If I’m a sole proprietor that specializes in web development and a client who does not want to pay me, am I safe to take his site down?

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If I’m a sole proprietor that specializes in web development and a client who does not want to pay me, am I safe to take his site down?

Recently, I have been working with a client on a $4000 project, 50% of which they paid up front. We are under no contract and have only discussed website expectations over the phone and through email. Originally, the site was supposed to have a specific feature, we’ll call Function A. After lots of research and work, I concluded that Function A was not feasible, and implemented Function B, a similar function (but admittedly not as good as Function A). The site is done and functions correctly, takes orders and allows users to customize the products, just in a different way, and I have invoiced for the remaining half, he doesn’t think he owes me anything.

Asked on June 8, 2015 under Business Law, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

IF he is not paying his ongoing hosting fees, then you may take the site down--you are not required to continue providing hosting services for free; however, if he is paid for hosting and is refusing to pay development fees, you have to leave the site up unless you had a written agreement stating that in the event of nonpayment of such amounts, you could take the site down. Otherwise, your recourse is to sue him for the money for breach of contract (not honoring his obligation to pay you for the work you did). Since you are a sole proprietor (not an LLC or corporation), if you're suing for an amount equal to or less than the maximum limit for small claims court, you could even sue him in small claims acting as your own attorney (pro se) to save on legal fees. Note that even if you could take his site down, suing may be a better, more direct way to get your money (i.e. what happens if he doesn't care that you took the site down and still refuses to pay?).


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