Should I Keep Trying to Pay a $700 Bill? I Think They Forgot to Charge Me.

I recently rented a car from a well-known car-rental company in a tiny office connected to an Amtrak station. Renting the car at this little outpost allowed my partner and me to have a wonderful vacation visiting a national park. The staff at this small office was very helpful — the car was waiting for us when we got off the train at 10 p.m. We used it for a week and returned it on time, clean and filled with gas.

The problem: We were never charged. I did receive an email detailing the cost — almost $700 — but never saw it reflected on my credit card. I called once to let them know, and a friendly “old duffer” (his term) answered and said they would deal with it. Weeks later, still no charge. I am quite grateful for what the gentleman did to help us, but I am unsure of how to proceed. Should I keep calling back? Or can I, with a clean conscience, let the matter go? — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

The skills of that little office would seem to be on the customer-service side, not on the accounts-receivable side. That’s decidedly not your fault. But if you’re right, you do owe a lot of money to the company. Because the transaction was booked and processed, I would think that the company will eventually expect payment from this local office or franchisee. Get in touch again, and explain that you still haven’t been charged. If you don’t, the company might penalize the friendly, if inefficient, folk there. You don’t have to make a mission out of it — it’s certainly not your job — but I wouldn’t stop with one call. Honk your horn a little.

A Bonus Question

Several years ago, an artist friend of mine gave my family a few of her paintings as a housewarming gift when we moved out of state. We had plenty of fun with this friend and her family when our kids were young and spent a lot of time together. At the time of the gift, I was very grateful to receive it: It was heartfelt, and I was sad to say goodbye. Since our move, the friendship has fizzled, and if I’m being honest, I realize we never shared the kind of closeness I have with my other old friends. My husband and I are doing some redecorating now, and we both agree that we’re tired of the paintings our friend gave us. We appreciated them for a long time, but now that we’ve taken them down, we don’t know what to do with them. I often hold onto art that friends have made long after I’m done with looking at it for sentimental reasons, but I don’t feel sentimental in this case. We know we don’t want to hold onto them, but we want to be respectful of my old friend and her art. Do I have to keep it in the basement forever? — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

You’ve moved on; it’s time for the paintings to move on, too. Holding on to art that you’ve soured on means depriving other potential owners of the enjoyment they might get from it. You should give them a chance to find a household where they will be appreciated. Tell your former friend that, in the course of redoing your new home, you haven’t found a place for the artwork and offer to return the paintings to her. Otherwise you might donate or sell them.

Right now, it’s clear, any sentimental value the paintings hold would be in the eyes of the giver alone. You can be diplomatic — and yes, respectful of the relationship you once had — without being forever responsible for the care and custody of unwanted work.

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