Friday, July 31, 2009

Tiffany Mews Tenants Ask PSC to Halt Submetering with No Proper Order and No Filed Tariff or Contracts Approved by the PSC

Tiffany Mews is a 70-unit converted factory building rented to low-income rent stabilized tenants in 1995, after a lengthy effort to convert it into condominiums failed. See Unexpected Arrivals Settle a Casualty Condominium, New York Times, Jan. 8, 1995. The owner of Tiffany Mews, Related Tiffany, for many years has resold electricity to tenants.

The Tiffany Mews Tenant Committee (“TMTC”), represented by PULP, is petitioning the PSC today to halt submetering of electricity. Their Petition alleges that submetering is illegal because the owner lacks a valid order allowing it to resell electricity to tenants. When PULP investigated the matter, New York State Department of Public Service staff was unable to locate and provide a copy of a Submetering Order applicable to Tiffany Mews. Apparently, the PSC copy of an order was lost or destroyed.

Eventually, PULP obtained from another source a copy of a 1991 PSC order that had been obtained by a prior owner, which allows the resale of electricity, but only to condominium unit owners. It did not authorize resale of electricity to tenants.

The TMTC Petition alleges:
  • The Submetering Order did not authorize Related Tiffany to sell electricity to tenants, and is moot because it only granted permission to submeter electric service to owners of residential condominiums, which do not exist at Tiffany Mews, and because Related Tiffany failed to notify the Commission of resale to tenants or to seek modification of the prior order;
  • No valid agreement exists between Related Tiffany and Tiffany Mews tenants which contains Commission-approved rates, terms and conditions for the provision of electric service and which is filed with and approved by the Commission;
  • Neither Related Tiffany nor its predecessor provided the Commission with a full description of the type of submetering system to be used, and did not provide any validation of the reliability and accuracy of the submetering system, and the Commission made no finding that the meters are approved;
  • Submetering was not implemented at Tiffany Mews in compliance with the Submetering Order, Related Tiffany violated the customer protection requirements of the Submetering Order, and failed to apprise the Commission of a change in circumstances upon which the Order had been based;
  • The Submetering Order allows complaint resolution procedures which are inconsistent with the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (“HEFPA”);
  • Related Tiffany unilaterally changed the complaint resolution procedures without Commission approval or modification of the Submetering Order and the new complaint resolution procedures are inconsistent with HEFPA;
  • Related Tiffany’s lease provisions “deeming” electricity charges to be “additional rent” and its practice of evicting tenants for alleged nonpayment of such charges is a violation of HEFPA and its implementing regulations;
  • Related Tiffany is charging unlawful rates and is subjecting tenants to terms and conditions of submetered electric service under color of agreements not filed with and not approved by the Commission and that are not just and reasonable; and
  • Related Tiffany unlawfully imposed real time pricing experiments and assessed time-of-use charges upon tenants without their voluntary consent in violation of the Public Service Law.
The Petition asks the PSC to halt the allegedly unlawful submetering and refund charges paid by tenants for electricity.

If any future submetering is allowed, the Petition asks for
  • An order directing Related Tiffany to establish, prospectively, lawful terms and conditions for any approved electric service at Tiffany Mews;
  • An order directing Related Tiffany to obtain an energy audit performed by an independent auditor, and to remediate energy efficiencies and inequities before requiring tenants to pay for electric service and be burdened with the cost of energy inefficiencies that are rightfully the financial responsibility of Related Tiffany;
  • A declaratory ruling that the complaint procedure sanctioned by the Commission in 1991 for condominium owners is ultra vires and inconsistent with HEFPA, and issue an order modifying the Submetering Order consistent with that ruling;
  • An order directing Related Tiffany to implement complaint resolution procedures that comply with HEFPA, to provide immediate notice of those procedures to tenants, to modify tenants’ leases to include recognition of such rights, and to provide annual notification as required by HEFPA.
  • Undertake an audit of late fees Related Tiffany charged tenants from the commencement of submetering to date, and an order directing Related Tiffany to refund all excessive late fees charged;
  • Undertake an audit of Related Tiffany’s submetered electric charges from the inception of submetering to date to identify charges in excess of the rate cap, and to order Related Tiffany to refund to tenants all such overcharges.
  • Investigation of Related Tiffany’s unlawful time-of-use rate experimentation at Tiffany Mews conducted without tenant consent, and an order directing Related Tiffany to refund tenants all amounts charged for electricity at unlawful TOU rates, which also were not filed with or approved by the Commission.
  • Investigation of the type of submetering system to be used and its reliability and accuracy, including meter tests for each tenant to rule out defective, inaccurate and shared meter conditions;
  • An order directing Related Tiffany to cease violation of HEFPA by “deeming” electricity charges to be “additional rent” and to cease its practice of evicting tenants for nonpayment of such charges; and
  • An audit of unlawful Time of Use charges imposed without voluntary tenant consent and order Related Tiffany to refund all such charges paid by tenants.
For further information, see PULP's webpage on submetering.

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