Thursday, November 13, 2008

PSC Refuses to Investigate Utility’s Brazen Violation of HEFPA.

Yesterday PULP received a call from a Bronx multiple dwelling resident who has reasonable grounds to suspect unlawful shared gas and electric meter conditions. The utility, Con Edison, set a date for an investigation, but advised the customer (i) she was responsible for the landlord or its representative’s presence at the investigation, and (ii) she would be charged $25 for the service call if she was unable to arrange for the landlord to be present.

As stated by a former head of the PSC Office of Consumer Services in a letter to the New York Times:
Section 52 of the Public Service Law, as implemented by the New York State Public Service Commission in Sections 11.30 through 11.39 of Title 16 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, states unambiguously that owners are responsible for service measured through a shared meter.

The Public Service Law requires that gas, electric and steam utilities investigate complaints from customers who receive service in rented dwellings that are measured by a shared meter where the meter registers service used in common areas or in other residential dwellings or commercial space.
Public Service Law § 52(4)(a) requires the utility, upon receipt of a shared meter complaint, to notify the building owner in writing that a complaint has been received:
Upon a customer's verbal or written complaint that a shared meter is measuring service to the customer's dwelling and that the customer is responsible for the charges for such service or upon receipt of other information indicating that a shared meter may exist, a utility shall notify the owner in writing of the owner's responsibilities under this section, that a complaint was received or information obtained that a shared meter may exist, and that the utility is required to conduct an investigation.
Under PSL § 52(4)(c), owners who refuse the investigating utility’s reasonable requests, or who do not cooperate with the utility by providing access to common areas in the building, must receive a determination that a shared meter condition exists:
Failure of an owner to provide access to any common area in the building or to cooperate with any reasonable request made by the investigating utility shall result in a determination that the customer's dwelling is served by a shared meter, specifying the owner's action that such utility understood to be a failure to cooperate.
The same statute provides that if access to the premises are under the complainant's control and the complainant does not cooperate in providing access, the consequences are a suspension of the shared meter investigation.

In sum, there is no provision in the Public Service Law, Public Service Commission regulations, or in Con Edison’s tariff requiring the tenant to assure the landlord’s presence or cooperation, at the risk of a $25 charge.

PULP advised the customer to call the PSC to lodge a complaint.

In yet another example of lax PSC enforcement of the laws it is charged to administer, the PSC staff refused to take the complaint and advised the customer to call back after she receives the $25 charge.

It may be that the threatened $25 charge was a bluff or the landlord will cooperate and no charge will be imposed. We question how many shared meter investigations in Con Edison’s territory have been thwarted, because customers are falsely told they will be charged $25 if their landlord refuses to cooperate.

The PSC Office of Consumer Services has a duty to investigate complaints of HEFPA violations. The PSC refusal to investigate this complaint could subject this customer to an unnecessary future billing dispute. But the refusal of the utility to arrange with the owner a time to investigate the shared meter claim is even more egregious, because it implicitly sanctions an unlawful practice apparently being applied by Con Edison’s in its service territory which likely contains a greater density of multiple dwellings (and hence potential shared meter conditions) than any other service territory in New York state.

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