Friday, February 20, 2009

Bronx Tenant Association Objects to PSC Staff Proposal to "Streamline" Electric Submetering Rules

As we have previously reported, the PSC Staff is proposing to revise the agency's regulations to "streamline" the approval process for landlord sale of electric service to residential tenants, known as "submetering." See PSC to Hold Technical Conference on Electricity Submetering Issues; Submetering Technical Conference Postponed to January.

Submetering is entirely a creation of the PSC. There is no legislation authorizing residential submetering. Indeed, under the plain language of the Public Service Law Section 2, the only situation where a landlord can sell electricity to tenants is when the landlord is a railroad or streetcar company; otherwise, all retail electric service must be provided and sold only by an electric company that has a certificate from the Commission.

The PSC prohibited the practice of submetering in 1951, calling it "parasitic," and required all utilities to adopt tariffs prohibiting any retail resale of their service. That decision to end submetering and require direct utility service to all customers was affirmed by the state's highest court in Campo v. Feinberg. Submetering was later resurrected by the PSC for coops and condos, where the owners wanted to implement it.

Still later, the PSC extended submetering to ordinary multiple family rental housing, where the interests of owners and tenants are not the same. Under a system of orders allowing waiver of the tariff prohibitions on resale of utility service, the PSC constructed a system in which -- on paper -- tenants would not pay more than direct utility metered customers and they would not lose customer protections.

Reality, however, does not reflect the PSC's paper scheme. Customers are aggrieved by landlord overcharges and failure to provide HEFPA protections. Some are brought to court over disputed bills without notice and recourse to administrative PSC complaint procedures required by HEFPA. Low income tenants in submetering buildings cannot get emergency grants to pay utility bills because, instead of sending advance termination notices, as utilities do, landlords deem their electric service charges to be "additional rent" and bring eviction cases.

A Bronx group, the Hazel Towers Tenants Association and its members have made complaints to the PSC challenging major violations of the existing orders. The landlord then retained the law firm of a former PSC Chairman on whose watch many buildings were submetered. Their well-documented and easily determined complaints of overcharges and noncompliance with requirements of the PSC submetering order regarding their buildings have not been decided after many months. Indeed, the association's complaint has not even been answered.

The Hazel Towers Tenants Association has filed comments on the PSC Staff's draft regulations, asking the PSC to turn its attention to more enforcement of existing requirements of the applicable submetering orders, and opposing any further relaxation of the submetering requirements for the benefit of landlords and the submetering industry.

For further information visit PULP's website page on submetering, and search this blog for additional posts on "submetering."

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