Saturday, January 21, 2012

Small Business Owners And Consumers: Beware Of The "Self Renewing" Contract

Mark Twain once said that "a cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won't sit upon a cold stove lid, either." A "self renewing" contract is like the proverbial hot stove waiting to burn you when you sign up for any service contract, whether you're a consumer or a small business owner.

Definition: a contract provision that AUTOMATICALLY renews for another term unless you give notice (usually written) weeks or even months in advance. It's one of the most sneaky and one sided provisions you'll see in a standard contract, usually buried in the middle of the fine print.

Here's an example of a "pants on fire" self-renewing contract. Say you own a small restaurant or body shop. You sign a uniform rental contract with a large rental company for a two year term. Unbeknownst to you, the contract has a renewal clause for a second term of 48 months, if you do not give written notice 6 months prior to end of first term (or 18 months)! By not knowing about this little dirty bomb in your contract, or even if you're aware of it but forget to calendar it and send a timely notice of cancellation, you might be without recourse. Result: you just unwittingly "signed up" for another two year term. At a minumum, you'll have to "lawyer up" to see if the contract is enforceable (we welcome the work, of course, but the whole point of this post is to teach you how to avoid us if you can!).

Imagine having to pay for a service you no longer want for 2 more years because of this nonsense. And it is nonsense for businesses and service providers to sneak these provisions into a contract and hope you are ignorant or asleep. Unfortunately, they are becoming more prevalent, even with standard consumer or residential contracts like a home security service, for example. I would seriously consider not doing business with any group that includes such a provision in their contract or insists on enforcing it if you object to it before signing.

This kind of crap is becoming the norm. Be on the watch for it. In this current climate of these clauses, and even one sided arbitration clauses buried in form contracts," now more than ever the burden is being shifted to you, the consumer, to presume that the stove lid is hot.

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