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We hired a tree removal service to remove some trees from our property. The bill was paid for by the solar company that installed our solar service. The solar company sent us a check for the tree service to use.

I signed the check and handed it over to the tree service promptly. Apparently they couldn't cash the check even though I signed it. They needed me physically there at the bank so that they could cash the check.

Busy schedules would not allow for that. They were too busy and so was I. So I told them to return the check to me and I would cash it and give them the money in cash (with receipt).

They took SIX MONTHS to return the check to me. By that time the check was stale and the bank wouldn't honor it.

So I had the solar company cancel that check, and issue a new one. I got the new check and and deposited into my account. Soon as it cleared I took out the cash.

Now I've been calling and texting the owner of the tree service to come get his money. He keeps texting he will call back, but he never does. It's been weeks of this!

So from an ethical standpoint, how much do I have to bug him to come get his money? If this goes on for another 6 months or however long, how much effort do I put into giving him his money?

It's $3,000 and I know the money isn't mine. But it will be sitting in a drawer in limbo forever if he doesn't come and get his money. He does not want a check he wants cash.

  • I wonder if turning the money over to your state's unclaimed property division would be an option. I could imagine there being an issue with the perceived treatment of the UPD as a payment service, though. – chepner Jul 6 at 14:30
  • "He does not want a check he wants cash." can you expand on this a little bit? Is he refusing a check and insisting on cash? Is he giving a reason? Does he mistakenly think you're going to give him another third-party endorsed check? Would he accept a cashiers check or money order? – stannius Jul 7 at 17:18
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I think the business owner has been very tolerant of your situation.

They provided a service, then you didn't pay them. You gave them a 3rd party check. Their bank might not accept an altered check. Then instead of sending them a check you attempted to schedule a time to meet them at the bank.

Yes they took a long time to send back the check, but now you are asking them to meet them so you can hand them cash.

Just write them a check, and mail it to them. There is nothing else that you have to do. If you don't have a checkbook, many banks will cut a check and mail it for you.

He does not want a check he wants cash.

Careful here. This could mean a few things:

  1. The business is running some of their transactions under the table. That means they might not be paying taxes on all their profits, or that they are paying some employees of the books. The issue is then does this extend to other areas: are they properly licensed and insured; are they properly trained?

  2. They no longer trust that the check you send them will be good.

  3. This has dragged on so long that getting a check in the summer of 2020 for a job completed in 2019 will open a can of worms in their accounting system.

Send a check to the address on the bill or to the address of their business.

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    I agree that some things in the question are unclear, but you're making assumptions against OP. You say the business "allowed [OP] to wait", but OP says the check was "handed...over to the tree service promptly". You treat paying cash as OP's whim, but OP says "he [business owner] wants cash". OP and the business owner have been in contact about trying to accomplish payment, which OP is eager to do. So if OP simply mailing a personal check is a solution, I'd consider it a mutual failure of communication that they haven't arrived at that solution yet, rather than solely OP's fault. – nanoman Jul 6 at 3:44
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    Let me make this clear. HE is demanding cash. HE wants me to meet him to give him the money. You are assuming a lot that isn't accurate. I am acting in good faith. – user99201 Jul 6 at 13:35
  • I can't agree with this answer. The service isn't legally obligated to accept a check. (Though I'm not downvoting, either. The service may not want a check, but they may grudgingly accept it should the OP mail one anyway.) – chepner Jul 7 at 16:40
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You say, "He does not want a check he wants cash." But you also say, for the original check, "They needed me physically there at the bank," implying that the business owner does have a bank he can go to. If the obstacle was synchronizing his schedule with yours, are you sure he is unhappy with receiving, by mail, a personal check from you cleanly made out to his business? This is probably the way you would have paid him if the solar company weren't involved.

If he really will only take cash, you have to decide if keeping that amount in cash until he decides to come poses an acceptable risk (of loss/theft). (I assume the business doesn't have an office you can go to and hand over the cash, or you would already have done that.) If it's not acceptable to you, deposit the cash back into your checking account and ask him to give you a couple of days' notice (whatever you need) when he's ready so you can withdraw it. Either way, you can simply put the ball in his court with a final text message saying you are willing to pay him when he's ready. You have text messages showing that he is the one delaying things, so there is no need to keep "bugging" him.

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Ethically? That’s up to you

How long you feel that you are ethically indebted is a matter for your own conscience.

Similarly, how long for or indeed, if, you keep chasing the contractor is also up to you.

Legally? That depends on the applicable statute of limitations

For example, in New South Wales, Australia, a creditor must initiate legal action to recover within 6 years of the debt falling due or forfeit their right to do so. That is, after 6 years they have no legal right to the money.

You have no obligation to look after your creditors. Certainly in business it’s almost a maxim - you chase your debtors and let your creditors chase you.

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    Being ethically and/or legally indebted is not the same as being "obligated to chase after someone to pay them" as opposed to simply waiting for them to make arrangements to accept payment. – nanoman Jul 6 at 2:36
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This seems pretty simple. Send him a check. You never agreed originally to pay in cash, and it's not reasonable to expect you to pay a $3000 bill in cash.

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