Homeowners Reveal Lawn Care Scams and Shoddy Service

Mike LaFollette
Written by Mike LaFollette
Updated June 18, 2015
hand pulling a weed out of a lawn
Members complained about incompetence, poor communication, sloppy work and a lack of results. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

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After paying for lawn treatment for more than a year, Angie member Carol Campbell of San Antonio became suspicious because her lawn's appearance didn't improve. Her technician always came when she was away, and she only knew he’d been there after noticing the treatment markers in her yard.

Deciding to set up her own “sting” operation, she pretended not to be home the next time he came.

"The technician rang the doorbell, which I didn't answer, but instead watched as he 'treated' my lawn," she recounted in her 2012 review. "The treatment consisted of the technician walking to the backyard, placing a treatment stake in the yard, and then walking around to the front yard and doing the same. He then got into his truck and drove off. Nothing other than the lawn stake was applied to my lawn."

Campbell’s review is just one of several that detail negative experiences members have had with lawn fertilization and treatment companies. Unlike with mowing, lawn treatment doesn’t produce immediate results, so it can be difficult to monitor the quality of service. In some cases, homeowners went months or even years before realizing they were paying for shoddy service.

Here are four of the top complaints we found in member reviews:

1. The Phantom Lawn Care Company

Several members described companies that were eager to take their business, but then avoided them like the plague.

Member Shirley A. of Warrenton, Virginia, described in a 2014 review how she paid upfront for lawn fertilization. “Big mistake,” she said, adding that she had to call and remind the company multiple times to come and treat her lawn. She finally received a voicemail from the company listing the day they would arrive, but it took another 23 days before they showed up. “My yard has paid the price because of the company's lackadaisical attitude,” she said. “It is full of weeds and large bare patches. It looks worse than ever.”

Many members cited frustration with trying to file a complaint or dispute a bill. In most cases, the members were unhappy with the quality of service, and when they tried to complain to the company, their calls were never returned or they were told a manager would come out and correct the problem. But as the days turned into weeks, nobody ever returned their calls, and a manager never came to assess their lawns.

"Not only was the fertilizing service poorly done, but when I called to ask them to improve, I never could reach them and they never called me back," wrote Anthony M. of Wexford, Pa., in a September 2012 Angi review. "The only time they called me back was to sell me more services."

His review noted how he was never able to reach the local office, and all of his complaints were sent to an out-of-state call center.

dead grass from improper fertilization
Carolyn S. said her lawn turned brown three months after a lawn care company started fertilizing it. When she confronted her technician, he blamed the damage on rabbits. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Carolyn S. of Henderson, Nev.)

2. The Over-the-Phone Estimator

In another complaint, members said their providers started treatment without first inspecting their lawns.

The members said they hired the company after getting an extremely low quote over the phone. However, when the technician arrived to treat the lawn, they were told there was an unforeseen problem, additional treatments would be needed and, of course, it would cost more money.

Whether a scam was involved or not, many members reported that they paid the extra money out of fear that their lawns would deteriorate. The ones who refused the upcharge were disappointed because they received only partial service.

Todd Sikorski, owner of highly rated Loyalty Lawn Care in Saint Charles, Mo., says a reputable lawn treatment company will always visit the property before quoting a price. The initial visit normally determines if there are any special needs for the lawn

"You have warm-and cool-season grasses and they have to be treated differently, so you have to look at the lawn to determine the type of grass," Sikorski says. "You also need to look at specific issues in the lawn like weeds or disease, and you certainly want to know all of these things before going out [to start a job]."

Sikorski says shady or incompetent companies are driven by sales goals, and the people who make the deals over the phone aren't the same people who come out to treat a lawn.

When member Kimberly B. complained about the condition of her lawn, the company responded by email and said they would not return to fix the problem. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Kimberly B. of Jacksonville, Fla.)

"Many of these companies have huge and outrageous goals for their technicians to go out and do every day whether it's in revenue or a certain amount of lawns to do, and many times those goals are unrealistic," he says. "Besides that, they start giving them lawns that are much bigger than what's on their initial invoice and it snowballs from there. "That's how a lot of these quality issues come in."

3. Unauthorized Service for Your Lawn

In multiple negative reviews, Angi members said they were billed for services they never authorized, or reported companies that continued to treat their lawns, sometimes years after they terminated service.

It often went unnoticed until the homeowner received an unexpected bill. When the homeowner questioned the bill, the provider said there was no record of the termination.

In a May 2012 review, Angi member Denise W. of Indianapolis reported how she canceled her lawn treatment plan, yet the company returned without notification for two consecutive summers. They treated her lawn after she had already fertilized it herself. In both instances, the second dose of fertilizer fried her lawn.

In a July 2012 review, member Steven C. of Grove City, Ohio, said his lawn care service returned the following year even though he fired them due to lousy work.

"They called in the fall and I told them that I was no longer interested in their service," he said. "This spring, [I] came home to find a bill for $160. I called to tell them I was not paying, but they said I had a contract."

VIDEO: Tips to Avoid Lawn Care Scams

4. Incompetent Lawn Care Companies

Scams are one problem to watch for, as is incompetence. Some members wrote about service technicians destroying their lawns by applying fertilizer without a spreader, or misdiagnosing lawn problems.

In an August 2011 review, Angie member Ann P. of Indianapolis said a lawn treatment company botched a reseeding job because the technicians simply didn’t know what they were doing.

"They came during a drought, threw seed down, and then left us instructions to water," she said. "If they had called in advance, we would have insisted that they do the work when there was some hope of rain. Needless to say, nothing sprouted and it was a complete waste of money."

Her review noted that she paid $450 for the sloppy work and was not offered a refund.

In an October 2012 review, Angi member Aileen W. of Raleigh, N.C., reported that she hired a company to aerate, reseed and fertilize her lawn. Their aerating machine tore up her lawn, and the fertilizer spreader wasn't set right and dumped large piles of fertilizer around her yard.

"We tried to scoop up the piles of spilled fertilizer, but now we have seven round areas of totally brown, dead grass caused by over-fertilization."

dead spots on lawn from over-fertilization
This photo shows the dead patches in member Aileen W.'s lawn. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Aileen W. of Raleigh, N.C.)

Most states require licensing and certification for the commercial application of fertilizer and pesticides.

In Indiana, for example, state law mandates that any person who applies, handles, or distributes fertilizer for hire must be certified and licensed by the Office of Indiana State Chemist or be trained by and work under the direct supervision of a licensed and certified supervisor. The law requires supervisors to log training of employees.

To check licensing laws in your city, use the Angi License Check Tool.

Sikorski says a quality lawn treatment service will put principle over profit and ensure employees are trained to use equipment and determine appropriate treatment options.

"There were several applications we skipped last year because there are many products you just can’t use in hot weather," he says. "It comes down to taking the time to do the correct thing and making sure your staff is educated enough."

Tips for Hiring a High-Quality Lawn Care Service:

  • Don’t hire a company that won’t inspect your grass before starting work. Make sure your technician measures the size of your lawn, understands your grass type and takes note of existing damage. Get everything in writing before you hire.

  • Be wary of treatment companies with flashy ads that sound too good to be true. If the price is extremely low, there’s probably a reason why.

  • Make sure your provider is licensed and certified as required by your state.

  • Avoid companies that encourage you to commit to service on the spot.

  • Ask potential hires about their refund policy, or if their work is guaranteed. Make sure to get it in writing. You shouldn’t have to pay for incomplete or sloppy work.

  • Make sure to get a detailed invoice after each visit detailing the scope of the work.

  • Check reviews on Angie and ask your neighbors for recommendations.

Have you had a bad experience with a lawn care company? Let us know what happened in the comment section below.

Editor's note: This is an updated verison of an article that was originally published on March 27, 2013.

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