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Client Won’t Accept Their House Keys Back! Now What?

old keysHow many sets of client house keys do you currently have in your possession?

Plenty, I’m sure.

But, what is your [process,system] for returning those keys to the pet owner when the job is complete?

Now think about how your process would change if, for whatever reason, the client did not want to claim their set of keys.

Sound crazy?

Well, I received an email (a plea for help) recently from a frustrated pet sitter who finds herself in this predicament.

Ask yourself: “How would I handle this situation to make certain I am not held responsible?”

She writes:

Hi Josh, I need a bit of advice from another professional with a situation I have regarding an ex-client.

Here it is: I recently terminated services for a “vacation” client (not a daily walk client) for many reasons, including continuing lack of communication when her schedule would change, failure to answer my emails and phone messages regarding her schedule and/or the care of her pets during assignments, making reservations for 6 trips and then cancelling all but one at the last minute, then giving me grief over my cancellation policies.

All in all, it just wasn’t worth it to me anymore to deal with the stress level this one client was causing.

I finally was able to reach her by phone and told her that I would no longer be able to provide service for her and told her I needed to return her keys. She refused to pin down a time when I could personally deliver them to her; no time was ever convenient that I mentioned.

Therefore, I told her I would be sending the keys back to her via certified mail. She has a box in a post office, so no worries about keys being mailed to her home.

The problem? She has refused to sign for this letter and pick up her keys!

She only has a few days left, and this letter and her keys will be sent back to me since she has refused to pick them up. I am at a loss for what to do over this — it has been stressful just thinking about getting those keys back in my possession. I do not want them; I do not want anything more to do with this client.

I have to wonder why she is refusing to go and sign for this letter, when I told her that was what I was going to do!

What would you, personally, do in this situation? Help! Feeling really, really frustrated… Thanks for any advice you may have!

My Response:

First of all, go you for having the guts, confidence and ability to “fire” a client. It is well within the right of the pet sitter to turn down jobs from pet owners that we feel are not a good fit, for whatever reason.

So, all that aside, the big question now becomes, What can you do with her keys to absolve yourself from any future claim that you did not return them, and are still held accountable.

You want to be certain that she does not come after you down the road and suggest you have her keys.

I do wonder why you chose to send them to her PO Box opposed directly to her home, but that’s neither here nor there.

Let’s expect the keys and letter return back to you.

Your next step can be something like one of the following:

1) Send her a note via multiple contact points (phone, email, text, letter…) letting her know that she needs to arrange pickup or receipt of her keys. Tell her she has until a certain date, after which point, the keys will be destroyed.

2) Send her keys directly to her home via FedEx or certified mail. Both options can provide a proof of delivery statement that should clear you from any future responsibility.

I wouldn’t spend any amount of energy wondering why she is not picking up her keys currently from the post office, but I would simply take a form of action to protect yourself, and move on.

Your Response: Over To You

I know our pet sitting community can weigh in on this with other similar options for you.

Please leave your thoughts on what you would do in this situation.

photo credit: just.Luc via photopin cc

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Josh Cary is a respected and well sought-after speaker and business consultant within the professional pet care industry. Since 2009, having grown his own pet sitting business, Josh provides his industry with the tools, support, and resources to build and maintain a thriving and respected pet business.

With a strong focus on digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and website development, Josh’s one mission is to help you Get Found First through a professional and effective website.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. From what you have written it sounds like this woman is a poor communicator. You made a valid attempt at returning her keys and she chose not to pick them up at her p.o. box. When the keys are delivered back to you put them in a safe place and also hang onto the envelope showing they were returned. When/if she wants them returned she will contact you. If she call again for service simply tell her you are booked. It is not worth stressing over. She does not seem to be worried about it!

    1. Nice input, Anthony. So you say the pet sitter did all that is required by attempting to send in the first place? Now, if she just holds on to them, and the client says “Hey, where are my keys?” she can at that point arrange for easy delivery? Makes good sense.

  2. “The problem? She has refused to sign for this letter and pick up her keys!”

    What I see here is that the ex-client is trying to have a revenge on the pet sitter by refusing to take the keys back. Its like a chasing game, a very immature one where the client is purposely wasting the pet sitter’s time and money. Our pet sitter should destroy the keys and send one last letter to the client stating that she is no longer in possession of the keys. Then, move on.

  3. I like the Fed EX UPS idea when certified doesn’t work. If you have a law firm or service like “Legal Shield” They can assist with options on this or assist in drafting a letter from their firm.

    1. I’ve heard some good things about Legal Shield. I’ll have to look into it further as solid options for things like this.

  4. I had a similar situation except the keys were mailed certified, return receipt to her residence, which happened to be a condo. She refused delivery. I finally had her keys delivered to her by an independent courier service. She wasn’t sure what the “package” was and she signed! End of story. Funny, I found out later that she’s been through about 14 pet sitters in the area! I like the idea of destroying the keys too, but I would find a place to take them so you can document they were in fact destroyed.

    1. Hey there Elaine – OMG she’s been through 14 pet sitters?! That independent courier service is a genius idea. She was probably fuming when she opened the package and realized what happened.

  5. I don’t mail keys to client homes because if it is intercepted, the client’s security is comprised as the address and the house key are together. I could be liable if foul play of any sort occurred due to this. I’d mail to business or POB, dispose of them or personally deliver. Depends of course on the situation. I wouldn’t hand deliver back to the client being discussed! I’ve had situations where the client paid in advance to have his house keys returned after the service. He did not respond to emails or phone calls to set up a time. I documented my attempts and eventually disposed of them with no identifying information.

    I feel comfortable doing this because in my key handling agreement with the client, it states that we will make X number of attempts over a certain period of time. After which my company has the right to dispose of them.

    In another section of this agreement it says if a client has not used my service in a year’s time, it is my company’s discretion to dispose of the keys/remotes with contacting them first. I usually call/email first, but this gives me the option, especially for those “one sit wonders”.

    I document, document, document to CYA! Maybe a bit over the top, but with a professional contracts background prior to my P.S. business, I’ve learned its better to set expectations up front, and in writing.

    1. You amazingly have all your bases covered, Karen. I love it. And your policies in place seem to make everything in this situation spelled out in advance. I guess one thing the pet sitter from this post can do going forward is have some of these key return procedures listed. Thanks for chiming in.

  6. I have a client who also never returns calls or responds to my request to return a key. She does have another pet sitter and I was her ‘back up’ could I call the other pet sitter and relinquish my key to her and have her sign that she accepted the key?

    1. Hi Patricia – I would NOT give the client keys to the other pet sitter. It sounds like the client just does not care you have the key. I would take the advice of some of the other options mentioned in this comment area, and call it a day!

  7. I don’t send keys to the clients house because if someone opened it now they have access. If I mailed keys, I like the idea of mailing to a office or pob box along with some kind of tracking or signature required as it provides you proof. In this case, the sitter can not put a return address so then the client does not know what she is signing for. Another option, have a responsible person take them to the client. Just like a process server, once they open the door, hand them the key and walk off. You could have that person sign something stating that they personally delivered the key at __ time on ___ date. The final option, is send a final email titled: keys to be destroyed. In the email, say she must pick it up from the PO Box and by not doing so they agree that if they are return to the pet sitter then will be destroyed.

  8. I give my clients a deadline to hear back from them on how they want the key returned. If I do not hear back from them then I destroy and dispose of the keys. I will send an email letting them know I did not hear back from them by the designated date and I will be destroying their key.

  9. Send them to her via certified mail, but also make sure that only she can sign for the keys. You can indicate only she can sign for them. If she refuses to sign, when the envelope is returned to you, keep the SEALED envelope, along with the documentation saying she refused to sign. Put all of this in her file, so if it comes back to “bite you”, you’ve got your bases covered. Not opening the envelope back up – when it is returned to you by the post office – will be proof you tried to mail them back to her.

    1. Hey Jan! Thanks for stopping by. Your strategy would work like a charm and seal the deal. The pet sitter will be pleased with all of these simple solutions to allow her to sleep better at night!

  10. You state in this article, quote: “I do wonder why you chose to send them to her PO Box opposed directly to her home, but that’s neither here nor there”

    Well…..pretty OBVIOUS! I NEVER send keys belonging to someone’s HOME to their HOME address, no matter HOW they are mailed. You MUST sign/initial on my contract at 1st meeting that I am A: Accepting a key to your home. B. Either returning your key OR retaining your after initial visit. C. SIGN another form once I return your key. I do have many who move (I live near a military base) w/o much warning and they will say “just toss it”, and then I ask them to either TEXT or EMAIL me that comment. I screen shot it and save. Trust me….at some point someone will come back to haunt you. I have been a professional pet sitter for over 30 years. At some point, someone WILL try to be unethical or blame YOU for something simply because you have a key to their home, even if you have held it for over 10 years and it’s lost in the maze of 500 keys in the back of your gun safe at home. 🙂 Just sayin’……

    I recently had a woman (who I was hoping would ask for her key back) who had been a pain as a client for 3 years. Her last letter to me was glowing as far as the care I provided. It was stellar! BUT….she cancelled 9 of 10 resos over 3 years, and one the day before. She cost me a lot of $$. She asked for her key back because she said that the “tone of my voice” when she cancelled the morning OF a 2 week vaca at CHRISTMAS was upsetting to HER, she said I sounded upset. Well, hmm, yep. Probably. I could have let other more responsible ppl fill her spot. And she was mad that I did charge her the deposit. She wanted me to tuck her key, to her HOUSE, under her door mat. I refused. I said “in person” only. Sign the form. She refused. (I finally cornered her nice hubby at work) He forgot to tell her this. Then she tried to pin a fake burglary on me by telling the cops I still had a key. But, hubby signed my form, 2 weeks earlier. Do not TRUST everyone!

    I hate to sound “jaded”, but trust me, I have had my share of weirdness over the years, and I make sure I have ALL of my bases covered. You never know. 99.9% of my people know I give the BEST service around and I even become a part of the fur-families. But I never let my guard down. I could write a book on the “bad guys” that have tried to abuse my service. 🙂 I LOVE MY JOB, but I also have my guard up when it comes to KEYS to someone’s HOME!

  11. A client, not so long ago, asked why client’s did sign “accept & release” document. “Oh no!” says I, and for very good business reasons.

    Client’s, have boldly gone where no one else dare: emergency calls. Not so long ago, a client called in a panic: could I just drop everything & drive 20 minutes (right now, I might add) & meet the client’s college age daughter at the residence? The daughter just doesn’t know if she has a key on her person. What?! No, says I. Her daughter may drive the 20 minutes & I will gladly supply a house key. Not surprisingly, a peep from either the mother or daughter after the client discovered I was a “locksmith.”

    I have received “emergency” calls during a holiday dinner party, in the middle of very expensive seats to the Chicago Symphony, the opera, and theatre. A client came pounding (I mean: pounding) on the front door looking for their keys (now!) Another, unbelievably, called to demand that I run her keys over, she had locked herself out. “No. It’s 10:00 pm.” Trust me, she didn’t take well to “no.” The nerve of some people!

    In the thros of handling or ignoring these so-called “emergencies;” no doubt, I’d forget to have them sign a release document. And, as life would have it, confusion and/or accusations would abound, aplenty at a later date.

    My contract states that I may keep possession of a key until further notice, only. It’s been quite satisfactory for the past 21 years.

    Furthermore, many times the client’s wishes are to simply leave the key behind on my last trip to the house.

    If they wish to pick up or drop keys off, my house has a mail slot into the hall closet. The client drops the key off, and I’ll call to them to confirm.

    To return keys, they (unmarked) are left between the front and screen doors on a prearranged day. This way the client may pick them at their leisure. No need to wait at home for them to come.

    Yes, I’m well aware, my procedure is very old fashioned, but it’s worked like a charm for the past 21 pet sitting years and counting. So “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

    After three years and not hearing from the client, a letter is sent (regular mail) giving them two weeks to make arrangements to pick up key or they will be disposed of, properly. Very rarely, do I seem to get a response from the letter, and the keys are tossed.

    It is far too easy to overlook signing a release form, and that is where the problem lies. If not vigilant in keeping the most recent release/accept form, misplacing the documents may cause a nightmare for the business owner. And this one I can surely do without.

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