Sylmar woman furloughed during pandemic struggles to cancel home security contract

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Jessica Ritz to sell her home but she ran into some problems when she tried to cancel her home security contract.
SYLMAR, Calif. (KABC) -- Ongoing financial strains caused by coronavirus restrictions are leaving a growing number of Americans unable to pay their bills, and in many cases, facing commitments they can no longer keep.

"It's hard, it's very hard," said Jessica Ritz of Sylmar who's been furloughed since March.

She is now selling the home she had worked hard to afford and downsizing into a one-bedroom apartment.

"There has been help out there, but at the end of the day you owe that money," says Ritz. "The last thing I wanted to do was end up being in debt. I don't know when I'm going to come back to work. I don't know. So, I have to be reasonable and just cut my losses."

What Ritz didn't expect was the conversation she would have when she called her home security company to request an early cancellation on the 36-month contract she had signed.

"I said, is there anything that can be done because obviously the only reason I am selling the house is because I have no job," she says. "The young lady on the phone was very nice but she did say, unfortunately, because of your contract you owe us 20 months. If you don't pay, we might send you to collections."

Attorney Mark Altschul says many Americans are in the same position as Ritz, facing contracts that weren't written to account for a pandemic and wondering what to do.

"A good number of contracts do not provide for the situations that we have presented now and the courts and the law are evolving to address that," says Altschul.

He suggests customers in Ritz's position continue to communicate and negotiate with the company they have a contract with.

Altschul says consumers should look for an early termination clause in their contracts or try to negotiate a partial payment agreement.

"You have to remember they have the expense and difficulty of going to court, and the courts are not very responsive right now. So it is always better for a business person to be flexible," he says. "It's always a good thing to negotiate because a good negotiation leaves either side a little unhappy. You go to court and one side may be significantly unhappy."

The Federal Trade Commission suggests consumers avoid signing contracts without clearly explained cancellation policies.

The commission also suggests requesting exit policies that account for unforeseen events.

Eyewitness News reached out to the security company on Ritz's behalf and she says a customer service representative called her back to offer a courtesy cancellation.

"They said, oh we are really sorry. We understand you are going through a pandemic. We are going to offer you a courtesy cancellation," says Ritz. "I was extremely happy and I said thank you so much for considering this."

A Brinks Security spokesperson told Eyewitness News the company tries to consider all of their customers and suggested customers in a similar situation reach out to explain their case.

"Brinks Home Security values our customers and we work to understand their individual needs and concerns during these unprecedented times. A big part of this means working with each customer on a case-by-case basis for the best outcome," the spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Ritz is relieved that her home security issue has been resolved, but she's also devastated to be leaving a home she loved, especially as the holidays get underway.

"I'm just hoping we can get rid of this pandemic soon enough," she says.
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