According to Eric Pritchard, a partner at Philadelphia-based law firm Kleinbard Bell & Brecker LLP, the most basic thing that alarm service providers need to make sure they do is retain their right to discontinue service in the contract the customer signs. Specifically, Pritchard said the text in the contract should give the company the right to terminate on short notice, such as five days, which is a realistic time frame, but not too long.
"Assuming you have that right, I think I would then make a record that you gave the subscriber opportunities to pay and they didn’t," Pritchard added. "Number one, I would have a collection-type letter that went out at some stage earlier on in the process, maybe at 30 days. I suspect that that letter would go probably go regular mail and evidence of mail, in other words having someone testify that they mailed the letter, creates a rebuttable presumption of receipt by the recipient. So, you could go into court and you could testify that you dropped that letter in the mail and it would create an evidentiary presumption of receipt by the recipient. The recipient would then have an opportunity to rebut and take the position, 'hey I didn’t receive that.' Which is really why at the next level, maybe its 45 days or maybe 60 days, you want to send them a letter that is return receipt or certified mail to get the postal service to help you make a record of giving the subscriber an opportunity to pay."
One caveat to the letter, however, is that the dealer has tell the customer that they’re going to cut their service off if payment isn’t made, according to Pritchard. "You have to say this is what’s going to happen to give them ample notice," he said.
Additionally, with regards to commercial fire alarm monitoring in some areas of the country, service providers are also required to notify Authorities Having Jurisdiction or AHJs that service is going to be discontinued.
"That can be a very effective way to get paid because once the AHJ finds out that the fire system at a commercial property isn’t being monitored, chances are the AHJ is going to shut that building down and require a 24-hour fire watch," Pritchard said.
If dealers are also calling customers in conjunction with sending letters, Pritchard said that they also need to keep a record of those calls and include information such as who the customer service representative spoke with on the phone, what time of the day it was and what was said. "You want to be able to go into court if you need to protect yourself and build a persuasive case that we gave the subscriber every opportunity to pay their bill and they chose not to," he said.