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Hot over air conditioner service

Custom Climate Control called me in September and offered to check my air conditioner for $29. I agreed.

The serviceman said there was a problem. I told him it had been running and cooling just fine, but he assured me it wasn't. He took the cover off the unit and showed me that it was making a noise.

After calling his office, he said that fixing it would cost almost as much as a new unit, and anyway, it would take a week to get parts.

Did I want to be without air in this heat, he asked?

On the other hand, if I bought a new unit, he said he could install it that afternoon.

The price he gave me for a 2-ton Coleman unit was $3,760. I said I could not afford that. He dropped it to $3,221 and then to $2,741 with no charge for sales tax. I agreed. Later he called to say he couldn't install it until the next day.

After he installed it I realized that my 5-year-old Heil unit had just been serviced in June. I called my niece. She called my old service company and they said there was nothing wrong with the unit when they last checked it. She also learned that my new unit should not have cost me more than $1,250.

The new unit was installed on Sept. 23. On Sept. 26, I hand-delivered a letter to Custom Climate Control saying I was canceling the sale under Florida's three-day waiting period on home solicitation sales. The manager, Tom Pursley, refused, saying I had signed a waiver of the three-day waiting period.

I feel I have been taken advantage of because of my age. I'm 83. I would like a full refund and my old unit reinstalled. Alice Nettelbladt

Response: Your new unit was removed and your old one reinstalled on Sept. 28, the day before Action wrote to Custom Climate.

Glad to hear your niece was able to get a $625 charge waived (for removing, repairing and reinstalling your old unit).

About that three-day waiting period, Florida Statutes 501.025 and 501.301 say home solicitation agreements must contain the following statement:

"This is a home solicitation sale, and if you do not want the goods or services, you may cancel this agreement by providing written notice to the seller in person, by telegram or by mail. This notice must indicate that you do not want the goods or services and must be delivered or postmarked before midnight of the third business day after you sign this agreement. If you cancel this agreement, the seller may not keep all or part of any cash down payment."

Custom Climate Control uses that statement on its contract but adds one word to the beginning of it. That word is "if."

"If this is a home solicitation sale and if you do not want the goods or services . . . etc."

Underneath the notice are the words, "I waive the three-day waiting period," with a line for a signature.

Custom Climate manager Tom Pursley said the waiver is included so that customers can get new air conditioning units installed right away and not have to spend three days suffering in the heat. If Custom installed these units right away and a lot of customers changed their minds within the three days, his company would go broke, Pursley explained.

"We don't normally hold them to it," he said of the waiver.

Why include it then, we asked?

"We have to have something to protect us," Pursley said.

According to Pat Niemann, an investigator at Pinellas County Consumer Affairs office, businesses are not allowed to ask consumers to waive their three-day right to cancel. The State Attorney's office has said it will prosecute businesses that do so, he said.

By law, the word "if" is not supposed to be added to the right-to-cancel notice either, but it is not considered as serious an offense as the waiver and the State Attorney's office said it would not prosecute, Niemann said.

Consumer Affairs records show that there have been eight complaints against Custom Climate Control since January 1993 and 51 complaints since 1985.

The Better Business Bureau tells callers that Custom Climate Control has a satisfactory record with the bureau. The bureau does not give a company an unsatisfactory report unless it has accumulated many unresolved complaints.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request for Action.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or on our voice mail system; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

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