Monday, February 25, 2013
Help Me Howard: Karate Contract
You sign a contract that you know you can afford. Then, you lose your job and you can't afford to pay. Can you get out of the contract? It's why one family called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Some parents worry that their kids come home from school and plop on the couch. Not the De La Torres.
Venus De La Torre: "We just want them to be active, do things other than school."
The activities: football for the boys, soccer and dance for their daughter. All three are in karate, including Marissa with a black belt.
Venus De La Torre: "Yeah, fighters and sports guys, they love to be active."
The kids have been in karate for five years and last year moved to a new studio.
Venus De La Torre: "We felt good about it."
Venus signed all three children up. It was not cheap.
Venus De La Torre: "It was $400 a month for three years. It was a three-year contract. It would have been like $14,000 over the three years."
When Venus signed up it was no problem.
Venus De La Torre: "We could afford it, with my husband working."
Then her husband got laid off and the budget tightening began. Food and a mortgage payment are a necessity. Karate lessons for three children are a luxury, so Venus called the studio to cancel.
Venus De La Torre: "I sent him an e-mail and I spoke to him also. He said I can't cancel a contract."
When Venus re read the paperwork, she discovered she had not only agreed to karate lessons for three years, she had signed a credit application with a lending company.
Venus De La Torre: "I didn't read it but I should have. I was trusting, which was kind of foolish on my part. Too trusting."
Venus was told if she moved 25 miles away, they could cancel the contract, but losing a job and the ability to pay, does not end the deal.
Venus De La Torre: "Losing your job is not a good enough reason to cancel the contract. That's basically what they said."
Well, Howard, is losing a job and being unable to pay enough to get you out of a contract?
Howard Finkelstein: "No, losing your job is not a legal excuse to get out of a contract. Whether it's a car, karate or a house, you still have to pay. But in Venus's case this contract did not have a legally required notice that says she could cancel the contract within three days and that means she may be able to get out of the contract."
I spoke to the owner of the karate studio, who said he could not let Venus out of the contract. He said he was owed $13,000, that other customers not paying now owe him nearly $100,000. He said he is owed so much he had to move to a smaller studio. When I mentioned the contract didn't include a clause that let Venus cancel up to three days after signing, he said he knew that but this attempt at cancellation is not because of that clause, it's about not being able to afford it.
He said he would try to work with Venus, to let them take a few months off or restructure the contract, but Venus said no.
Howard Finkelstein: "I said Venus may be able to get out of the contract because I have not seen any cases in Florida where a judge has ruled on a business leaving out the three-day cancellation clause. So it's a legal guess as to what a judge would do if this went to court."
Venus has learned a lesson about contracts. A lesson we all need to remember.
Venus De La Torre: "I could have been a better consumer. I wasn't. Just educate yourself and know what you are getting into before you sign."
Now Howard mentioned a three-day window to cancel. To be specific, under Florida law any contract for future consumer services, in other words, a karate studio, a dance class, a gym, must provide a clause that gives you three days to cancel, and you can do it for any reason. If you become disabled you can cancel those consumer services contracts.
If you don't have that clause, you can file a complaint with the Florida Attorney's Office. That's what Venus may do.
Come in contract with a problem that's got you locked up? Ready to watch us fight it? Contact us. Howard is no Kung Fu champion, and he doesn't look good in a white suit, but he can read a law book.
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