Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Year Passes with No PSC Decision on Submetered Tenant Complaints of HEFPA Violations and Overcharges

On April 7, 2008, PULP assisted an elderly tenant who resides at Hazel Towers, a 286 unit apartment building in the Bronx, in making a complaint to the PSC against her landlord regarding charges for submetered electricity. See Under HEFPA, the New York PSC Must Decide Complaints of Submetered Customers.

The PSC had allowed submetering in an order issued in 2000, but it was not implemented until April, 2007. When the submetering was initiated, her rent stabilized rent was reduced a little by DHCR because the landlord no longer included electric service in the rent, but the electric bills she received were erratic and much higher than the rent reduction. Her efforts and the efforts of other tenants to get explanations of unusual and disputed bills were unavailing.

The building has on-site cogeneration equipment which produces both electricity and heat used by the landlord for hot water and heat. The equipment and the submetering were funded with grants from NYSERDA.

The complaint included assertions that
  • the bills are not understandable and not compliant with the plain billing requirements of the Public Service Law and PSC regulations implementing the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA)
  • disputed charges are treated as late, and late charges are excessive, contrary to HEFPA requirements
  • the owner failed to offer levelized billing;
  • the owner failed to provide annual notification of HEFPA rights
  • the owner failed to compare charges with the rate cap established in the PSC order, which provides that in no event will the submeterer's chargeds exceed the charges that would be paid by a direct customer of Con Edison;
  • termination procedures were in violation of the submetering order and HEFPA;
  • the owner's complaint procedures are contrary to HEFPA.
PULP successfully defended the tenant in court, when the landlord's metering agent sued in Bronx County Supreme Court for an injunction to enable a shutoff of her power due to her nonpayment of charges. See AMPS, a Submetering Company, Withdraws Request for Court Injunction to Shut off Tenant's Electricity.

On May 13, 2008 the complaint was supplemented with assertions that the landlord’s charges for submetered electricity exceeded the Con Edison charges for a direct metering in at least seven months. For example, according to PULP's website electric bill estimator, Con Edison would have charged approximately $99 for service she used in September 2007, but her landlord charged $179.

The PSC case file indicates that the attorney who first appeared for the landlord said they might retain additional counsel which is more familiar with "our inner workings." The owner is now represented by the law firm where a former PSC Chairman now practices.

A year has now passed since the complaint was made.

Even though the issues of compliance with the PSC submetering order and HEFPA can be determined from the face of documents, leases and by comparing the tenant's bills for submetered service with tariffed utility charges, the PSC Office of Consumer Services has not yet made its initial decision this case. It has not decided the cases of several other tenants from the same building. It has not required the landlord to respond to the complaint of the tenants association.

For more background information see PULP's web page on submetering.

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