Over the years I have encountered several situations when re-designing client’s websites. One is when the previous web designer has bought a domain name on behalf of a client and registered it in their own name. This is not illegal or even unscrupulous as long as they are willing to hand over the domain should the client wish to change hosts or engage a different web designer.
The situation becomes an issue when a web designer refuses to hand over the domain and keeps control of it. There will be reasons like “it’s not our policy” or “the domain name is rented”. The later is true in a way as the domain names are leased through ICANN. Having said that your domain has value and it has more value to you than anyone else.
Every web designer knows this and most will be acting in your best interests. However there are stories out there on the web (so they must be true) of developers who have held domains for “ransom”. One such story is where a developer charged £5k to released a domain, and the client paid it.
Recently I was asked to quote to re design two websites for a potential client. Knowing the URLs, I had a look and could see that most of the plugins were out of date. Some were completely unsupported. The core WordPress files had not been updated for over 8 years.
I was given the login details for the sites which were used by staff in the business to add and edit content. So had a look at the backend.
I found that the WordPress files had been edited so that nothing could be updated using the dashboard and all updates had to be done through FTP. When I asked my contact how they worked with the existing designers, I was told that all changes they wanted cost an arm and a leg. This included updates.
So I had a look at who the domains were registered to. Low and behold the domains were registered to the web design company. What is more their stance was that they own the domains and not the client. If the client wanted to go elsewhere they would have to forfeit the domain names.