Cleaning up client messes

This is a question for other web designers dealing with clients. Recently I’ve found myself repeatedly having to clean up situations for clients on existing websites that I am rebuilding for them in Blocs and it’s taking up a lot of my time.

Just today I am dealing with a client who allowed the previous web designer to register the domain in her own name. It’s hosted on her personal account, so she won’t allow access to cPanel for migration. Instead she insists that they pay for renewal now, then she will change the A records, but keep the email on her server so it is safe… In other words she is basically saying they must pay her forever or lose all email and the domain.

In part I find it disgusting how some of these web developers are behaving, but also rather fed up that every new job seems to entail lots of emails and research sorting out tangled webs for clueless clients.

On another recent site everything was registered to an ex-wife. He’d also had two identical sites online for ten years without knowing, yet never questioned why email was going to the wrong address. Ironically they were fussing over every detail on the site I was building for them.

I always ask them early on now if they control the domain, but there seem to be so many crazy situations out there. Just a couple weeks ago I completed a website for a client and their registrar wouldn’t even allow name server changes and they weren’t responding to support requests either. We got around that one through Nominet, but all of this is very time consuming for me.

I am wondering how others are dealing with situations like this and are you charging extra when these cases arise? To me this seems well beyond the scope of just building a website.

I’m not dealing with clients yet (in the process of building my own website to offer my services), but I can understand why some web designers also offer hosting and domain registration, so they keep everything under control.

It’s a situation I’m familiar with. The real lesson to be learned here is that clients should always register their own domain name. This way, they always have access to the registrar and can make whatever changes they like. In the cases I’ve dealt with, it’s usually been because the client has asked the web developer to handle the registration and hosting for them. Faced with this situation, I get the client to give me a copy of the invoice they were issued when they engaged the web developer to register the domain. This is more than sufficient to establish ownership of the domain name. This can be forwarded to the registrar directly with a request to release the domain so it can be transferred elsewhere. Most registrars are well aware of the fact that web developers can use domain names to force their clients into paying for continued services, usually at a premium price. So, they are usually very helpful in rescuing domain names.

Of course, if your clients don’t have an invoice for the domain registration, they should obtain one - especially if they are being asked to pay for renewal. The invoice will evidence that the web developer is basically acting as an agent for the rightful domain owner and can be used to to get a domain transfer organised.


Thats good advice @hendon52

I still think it comes down to one basic thing … contract.

:clipboard: :timer_clock: :money_with_wings:

Of course, they can waste as much of my time as they want, they are paying for it. :wink:

Thats why an encompassing contract is needed upfront.

I feel for you, I think it’s just part of the job. I’ve also had many things happen with domains and I think each client is different. Some want to control everything, which is fine, others don’t have the skill or time to manage there domain.

It is one of the things I research and talk to the client about before taking on a job. I’m fine with what ever my client wants, I just want them to know there responsibilities if they want control of everything. I also try to anticipate domain problems and would expect my client to pay for any time I spent having to straighten out any problems. I think communicating this upfront will help for a smoother transition.

I’ve had sites go down from owners neglect, not responding to verify domain ownership and not renewing the domain. It happens and in turn my clients learns that its important to manage the domain.

I’d say 80% of my sites my clients want me to manage everything about the domain. It’s sad that some web designers think this gives them the right to do what ever they want with the domain. I feel I’m just providing a service for my client and that the domain is not in any way “MY” domain. It’s always the sites owners. Just good business.

Good luck @Flashman

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It’s sad some developers do that but I guess they’ll always see the sites (or any other work done) they create as their property and try to find a way to keep a grip on it.
I had a client several months who decided to switch to a more ‘graphical’ background developer similar to their purpose. I had no problems transferring their domain to their new host or working with the new developer on the process.

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Yes I agree absolutely that clients should always register the domain themselves. Unfortunately clients often come to me when they are already having problems with existing sites and dealing with designers who are messing them about. On the current site he is not even receiving emails and she regularly allows the SSL certificates to expire before renewing them after clients tell her. Total cowboys.

I’ve just been on the phone now and he’s at his wits end, following a shouting match with that designer. It appears that the domain is registered under his name, but in her account, so she still maintains control and she has spun him some story that he cannot have an account himself.

I am receiving very confused messages from the client, partly because he doesn’t understand anything, but it seems the web designer is saying he must now pay £85 for the email and hosting or he loses everything. She typically charges him an additional £110 a year for a privacy policy and cookie banner on the website!

They will not allow migration from cPanel, so all email would be lost, unless they continue to pay annually for hosting, so the email remains with her. In addition to the unwarranted costs I pointed out that she is simply untrustworthy and unreliable.

I’ve suggested he immediately backup email on his computer to an external hard drive. This is a domain so I also wondered if Nominet could help

I think it unlikely she will just delete his account today, because if she does she’ll never see another penny. The story being spun is that when she has to renew hosting all her clients have to renew, as if all of them had hosting on the same date, which is laughable.

The client has just sent me a copy of the last invoice, which does indeed list payment for the domain, so that is something in his favour and I have established there is no contract, just two previous invoices. She is now refusing to engage with him other than by email and only if he pays this invoice immediately.

@casey1823 and that is the correct approach. Our responsibilities as web developers should always to put the client’s needs first. If they trust us with the domain registration and hosting, we should never hold the client to ransom by taking their domain name hostage. Of course, I realise that there can be genuine disputes between service providers and clients, but that shouldn’t prevent us from doing the right thing. Ultimately, a web designer should have no rights or legitimate interest in a client’s domain name. As long as the client has paid for the domain registration, then they are legally allowed to transfer control over that domain name to whoever they wish.

The most severe case I had of this happening was with a client who had a 12 year old domain name. He tried to move his site to another web host and the web designer didn’t like the idea, so he refused to authorise the transfer of the domain . There was no dispute involved regarding outstanding payments, the client simply wanted to move on. The way we resolved the issue was to send a notification of a formal WIPO complaint to the client and the registrar. Odly enough, the domain was released within 48 hours.

I’ve attached the WIPO model compliant notification in case someone wants to use it. One caveat, although you don’t have to file the complaint, its usually sufficient to spook the hostage taker - certainly, he or she will be contacted by the registrar to find out what the heck they’re playing at. If they are brazen enough to simply ignore the notice, you can file it on-line but it will cost you money to file. So, if your domain name is commercially important it may well be worth the cost of WIPO arbitration (its a relatively quick process). But, if there is no commercial value to the domain name, then it probably isn’t worth your while filing. Of course, there is also the possibility that the website itself contains a distinctive trade mark or registered business name that belongs to the client. If this is the case, the hostage taker can be accused of “passing off” because he is effectively controlling a website over which he has no commercial interest - in other words, he’s pretending to be your business. Where such a complaint is upheld (which they often are in these circumstances) the domain will be passed to the control of the client. (23.4 KB)


Indeed. They could file a claim to try to regain/claim ownership from the hosting provider or ICANN. It generally takes time and money (unless the person relents out of fear) but until then the hostage situation will remain unless that person relents to the actual business owner. If its an established brand, then attempting to take legal action can be worth it to gain control. Its hard to imagine a viable brand could progress far with such a situation without first rectifying it, but it does happen sadly.

Just as a point of interest, WIPO is the dispute resolution body that handles ICANN issues. Although they charge for the service, they can put the brakes on domain transfers within 2 days of a complaint. They then wait for the hostage taker to file a defence (which will also cost them money).

You can do UDRP, etc., directly with ICANN if desired.

It’s basically a small company started a couple years ago with two employees, plus the owner. He’s a young guy with a pregnant girlfriend etc. trying his best under difficult circumstances with the virus and the rest.

He cannot hire expensive lawyers, but equally he has a lot invested personally in the business, plus all that email relates to existing contracts and the rest. I find the behaviour of this original web designer just awful.

I agree.

The business owner can try the scare tactic through proposed legal action as described above, but if they are unwilling or able to follow through then their bluff could be called. If the designer has much of a public social profile they could choose to take the situation public and try to call them out on their business practices and maybe force them to correct their actions. With either approach a buyout could be offered/accomplished at a lower cost than actual legal action. Worth a shot but with no guarantees without actually seeing it through legally.

Another non-preferred option is switching domains and starting anew. But with this approach you are still trusting that eventually the designer will not keep paying for the old domain. Regardless in the meantime you have potential duplicate content online, emails and more of mess until the old domain expires. Plus it takes great deal of effort to inform people of such a brand switch, but ultimately may be worth it in certain situations.

Its truly a pity, I hope this couple can see their way through it.

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I have come across similar cases, the server that I use to host my clients’ sites, allows me to buy hosting and domain and once I do that I can change the owner on behalf of my client or buy it directly on behalf of my client, and continue managing it from my master panel, I don’t know if other servers have or can do that option! I have been using the same server for several years without problems.

I have also had problems with other programmers who do not want to leave or drop the client’s domain to continue paying them, and I have had others who free the domain easy.

At this stage I have set up an account for the client on my reseller server and I’ll add the email accounts there shortly once I have confirmation of the details. I’ll then attempt a sync migration of the email to my server through my web host Guru that has an email migration tool. Once we have all of that it effectively takes the sting out of their nonsense.

We’ll then ask them nicely to transfer the domain to my client, but add that we will go via Nominet if necessary, which I doubt they would enjoy. The real pain in all of this is the lost time and frankly having a lousy day dealing with it all rather than being involved in something more positive and productive.

The part I find most annoying in this is that web designers like this woman give us all bad name and they tend to prey on the small businesses that are ill equipped to deal with these things. They could never do this with a large company armed with big lawyers.

Clients who have lost control of their website/domain has happened to me three times. In each case it was left to the client to wrestle back control of their domain. They were happy to do that and I would not get involved in the crossfire of trying to sort out such disputes. Sometimes this is because the original site developer set everything up in their own name and then went AWOL for whatever reason.

I don’t offer hosting services because I don’t want to be involved in that responsibility and I always tell clients to set up their domain and hosting themselves so that they can always remain in control. I suggest a suitable host ( generally 1and1 ).

i’m also amazed at how many clients register a domain but don’t get hosting with it.

I have been developing websites professionally for a really long time, since the mid 90s. Ugh, just typing that makes me feel old. What also gets old is what you are describing! It has happened many times that the client needs to get control over their website and I often help them do this. It is billable time, of course, and as a consultant you may have to do this and some other things that don’t feel like development, because they are not code or design. Instead, its business practice and advice and implementation you are providing. Its my policy to have a preliminary consultation where we discuss long term and short term goals of their web site needs, and in every case I instruct the importance of always maintaining control of the domain name and DNS no matter how nice the developers are or how well they get along with them. All activities provided to clients are services, and yes the design scope is only one part of it!


It tends not to be such a problem when clients come to me without a site already, because I insist they register the domain in their own name and I help them if necessary.

The main reasons I host websites myself are that it makes me money and also cuts through a lot of nonsense if I need to speak with technical support at the web host for any reason. Simply having the client host elsewhere would not have helped to resolve any of this. It would have been more complex, because they will only speak with the account holder.

I generally find that older clients over 60 with small businesses are much higher maintenance and seem to expect free updates for life. They really want their pound of flesh with endless updates and calls, so I recently told some this was no longer feasible and that any further time would be chargeable. Not heard from one since!

More generally though, I am shocked at just how clueless the average person is about anything computer related in 2020. The surprising part here is that the client is a young man under thirty with a university degree. Now it transpires that he doesn’t know the passwords for any of his three email addresses and wants me to help… He reckons he had them written down somewhere and cannot find them now.

In this instance the client has told me he is happy to pay for the extra time involved, however many seem to think the web designer should resolve any situation or request that arises at no additional cost. These are the clients I do not want.

One case recently really annoyed me and I plan on speaking to the company owner about this soon. I spent an hour troubleshooting a “failed email delivery” for their new hotshot, who is a self-styled e-commerce coordinator i.e asks lots of stupid questions. An email he had supposedly sent from his outlook account to himself still hadn’t arrived 12 hours later and he demanded to know why. After an hour of tests and checks on the server it transpired he had sent the email to somebody else.

It’s a subject for another thread, but training and maintenance of sites with a CMS is another topic I think would be worth analysing.

@Flashman Hang in there & please write into any new agreement that any time your spend on domain or email maintenance is billable - Either they will ask for the service or they won’t - either way, you win in the end.

Take care.