Tree sellers beware—the devil is in the details

Contract apparently no guarantee of timeline


Bernie Bennor stands in his front yard on Thursday, June 13, where debris from a felled walnut tree is still in evidence. The contract for removing the  tree, including making arrangements for cleanup, is dated April 29, 2013.
Bernie Bennor stands in his front yard on Thursday, June 13, where debris from a felled walnut tree is still in evidence. The contract for removing the tree, including making arrangements for cleanup, is dated April 29, 2013.

When Bernie Bennor sold a mature walnut tree in the front yard of his Ten Mile Road home, the contract, dated April 29, 2013, said that the top of the tree would be cleaned up from his yard. To date, the mess is still there, including gouges in his lawn from heavy equipment.

Rich Risner, representing either R & R Logging (the name on his business card) or Risner Land and Timber (on the contract) who signed the contract, said there is no date on the contract specifying when the tree debris will be removed. He also stated that the contract doesn’t actually say he will have the debris removed, only that he will find someone to have the debris removed, and again, said no timeline is indicated. He paid $800 for the lumber.

treemess3On the Squire’s first conversation with Risner, he accused Bernie of running off the crew he works with, who he said follow him from job to job cleaning up debris in exchange for keeping the firewood. He accused Bennor of harassing him, because Bennor calls every day to ask when the mess will be cleaned up. “The contract doesn’t say I will clean up the mess, it says I will have someone clean up the mess, and it doesn’t say when I will have someone do it,” Risner stated. When asked why he didn’t just return and clean up the mess himself, given Bennor’s agitation, he stated that he was an older man and he couldn’t do a job like that.

Risner provided the Squire with the first names and phone numbers of the two men with whom he said he has a business relationship. When questioned by the Squire, the first man, Vic, said that he had no relationship with Risner. According to him, his ex-wife, who works at the Rockford Post Office, had a conversation with a distraut older customer. The customer was upset because someone had bought trees from her property, claiming the mess would be cleaned up afterward and, since the removal of the trees in May, had not.

The woman from the post office thought of her son in law because he burns a lot of wood. Brent, her son-in-law, went out to the lady’s home and said it looked like a tornado had gone through the property. He told his mother-in-law that he couldn’t leave the woman’s yard in such a horrible state and that he felt terrible for her.

Vic said he and Brent have been going out to the home and cleaning up the property as best they could, although some of the stumps and chunks are too large to be managed without heavy equipment. They have been going on the weekends and after work and have been keeping the wood, with the homeowner’s blessing.

“He (Rick) must have gone out there and saw that the property was cleaned up and asked her who had done it,” Vic speculated to the Squire. He said Risner called him and said he had another customer with tree debris in his yard and would he and Brent like to go out there and clean that up as well. They said no.

“We don’t work for that guy,” Vic said. “My son-in-law and I have jobs, we’ve been doing this to help the lady out. It’s not our business to follow that guy around and clean up after him.” He said he agreed with Bennor’s opinion that the tree guy is “a crook.”

On the second phone call to the Squire, Risner was shocked when he heard Vic and Brent characterized him as misrepresenting the situation. He told the Squire he had no idea why they would say that about him and they must have him confused with someone else. “I don’t even know those guys,” he stated. He said the homeowner in that instance speaks very highly of him and was happy with the transaction. He said he took good care of her and “seeded and raked her whole backyard.”

When asked if he was certified for the work of removing trees, if his business was licensed with the State of Michigan and if he carried insurance for any property damage that might occur during removal of large trees, Risner said he was just an employee of the lumber company. Despite the fact that both company names associated with the purchase of Bennor (on Risner’s business card and on the contract) have the name Risner, he said there is no familial relationship between himself and the Risner who is buying the trees from people in this area.

In the second conversation with Vic, the Squire learned that Risner had apparently called him back to complain that Vic was badmouthing him to the local paper and told Vic that he has attorneys in his office who sue people for calling him a crook. Vic said he told Risner if the homeowner was so happy with him, he would go over right now to her house and ask her if she was pleased. Risner, he said, declined.

“I don’t care what he says, that was terrible what he did to that lady,” Vic stated. He said the woman told him she was paid $100 each for her mature cherry and walnut trees, and the going rate for such a commodity is more likely in the range of $800 to $1,000 with a resale value of even more.

“He [Risner] was pretty mad at me,” Vic stated. He said Risner was also mad that he and Brent didn’t want to go to another home and clean that up, too and now he would have to find someone else to do it.

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