Should You Disable Security Systems For Nonpayment?

This alarm dealer disabled a customer's intrusion alarm system for not paying her bill:

I've heard threats of 'ripping systems out' for unpaid invoices, but is disabling a system remotely a strategy you would use?

Can this be risky for the dealer?

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Sets a scary precedence, but I could see this as being the only way to move some customers...

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I would suggest that your state laws should be consulted.  Unless you have a written agreement (signed) that has the customer accepting this shutdown as a possibility for non-payment you could be in deep dodo.  It isn't much different than vandalizing or hacking is it? 

You have other means of recourse for the non-payment and even those are rather restricted. 

I once wanted badly to go on on a customers property and remove a piece of equipment they had not paid for.  I spoke to the chief of police and he said I could be arrested and charged for several crimes if I did so.  The fact is, once delivered, I do not own the device even when payment has not been made.  Your State laws could be different but I recommend you be very careful.    

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Especially in the case of an intrusion system, what happens if they don't pay for monthly monitoring but the dealer 'bricks' the entire system of any functionality at all?

Even if unmonitored, intrusion systems can still be armed and notify locally via a siren.  Removing that ability seems something more than 'justice' for non payment.

In terms of other systems like video or access, disabling the system on purpose does not seem common.

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What about the smoke detector that should wake them up, but doesn’t.  This has bad idea written all over it. 

Follow the laws defined for non payment recourse. Creativity is rarely rewarded when collecting money. 

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I won’t turn a system off or lock them out. But we will put a message on the keypad indicating non payment and send a letter than their service will be shut off by xxxx. 

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It could be an urban legend, but there was a story of an embarrassed lawyer who sued when a message like that was seen by his party guests. 

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I will send a letter advising them the monitoring will be discontinued on a certain date, then I’ll submit a cancellation order to the Central Station for monitoring service. If it’s an AlarmNet account it’s an easy task to end the monitoring. However, if it’s a phone account I’ve been successful in gaining their cooperation in turning off just the dialer, remotely or during a site visit. All of which is agreed to in my contract. But, never would I “brick” a system or mess with it in any way that prevents them from using it as a local alarm. I think there would exposure to liability in that case. With deadbeats, I cut my losses and move on, it’s not worth pursuing for a quarter of monitoring fees. 

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I agree with checking local laws, but highly disagree with the comparison to "vandalism" or "hacking". It depends on who owns the equipment. If the customer is just leasing or renting the equipment as a service, it's not theirs. You're not going on property to reposes it, so it's not like the example of going onsite to collect the cameras or the panels.

How is this any different than not paying your cable TV or Internet bill? When they turn it off, they have essentially "bricked" your cable box or modem box. If you don't pay your water bill, your washing machine and shower are "bricked".

If the customer owns the alarm panel, then that is different, but that post does not specify whether it is or isn't. If it's customer owned, then one could argue "cyber vandalism". Then all you could do is turn off the service.

As long as fair warning and reasonable attempts are made to receive payment for services, you can turn those services off and face very little to no civil liability. (Keep in mind you can be sued for anything, doesn't mean you'll loose, doesn't mean you'll win, it comes down to what is reasonable and what if any is the applicable legal code.)

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When reading the original comment it implies that this is an owned system

"I locked out my customer's system"

You are right anyone can sue for any reason but we all know that the monthly revenue for one account isn't worth being sued (win or not).

Again, I urge checking with State and Local laws and avoid tripping over those especially in a spiteful way.   In any case a properly worded (legal) service agreement that spells out exactly what you as a provider will do upon nonpayment is the better way to go. 

I have owned my business for 22 years and (knock on wood) have never been sued for any reason.  I find that it is much easier to avoid court than not.  Hiring an attorney to prevent problems by drafting good agreements is much cheaper than hiring one to defend against a lawsuit.    

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It depends on your local legislation and on contract wording. 

Adding something like "the equipment remains property of the Contractor until is paid for" should help - you do have a right to disable the equipment that you own, even if it is located on your customer's premises 

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