12 On Your Side: Dispute over work and yard condition

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - A Chesterfield woman says a tree service did significant damage to her yard. She's withholding payment and now the company is threatening to sue her.

The company didn't ask for any money upfront and there's nothing in writing. Oral contracts are enforceable, but a written contract ensures everyone is clear about what's expected - especially when something goes terribly wrong and there are damages.

It's more an issue of clarity than trust, should the dispute wind up in court. The tree service cut down six tall pine trees in June, and Diane Hall hasn't paid them a dime.

She's withholding $1,800 until long deep tractor tracks in front, around the side, all throughout her yard and other damages get corrected.

She showed us before pictures of a colorful, manicured lawn. She says it's now unusable and unacceptable. Even the fence was broken.

"It was actually broken and pulled back so that the tractor could fit through here," said Hall. "I had to hire somebody to come in and fix it for me. I've got two dogs. I couldn't be without the gate and the fence."

Two companies with similar names worked her yard. Hall says she called "Hernandez Tree Service" thinking she'd used them before. The first company cut down the trees, then called a second company to remove the logs "M.C. Hernandez Tree Service." She says the second company tried to tell the first that the ground was too wet for work.

"The ground is way too wet, too damp to do this right now and the first company said do it, we want to finish the job. And the second company said a second time, the ground is too wet. He just did it and watched his employee drive the tractor and sink down in the ground and didn't stop it."

Hall says the first Hernandez showed up later unannounced with a wheel barrel and truck load of dirt.

"You can't just come with dirt and put dirt in the hole and just drive away. So I told them not to do that."

I talked to the contractor's lawyer. Mary Adams said they showed up with more than dirt and wanted to fix her yard but felt threatened they would be arrested for trespassing.

Hall wants to pay someone else to restore her yard and deduct the cost from what she owes.

"It's got to be tilled. When it dries out and graded, then the soil, then the grass seed, then the straw, and by next spring I'll have a yard again."

I also talked with "M.C Hernandez Tree Service." Candido Hernandez confirmed Diane Hall's account and says the two Hernandez' are friends.

It's not criminal to hold back money for repairs, but the contractor can put a lien on your property. Despite a letter to Hall giving her 10 days to pay or be sued, Hernandez's attorney tells me, they want to make it right. They don't want an unhappy customer.

I'll let you know how this gets resolved.

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