Dish Network cancellation penalty: What do I do?

Jean Chatzky Dish NetworkIf you've got a problem with a business, turn to Help Me, WalletPop for help. Personal finance expert Jean Chatzky will help demystify the process and see what she can do to help.Just e-mail us at and tell us about your predicament.

We signed up for Dish Network six months ago. Now we've had to move. We were on a month-to-month rental basis after the annual lease expired, and the landlord decided to move his daughter into the house. We found a new place and moved in, but dishes aren't allowed. Dish Network says too bad, you owe us $200+ for early termination fee, plus $99 to reimburse us for the "free" installation. I can see reimbursement of the installation fee, but the fee seems excessive. Is that contract clause legal and enforceable?
Bayard Kohlhepp
Arden, N.C.

A. This is an unfortunate situation, and it happens to a lot of consumers when it comes to things like satellite, cable, and cell phone service. In general, whether you have any recourse depends on the terms of the contract you signed, says Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

"Usually the people who write the contract write it on behalf of the company, which means it tends to be one-sided. But the law is pretty clear that you have to follow the terms of the contract – even if that means you bought it for X and if you terminate early, you have to pay a penalty."

That said, In Kohlhepp's case, I put in a call to DISH and spoke to customer service agent Mark Duffy to ask if there was any way for them to waive the fee. The customer service agent then said he would get in touch directly with a compromise. It took a few days – and several calls from my offices -- for DISH to get back to him but then Kohlhepp reported, "He [Duffy] said they did not find a valid contract on file so they won't charge a fee. He's sending me a box to return the receiver and remote."

If this happens to you, and you have a copy of your contract, pull it out and take a look (if you can't find it – I know how these things have a tendency to disappear, particularly if you've moved like Kohlhepp – call the company and request that they send you a copy). Rheingold says that sometimes there will be a clause that lets you out of the penalty if you're forced to cancel because of something that's beyond your control. Whether your situation falls into that clause is really up to the contract terms or the company policy, but it's certainly worth a call to customer service. And for the next time remember – it always, always pays to read the fine print in advance.
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