Client locked me out server after non payment

New Turn Moan

Hi guys I have a story and I wanted to get some advice on my possible choices.

By trade I’m a graphics designer but the past couple of years I have entered into web programming. I was offered the opportunity by a freelance deisnger I had worked with to team up on a new web project.

They are a charity trying to encourage young people to take a interest in politics.

It is a wordpress site. The style was designed by the freelancer and I built the site requiring me to essentially create a custom wordpress theme along with a theme style for a YouTube feed page and simplepress forum.

Quite proud of it.

I was paid 50% up front. As it was my 1st wordpress site I Understood for myself that there would be a learning curve for me and also that their a charity making first steps into a web presence, therefore I offered them a lower rate. Total cost was less than £2200 for both design and build. So Bargin IMHO!

During the build as is to be expected sometimes, there were numerous changes and tweaks throughout the project which I was happy to oblige. Some request were total new features that were not part of the original brief and I was clear and explained that these would require further expense, these requests were retracted. The client had originally purchased a basic hosting deal on a windows server and advised him that he would need to upgrade it to Linux with MySQL which delayed the project as they didn’t want to loose emails.

The website was finally launched end of Dec. There were a few minor changes coming thru, I fulfilled them, then I requested that we make arrangements for final payment.

From this point onwards all contact with me ceased. It didn’t really click till I started up my coda app and noticed it wouldn’t log onto their server. I double checked, no sucess, tried thru my FTP app, no sucess. So I tried to log on via their web hosting control panel no sucess there! Considering I only did some bits the day before this was suspect.

So the client has Locked me out of the server!!!

This was later confirmed by the freelancer who thought I was initially over-reacting.

The feedback from the freelancers was that the client was not happy with a couple of areas of the site.

Namely a couple of bugs that have appeared in Chrome, that I’m more than happy to fix.

and that there is a user profile area that is part of wordpress but shows in wordpress style rather that their website style. I previously explained that apart from creating a template theme in their brand for wordpress there is little I can do.

And they claim I was late in delivering the website when they procrastinated about upgrading their server.

Rather than give me a chance to rectify things, they decided that they were not going to pay me the outstanding and locked me out the server as they were worried how I might react…to repeat…they locked me out the server as they were worried how I might react…Really.LOL!

So getting to the point the freelancers has the contract for the project, he says he’s trying to get some money out of it, but I’m doubtful as i know he does have some business interest with the client, so he won’t rock the boat. As you can see the website is stable and being used by their small community.

What possible options do I have? As a programmer do I have rights over say the css which is fully custom built by me?

What would I need to do to get the hosting company to block the website? Is all lost due to the fact the contract is held by the freelancer?

Current task is putting together my own contract! I know I’m closing the gate after the horse has bolted. But any advice you guys can give will be appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

What does your agreement with them say?

Well looking over the agreement that the freelancer says he got the client to sign, it is a outline of the confirmed requested features. An explanation as to what the stages of the build will and estimated time frame. Then just before the dotted line is “I agree to the above estimate and will pay the initial deposit to initiate the project”

Hmm. While I may feel morally right, I’m starting to look for my stoooopid sign!

While its just assumed. There’s nothing there that states the client will have to pay final monies at the end of the project.

So the freelancer has a contract with the client? And you, do you have a contract? With the client, or with the freelancer?

I believe you have the right to the code if you did not get paid.

Alas neither. Ive always worked with a company so this is my first proper freelance project. I’m in the process of setting myself up properly, but it was easier at the time to let the freelancer deal with the paperwork.

But bottom line there is no contract between me and anyone. :frowning:

How does a web programmer protect their code, or retract code which has not been paid for which is running on the clients server?

Were you dealing with the freelancer or with the client when you agreed to do the work? Also, what do you have in writing beween yo and the other parties regarding the work?

There may not be a formal written contract but there would be a verbal one and anything in writing between you and the other parties might serve to provide evidence of the contract. No guarantees though.

Every project I’ve ever been on where people have been cut this is pretty standard.

You get called into an office, you’re told you’re being let go and you’re escorted from the building and a time is set for you to come back and get your stuff. You can bet that any passwords you had have been changed as well.

People don’t react well to being let go (which is what happened to you, although in an asinine way) so they need to protect themselves.

Whether they can withhold payment is another matter entirely.

Well the freelancer has been quite helpful. Throughout the project there were times that the client was making requests direct to me via email which I would always cc in the freelancer on my reply, especially when they were attempting to move the goal posts.

I have a record of all the emails between me and client from which the freelancer said he can clearly see how I’ve promptly responded to comments and amends that the client has raised, and there’s no way they can turn around and say their not paying. So he’s going to have a meeting and discuss it further.

If anything I was quite hurt more than angry when I discovered what they had done. I was sure we had a pretty good business relationship.

But digging deeper the client reports to a team/board who me and the freelancer have not met. The freelancer calls him the ‘yes man’ and is feeling that possibly where I have advised against certain things, when reporting to the team in order to deflect any negativity towards himself I may of been used as the scape goat, which lead them to react the way they did, thinking i’m not giving them a good service.

I’m sorry to bring you bad news, but if you didn’t have a contract with the client, you haven’t got a leg to stand on.

Also, work for hire (which is similar) is bad news, and should be avoided like the plague. Work for hire removes all rights from you as a coder, designer, etc.

I got stuck in this trap a few years ago and lost thousands.

All I can suggest is to set yourself a contract using these guidelines at: and set up in business yourself. (I have less than 5 posts, so i can’t post links. I think you know what to do)

As a last resort, you could claim from the contractor you went through, who should have retrieved costs from the client and paid you in the first place. If you had a contract with the contractor, you may have a case.

Good luck.

How about forgetting all about contracts? There isn’t a written one, and even if there was it wouldn’t necessarily make a lot of difference as to whether you get paid or not.

There’s no doubt that you have a legal business relationship with them, and they with you, because no one can deny that you’ve done work for them, agreed a price with them, received partial payment from them, and exchanged written business communications with them (emails, in this case). Really, that’s all the ‘contract’ you need right now.

Forget also, for the time being, any attempts to somehow shut down the website or otherwise cause trouble. That’s not going to help at all.

I really think you should be concentrating 100% on getting your money from them in a normal, reasonable way, despite the obvious provocation and unfairness.

And that means using the telephone, the good old-fashioned telephone, and talking to people at this charity, calmly and reasonably.

I think you need to try and see the situation through their (warped) eyes and understand what they’re thinking. Then you can have a reasoned discussion and start negotiating to get your remaining payment.

People can ignore emails, but they can’t ignore phone calls - not for long, at least. If you call persistently you’ll eventually be able to talk to someone with the power to sort things out. They’ll moan about something or other you’ve done, you can respond and either persuade them to pay in full or come up with a compromise, whatever works best.

It’s pointless leaving it to your designer colleague to ‘try to get some money’ - it’s your money, you’re better off fighting for it yourself.

The telephone is the best, quickest, cheapest and most effective method of getting paid at this stage, and I suspect, from what you say (or don’t say) in your post that you haven’t tried it properly yet. :wink: