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Client didn't pay...now what?

they have the site, I don't have the $$$...



8:32 pm on Feb 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I won't go into the whole long story, but here's the gist of it: I worked with a person to create a website on beahlf of another company that this person worked for. I did not create a signed contract (I know, I know...) and this person talked me into giving them the site before I was paid (I know, I know...). And of course this once trustworthy person has been dodging me and giving me the "checks in the mail" story for months. Since that time the site has gone up. I have also contacted the company for who the site is for, and they are ignoring me.

Do I have any other avenues to persue this? Can I contact the webhost and ask that they take the site down? Something? I may have to end up eating it and learning a lessson, but I at least don't want them using the site I made.


8:36 pm on Feb 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Do you have proof you craeted the site?

If so, put together a letter, with whatever proof you can, have a lawyer peruse it and mail it to the company and their webhost asking that the site be removed.

I wouldn't even take payment if they offer it now, just have it removed.


8:48 pm on Feb 6, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have been in a similar situation. How much do they owe you?


1:14 pm on Feb 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member henry0 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Are you in the US:
Small Claim Court (you do not need a counselor)
Gather the documents, emails, FTP logs or whatever info showing your work including your mileage log
And appointment book
Do you know that our diary book is considered as legal doc and can be subpoenaed?


1:43 pm on Feb 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Was this guy an employee or contracted?
IMO, that would be the crucial aspect in determining whether you can persue the company rather than the person.


1:54 pm on Feb 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

Still got the FTP details?

Login, take all the pages off and leave a page saying

"Site awaiting payment from client - please contact accounts for full aceess"

It's your HTML - they don't have the right to use it withyout paying. Do NOT leave the old files on the server... ovbiously...


2:18 pm on Feb 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member henry0 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

be very carefull with removing files from server
the law correct or wrong is precise
even if it seems right
a right and wrong will still spell wrong on your side
you need a court OK to remove files
your oponent will be in its full right to sue you
depending who's the richer... you know where that leads...


4:34 pm on Feb 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This might be one of those times when your payment is in the form of a lesson. It sounds like you know how to cover your bases, but just failed to do so.

I learned some valuable advice over 30 years ago from a brick mason I worked for during summers as a teen-ager. He "built in" the ability to help receive final payment into his fireplace chimney jobs. Right about the middle of the chimney stack, he'd lay in a flat piece of glass which blocked off the flue. Upon completion of the job, the homeowner could look up and down through the chimney and see a clear flue not knowing the glass was there. When the homeowner paid the brick mason, he'd get up on the roof and slide a long stick down the flue to breakout all the glass. The homeowner that would be late or "forgetful" of paying the final payment would eventually call my mason friend complaining that the fireplace does not work. He'd tell them that after final payment, he'd fix it the same day. Once paid, he'd simply broke out the glass.

Long story short, I've learned to code according to that same principle on jobs I don't have an established relationship with a client. Examples can include building the mysgl database on your server ... once paid, duplicate it on the clients server. Just make his site fully functional, yet you maintain some vital part.

A local burearcratic school district, always crying their money woes, had me make up a site once where I was concerned about payment. So I off loaded all the web email functions (web page) which allowed the community/parents/students to email teachers onto one of my domains. The entire school site ran good, looked good, they were happy with it ... but no final payment. Finally, since I still controlled the web emailing feature, I'd do a bit of automated dialoguing with anyone trying to email a school staff person. Payment came pretty quick after that. Then I simply uploaded the web email feature to their server and tied it in.



6:11 pm on Feb 7, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

> be very carefull with removing files from server the law correct or wrong is precise YOU CANNOT COUNTER ACT ON YOUR OWN

I don't know about US law, but in the UK the property (intellectual or physical) remains the property of the seller until payment is made in full. Thus in UK law, he has every right to remove the pages, as a supplier has every right to remove physical goods not paid for from a customer. May need to check your local laws though.


2:02 am on Feb 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks for your messages.

The real kicker is that the company that the web site is for is in fact a lawyer. It is unbelievable that a lawyer would act like this, but he is.

I think I'll shoot off an email to this lawyer and ask him if the person who I have dealt with is an employeeor not because my lawyer told me to ask.

I have about 25 emails that pretty much chronicle the agreement, the development process, and the repeaded promises for payment. It's a small small site - only $450. But I could use that $450 and I'm not going to let it go!


2:43 am on Feb 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

It is unbelievable that a lawyer would act like this...

From my experience with lawyers, this unfortunately sounds about par for the course...


2:29 pm on Feb 8, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is why I use my own domain as a testing server for all web clients. They don't get the site copied to their server until I get the final check.


6:30 pm on Feb 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I like the idea from Receptional...

Just to be safe, use an internet cafe, university or even some libraries will give you internet access. Remove the files.

Don't forget to wear a hat and glasses. :)


7:31 pm on Feb 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

> The real kicker is that the company that the web site is for is in fact a lawyer

I know of one firm that supplied a debt collection agency with a lot of support for a computer system and the company would simply not pay up. Eventually, one of their staff phoned them and explained that they had a really bad debt from one of their clients and asked if they could help them. They said they could. "What information do you need?" was the first question. They wanted the company name first...

The money came quite quickly after that.

You could try similar, phone and ask information regarding the cost of a lawyer to claim back your outstanding money, but don't mention the (small) amount. Explain you are ringing around to get the best quote. Keep the name of your 'client' quiet until near the end of the phone call - when you can state you may have a couple but the biggest outstanding payement is from a company called....where did I put that piece of paper...Ah, here we are...they are called...


7:03 am on Feb 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I am not surprised that they won't pay. They don't have to and they know that they can fend off any amatuer attempts to get the cash. They also know that because of the small sum you won't go the professional route.

So, turn your weakness into your strength, or his strength into a weakness, use a student lawyer. It will use up their time and cost you next to nothing. Eventually, they will probably pay just to get rid of the time wasting problem.

Then later, when they want changes made, it is cash up front in full at a high rate.

Just my humble ramblings and I am not a lawyer.

Good Luck and Keep Us Posted,


12:41 pm on Feb 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator webwork is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Your facts are a bit mussy so, as a lawyer, it's hard to comment - except to say that the "par for the course" comment by another poster is a bit juvenile. Once you get to know any number of professionals you will find that most professionals are just that: professionals, serious about their work and their reputation. What happens is that when any member of any profession "is bad" it tends to stick out since the media delights in feeding the public's apparently insatiable appetite for news about "good people gone bad". We all know how intelligent we - the public - are when it comes to consuming media. Why, we - the public - are so far down in the hole that instead of actively creating interesting lives for ourselves we choose to sit passively each evening watching "reality TV". Life as an oxymoron!

Now, as to "the facts" 1) Was your friend an employee or not at the time of "the contracting"? This might make for actual or apparent authority to bind his/her princiapl. 2) Is he/she still an employee? If so, it sounds like a sandbagging. 3) Did you ever communicate directly with "the lawyer" prior to or during the creative process? What was said and by whom? 4) Do you know "exactly" what your friend said, to whom and when? 5) At any point during the creative process or "negotiations" was specific compensation discussed, such as the hourly rate, billing procedures, fixed price for the entire process, etc? 6) Just how much of a professional are you? How many sites have you designed, for pay, for others prior to this job? If the answer is "many" then the failure to contract may may this look more like a "favor for a friend" and trying to break into a new field - websites for lawyers - than an actual contract job. If the answer is "few to none" then the inference is that there's serious grounds for doubting that this was, in fact, a work for hire under any definable terms. If you can't clearly define the terms of "the contract" - that is, if there wasn't a clear meeting of the minds - then you won't have much luck enforcing "the contract". You might have some luck under "quantum meruit" but don't ask me to explain that term. You've got a lawyer who will.

Webwork, Esq. - my other full-time job


3:45 pm on Feb 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

My dealings with this person are well chronicaled through several emails (20 or so). We agreed to payment terms and I began work. This person said a few times that they sent the chek...which became I will send the check today, and on and on. I was not aware that I was initially working with this person as a third party - I believed her to be directly employed by this lawyer. It was only after pressing the point that I discovered that she may not be an employee. I'm not sure what the truth is here.

I have a good sized portfolio, so I would call my self established, and not jsut a "dabbler". I think I'll just keep pestering them until something happens. I know I've really only got myself to blame for allowing this to happen, but I just hate being taken advantage of!

My sister-in-law is a lawyer. I'll see if she can put a scare into this dork.


7:11 pm on Feb 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Have you contacted the lawyer directly? If so, what transpired?

Does he know anything of your role in the transaction at all?

..... Shane


9:57 pm on Feb 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi Alex,

It's a shame when clients don't pay for all the hard work that you have put into a website. I'm not sure what state you are in, but in the state of Michigan, you do not need a contract in order to get paid. If you provided the services and completed them, that is proof enough for the judge to award you your money. The other thing is that you have emails from your client stating that they will send the payment.

This is what I had to do:

1) Tell my client that they had until Oct 2, 2003 to send the payment. If I do not receive it, I will contact my lawyer.

2) I contacted my lawyer - they did not pay (surprise, surprise). Lawyer charged $250. Lawyer threatened that he had until October 14, 2003 to send the money or else I would take it to small claims. My client contacted my lawyer on the 14th and stated that the payment will be sent on the first week of November. My client did not sign my contract and thought that because he didn't sign it, he didn't have to pay. My lawyer told him otherwise.

3) Never received the payment the first week of November. I filed for small claims a few weeks later. My date was 1/20.

4) Client called an hour BEFORE COURT TIME! and said he couldn't make it. He wanted me to reschedule and said that he wanted to make payment arrangements. I stated that I would not reschedule and if he wanted payment arrangements, we would have to go in front of the judge. My client said he still could not make it.

5) I showed up and client did not. I got a default judgement but was not able to collect my lawyer fees. Client has until Feb 20 to pay the full amount or he will have a bench warrant on his record and I can file a form so the court can start garnishing his wages. I highly doubt if my client will pay, so I don't mind going all the way on getting my money.

The real kicker of this story is that I gave this guy a HUGE break that I normally do not do. I quoted him a price of $1600, but since he wanted to partner up with me (he lived less than 2 miles away from here) and had 7 other projects for me, I gave him a deal of $500. I got the site done in 2 days and worked my butt off - I also put my other clients aside to get this done.

So for only $500 + court costs, I will go through any legal process on getting the money I am owed. Take away the lawyer fees and I'm getting $250 + court costs (which I think was $65). Don't think $450 is low - it's the prinicple! Contact them and tell them they have 2 weeks (specify the date and time) to get the payment to you. Tell them that you have proof through emails and that proof will be used against them in court. If they don't pay you, file a small claims. If these people do it to you - they will do it to others. It's a huge lesson learned, but it happens to the best of us and the experienced.

Good luck and let us know what happens!


7:36 pm on Feb 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks beckie -

My situation is similar - wanted to partner, had more projects coming down the line, so I gave a big break and worked hard, only to get the run around. I am prepared to take it the distance. I don't care about the money either at this point. I just don't want to be screwed with!


8:20 pm on Feb 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Beckie, you have inspired me. I have a client who has owed me $600 for almost 6 months, and I was just ready to write it off as bad debt. But you are right, it is the principle of the thing! He's getting a letter from my attorney next week!


10:08 pm on Feb 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

balinor -

I'm glad I inspired you! :) It took a lot for me to get the courage to face this guy in court... Well... if he showed up. ;)

You might want to contact your accountant about writing off the money as bad debt. I just got my taxes done and he stated that I could not write off labor.

Another thing - if you don't care about lawyer fees, go through the lawyer. They can get quite expensive (obviously).

I had all the proof in the world to get my money in court, but my client said he would only talk to my attorney. I called his bluff and had TJ contact him. My client argued with my attorney at first, then said he "didn't want to play any more games" and would pay the first week of November.

Now with the email to my lawyer that he would pay, this was even more proof that he owed me money.

He no longer has his design business website up, but I'm sure he has done this to a lot of people. He messed with the wrong person! Just be strong and go through with it ALL THE WAY. This will only make you stronger for the next idiot who thinks that they can do the same thing to you. If it was a different amount, like $100, I would still go through the whole process again. I'll post here to let you guys/gals know if he paid by 2/20 or not. It will be interesting. :)

Oh - another thing I thought of... when you take someone to court and you win, if they do not pay within that 21 days, you can have the court garnish their wages. With some states or counties, you can ask the court to have the default judgement on their credit report. Which will basically screw them for the next 7 years. Research all your options! :)


3:07 am on Feb 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Mental note...do not EVER mess with Beckie! :)


4:15 am on Feb 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think in most states you can have verbal contracts. Winning a default judgment is always ideal. If you two appear in front of the judge and show totally different understandings of the terms, he will likely say there's no meeting of the minds thus no enforcable contract. If the other party wanted to use your work, the judge will decide what your compensation will be. If he doesn't want to use it, you would probably end up with nothing but your work back.

Always go for written contracts so the terms are in black and white.


8:38 pm on Feb 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

So Beckie - the 20th has passed. What is the verdict?


9:30 pm on Feb 23, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi Alex!

The verdict is - I never received the payment! I'm going tomorrow to fill out the form to garnish his wages. I will also ask about having this on his credit report.

So what did you end up doing?


6:37 pm on Feb 24, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I had my lawyer tell them that they have until the end of this month to pay up. I'm not holding my breath!


5:12 am on Feb 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

good luck


12:48 pm on Feb 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I hate bad payers. Worked for a company who, like usual, was in deep trouble when they called in to fix their problems for Friday - it was Monday.

The first thing he did, was bargain for a better rate. He's in trouble, and he bargains...

When I came on Wednesday as agreed, and brought my invoice, his staff told me that he was in Europe and they had nothing in the petty cash.

I was very pissed off and no longer interested in doing the job. So I told his guy. I emailed the guy in Europe, as the guy suggested and told him that .

The next day, the staff guy and starts threatening me saying he will tell every body I'm unprofessional. I did the work, but didn't give him the source codes.

The week after, they called, asking for revisions. I told him there wouldn't be any, as I had not gotten paid. They asked for the source code instead. I told him to "find a solution."

Surprise, surprise, two days later, they pay half of the job. I sent the source code, hoping I had not made a mistake.

At the end of the month, I got my entire payment when the owner called me in. He started saying that I didn't trust him and that I was unprofessional and that I should have been more understanding because he was in Europe.

I told him, there were terms that weren't respected and how was I suppose to know he would be in Europe. I should have refused this entire job from day one, as I didn't feel good working for those losers.

At least I got paid.

But it's surprising the amount of people who will not pay. It makes you tougher on other customers and sound paranoid, but one has to protect one's self.

Now, I just screen potential trouble makers, as I lose more money that way, even if I get paid two months later.


1:21 pm on Feb 25, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have found that it is often difficult for clients to understand the time it takes to do something when it comes to web design. The client I mentioned above who didn't pay me, finally called me the other day (after a nice letter from my attorney). His argument for not paying was that the work completed to date "didn't look like it took that long, and I paid you what I thought was waranted". This guy knows nothing about the web, and he is telling me how long it takes to design. He also went on to explain to me that he often waited for 6 months for his clients to pay, and he saw no reason for me to send him such a 'nasty' letter. How can you argue with someone who has this as their business philosophy? It is amazing that he is still in business at all.

This all goes to show how a client's way of thinking (or lack of thinking) comes into play in a design job. For my part, I am going to try and do a better job of explaining the process to a client to get their expectactions in the right place. I am also going ot require 50% up front for EVERY job. Sad that a handshake no longer means what it used to.

This 33 message thread spans 2 pages: 33

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