscoll said.

“It’s important for consumers and traders to have a clear understanding of exactly what work is to be carried out and at what cost. Consumers should ask for a written detailed quote but, more importantly, the business should provide this detail as a minimum requirement.

“In the past, Consumer Protection has received multiple complaints against these two tree lopping businesses and we have met with the business to set up a process where any complaint against the business in the future can be resolved more amicably and professionally.”

Consumer Protection recommends that, when engaging the services of tree loppers or garden maintenance businesses, consumers should:

  • obtain at least two written quotes for the work;
  • pay only a small deposit and ask for receipts for any money paid;
  • check the reputation and qualifications of the business operators – ask for references, inspect previous work carried out and perhaps do an internet search to see if positive or negative comments arise;
  • ensure there is a clear understanding about what the quote includes e.g. stump grinding to below ground level;
  • make sure who is responsible for the removal of any green waste and any requirements and timing of any planned pickups by local councils; and
  • ask to see their insurance policy and ensure that any damage caused by their work will be covered.

For more information and advice, consumers can contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or by email: consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au .

Background

Ms Gordon is currently the owner of Manageable Tree Services and Mr Weinthal is an employee. Mr Weinthal was the owner of previously registered businesses, Metropolitan Tree Services and Palm and Tree Professionals, which were publicly named by the department in 2006 and 2007. Ms Gordon was part owner of Metropolitan Tree Services.

Warnings issued at the time can be found at:
www.commerce.wa.gov.au/announcements/tree-lopper-menace-consumers-sean-robert-weinthal-metropolitan-tree-services-and and
www.commerce.wa.gov.au/announcements/green-waste-tree-lopper-menace-strikes-again-sean-robert-weinthal-palm-and-tree

Media Contact:
Alan Hynd  9282 0961 or 0429-078791  alan.hynd@commerce.wa.gov.au

 

Consumer Protection
Media release
14 Feb 2013

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