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SEAN P. MURPHY | THE FINE PRINT

Ruined lawn leads to a fight over how to fix it

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Len Evans of Burlington had the nicest lawn in the neighborhood until they hired Lawn Dawgs to fertilize it and kill weeds.

By Globe Staff 

Len Evans has lived almost 60 years in a 1950s-style ranch house surrounded by a thick green lawn atop a hill in Burlington. He’s a man obsessed with grass, having spent a lifetime puttering around his yard and garden.

But today, there’s an ugly patch of dirt and weeds out front and a dispirited man inside.

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Evans blames the mess on Lawn Dawg, the lawn service that began treating his grass with fertilizer and weed killer last year. The company says it’s not at fault, pointing to a description of the lawn as having “bare spots, compacted soil, rocky soil” and weeds when technicians first arrived.

Lots of lawns got badly bruised during last summer’s extreme heat and drought. I don’t know how much Lawn Dawg is to blame for the Evans disaster area, if at all.

But even giving Lawn Dawg the benefit of the doubt, I think Evans may have a legitimate complaint about the way he was treated.

What really galls him (besides what he says were tardy replies to his calls and e-mails) was the company’s failure to follow through on fixing the problem by paying a landscaper several thousand dollars to lay down new sod, as advised by the local landscaper. Instead, the company favored the less expensive option of spreading new seed over the ground, even though the landscaper had said that would be ineffective.

The landscaper told Evans what he recommended to Lawn Dawg. And when the landscaper never heard back from Lawn Dawg, Evans said he felt he was left hanging.

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Evans, 85, is preparing to have a hip replaced. His wife, Claire, 82, had heart valves replaced last year. The Evanses grew up during the Depression. He served in the military and then worked for decades at Raytheon. Together, they raised six kids in a 1,300-square-foot house with no basement or second floor (“Bunk beds,” Len explained) and one-and-a-half bathrooms.

“You propose seeding bare ground,” Len Evans wrote back to the offer of seeding the lawn. But, he continued, “The soil should be prepared by turning it over before seeding.”

“After all our discussions and e-mails reviewing my lawn problem, you know full well what has to do done to correct my lawn,” he wrote. “It’s insulting.”

No company delivers everything it promises to every customer every time. Lawn Dawg has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. The company has grown to serve five states in 20 years. It prides itself on courteous service. It says it retains almost 85 percent of its customers. While careful not to point fingers, the company can find no fault in its performance at the Evanses’ home.

“We do our very best to make everyone happy within our means,” the company said in a statement to me. “Rather than point fingers or blame, Lawn Dawg educates, then resolves.”

Lawn Dawg described its efforts to satisfy Evans, including partial refunds and extra trips to his yard at no charge. It said it goes “above and beyond” for customers, but also noted, in an apparent reference at Evans, that “it is situations like this that will ultimately ruin good faith acts for those who have partnered with us.”

Hiring contractors to work on your home or yard is often stressful. I recently hired one to install a vinyl fence around my yard. It did not go smoothly. In April, I followed the time-consuming but time-honored rule of getting at least three bids. I selected my contractor and wrote a check for a couple grand (the other half payable upon completion). We targeted the last week of May.

The work began and then stalled. Sound familiar, anyone? My yard looked like a construction site — because it was one. I heard excuses about rain. I listened in frustration to a recording saying my contractor’s voice mailbox was full and could not accept new messages. On July 5, I wrote an e-mail entitled, “Fence must be completed immediately.”

When the contractor resurfaced last week, I held my tongue. My goal was to get the best possible installation. I was attentive to details but figured that carping would be counterproductive. He did a beautiful job, working in sporadic downpours and until dusk.

Should I have docked him a couple hundred bucks for unreasonable delay? I thought I could justify it. But the rancor I felt melted as I peered out the window at my lovely new fence.

My point to contractors is that we want what we paid for, without any unnecessary bull fertilizer. These are our homes and yards you come into — sacred ground.

Here are a few suggestions when dealing with contractors:

 There’s a camera in your pocket. Use it. Nothing tells a story better than before and after photos. On my iPhone, the pictures are dated down to the minute. If your contractor does more harm than good, prove it. (The Evanses have a picture of their lawn in full splendor in the summer of 2015. A photo taken just before Lawn Dawg commerced work a year later would have been better.)

 You don’t need a lawyer to write a contract. It should say what you will do (schedule of payments) and what the contractor will do (“install 70 feet of 6-foot-high vinyl fence . . . ”). Upon review, I realized I failed to include dates for completion. My bad.

 Keep a log. Years ago, I covered the Big Dig. The state’s biggest blunder in the multibillion-dollar project may have been not keeping a contemporaneous log of mistakes made by contractors. (Cost recovery “was admittedly never the front-burner issue for me,” the project director once told me.) When someone makes an admission of fault, write it down and date it. You can later read it back from your log to great effect.

After a flurry of calls between the company and me last week, one of Lawn Dawg’s top execs got on the phone with Evans. It looks like they’re coming together on a plan to move forward.


Sean P Murphy can be reached at sean.murphy@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.