Can I be successfully sued without a signed contract?
March 5, 2014 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I was a vendor at local farmer's market last summer. I got screwed in terms of the fee. I paid what I thought was fair but they want it all. Snowflakes inside.

I have tried to make a go of being a vegan baker for the past couple of years. There is no storefront; it's mostly just word of mouth and me grabbing booth time during the summer at whatever local farmer's market would have me. Last spring I contacted the coordinators of our town's centrally located farmer's market to see if I could set up there for the duration of the summer. After a few emails, I agreed to meet the main coordinator at the market itself to look at the stalls they had available. Long story short, he thought my niche business would be an interesting fit for them, I chose my stall to be opened in early summer, I was told it would be $25 per weekend, Saturdays mandatory, Sundays optional, no contract was signed. At all. I was told by the coordinator that this was going to be great summer for small businesses at the stalls. There would be a lot of foot traffic, I would do really well in terms of sales, they would promote the hell out of all the small vendors.

It is understatement to say that my summer didn't go well in terms of sales. I ended up having to give or throw away a lot of stock, the magical foot traffic of the market never appeared, and two of my boothmates on either side stuck it out for a month then decamped because they were losing money. The most promtion I ever saw for me or anyone else was an occasional Facebook post on their page. Also, optional Sundays turned into mandatory Sundays without my notice. I only ever planned to be open on Saturdays, but the first Sunday I wasn't open, I received a series of terse emails about why wasn't I open, I said I would be there (I hadn't). I ended the summer in debt. My husband, ever the optimist, said to think of it as a worthy experiment. In any case, I knew I could scrape up the $300 for each weekend I was there: June 1st to Labor Day weekend.

Imagine my shock when I received a bill for $750. They had charged me $25 A DAY. Those were not the terms I was told. I didn't have $750. I contacted my previous boothmates--the ones who had left after a month--and found they too had been given large bills for a period of time they hadn't even been there. Now, this is all happening in French because I live in Quebec, so I wrote a letter, had a friend translate it, that boiled down to that I felt hurt and deceived because I was told one thing and now this enormous bill shows up in my post. I did pay them $450 as I thought that was fair, but I wasn't going to pay the entire thing because I don't have it. My business is not really a business anymore. I get occasional orders and I would like to try a different farmer's market, but am now unhappy and upset with the whole system.

TL;DR: the tourism agency that oversees the market is now contacting me and wanting the remainder of the money. I didn't sign a contract, but am scared about what they can do to me legally. What can they do to me legally?

(Yes, I know YANML.)
posted by Kitteh to Law & Government (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL. Sue them for their breach of contract. They made promises in terms of promotion and traffic and your required days that they did not meet. If this was the US you could sue in small claims without a lawyer. Of course offer to settle (but not in your initial response) as long as they put in writing that you do not owe anything else.
posted by Sophont at 7:49 AM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ask them to show you a signed contract and a letter outlining what you owe them and why, and tell them that you won't continue communicating with them (and they are not to contact you) on the matter until they do.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:54 AM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm not sure about Quebec, but in the USA this would be a matter for small claims court. A headache for sure, but not life altering. I think you did the wrong thing in paying them $450 as it's a tacit admission that you owed the larger amount. Can you ask your boothmates what they paid? Then at least you'd know how uphill of a battle you're fighting.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 7:54 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ignore them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:14 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would write a letter saying that, as per your agreement, you owed $25/weekend, you were there for X weekends (list them) and paid a total of 25X, so you have paid your bill in full. If they write back, ask them for written proof. Don't go into the other details.
posted by jeather at 8:23 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

jeather -- that was what was done in the initial letter, so that has already been done. The new contact from them is demanding that I call them ASAP, which I do not want to do. I would rather use email that way I have a record.
posted by Kitteh at 8:24 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You shouldn't have paid that $450, as it might constitute you 'agreeing' with their terms. Talk to a lawyer ASAP.
posted by semaphore at 8:34 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, don't call them. Reply via email. And tell them via email that since they violated their earlier verbal agreement with you, you are insisting henceforth on conducting all conversations in writing. Get everything in writing.
posted by BlueJae at 8:38 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Send a second letter stating that you have paid in full and request that if they have proof you agreed to a different rate that, among with any other discussion, be made in writing. Just keep repeating it.
posted by jeather at 9:10 AM on March 5, 2014

Without a contract, I doubt they have a leg to stand on.

There is a concept in the law called "a meeting of the minds" this means that all participants agree on the terms. Clearly this didn't happen.

Have them sue you, I doubt it will go anywhere, but unless they have proof, it turns into a I said/you said kind of thing. The person suing has the burden of proof. And if neither party agrees, unless there's a document showing otherwise, chances are they'll lose.

I'd send one last email:

"These are not the terms I agreed to, I believe that I have upheld my end of the agreement by paying X. I refuse to pay you any more money. In future, please refer all correspondance to my attorney (Hopefully you have a friend or relative who is in the legal line.)"

Done and done.

Seriously, this is their problem, not yours. What can they do? Confiscate your turbinado sugar?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nobody is going to sue you over $300. It would cost more than that to get a to answer the phone to think about talking to them about maybe suing someone.

Worst case, they send you to collections.

Don't talk to a lawyer. It will be 100 times easier and cheaper to just pay them $300.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:15 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

We do have a small claims court in Quebec. You might try one of these sources of legal help (including Sherbrooke University's legal clinic), or maybe Juripop Estrie.

The verbal agreement was a contract. One problem is that it's your word against theirs as to what the terms were. Did the other vendors have the same terms ($25 per weekend)? How did the organizers tell you that Sundays were now mandatory? Did they say something like "it was always mandatory" or something like "it is now mandatory"?

Anyway, document everything.

Then it's up to you which way to go, and it depends on how much effort you want to invest in this. Scrounging the rest of the money is a way to make them go away. You could tell them to take a hike, and they could send it to collections, and then you'd have to dispute it or pay it. You could also go to small claims court.

Another thing to consider is who the agency is. Are they government? If so, going by just verbal agreements is seriously amateurish on their part. You might try to ally with others who've been screwed to fight this.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:48 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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