Thursday, September 17, 2009

PSC Stops Submetering at Four Buildings, Sets Conditions to Address Tenant Concerns

At its September 17, 2009 session the PSC decided to grant rehearing of prior submetering orders, and halted implementation of electric submetering at four New York City buildings with a total of 2,800 tenants. Earlier, in February 2oo9, the Commission temporarily stayed submetering on an emergency basis to protect the tenants, who would have seen large cost increases for electric heat which many of them could not afford. (For background, see Submetering Slowed at Roosevelt Island - Temporary Stay of Submetering Conversion at Roosevelt Island and Three Other Locations, PULP Network, Feb. 12, 2009; and PSC Continues Stay of Submetering at Four Former Mitchell-Lama Projects, PULP Network, July 10, 2009).

The Commission issued a Press Release today, PSC Seeks Added Tenant Protections When Submetering - Focus on Rent-Assisted, Low-Income Households in Electric Heated Buildings, PSC Press Release, September 17, 2009. A full decision and order on the case will be issued.

Based on discussion at the webcast PSC meeting, this is a reprieve for the 2,800 tenants in four buildings, many of whom who would have suffered great hardship and possible displacement if submetering had been implemented. "Shadow" bills issued before the submetering was to begin indicated tenants would be faced with hundreds of dollars a month in added energy burdens because the premises are heated with electric resistance heating fixtures, the building is not energy efficient, and any downward adjustment to rent or housing subsidies would not offset typical new charges for electricity.

The owners will be allowed to request permission to submeter again only after meeting conditions, including
  • an open process to obtain input from tenants and all parties to the cases
  • a showing that as a whole, tenants are held harmless from submetering
  • commitment to completion of energy efficiency measures in NYSERDA program
  • installation of thermostats
  • no "deeming" of charges for electric service to be "added rent"
  • compliance with HEFPA
  • education of tenants regarding comment to the Commission regarding any submetering proposal, about energy efficiency, and about HEFPA rights.
The Commission rejected the owners' contention that the rehearing petitions filed on behalf of tenants by Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, State Senator Jose Serrano, and City Councilmember Jessica Lappin were untimely, with Commission counsel stating it was clear that the normal 30 day time for rehearing can be extended for good cause by the PSC.

Although the ruling does not have direct impact on other pending cases, in which tenants in other buildings have petitioned the Commission for relief and stays of submetering orders, concerns were expressed that tenants in other buildings where submetering has been implemented may suffer hardship.

For further information see PULP's web page on submetering.

-- Later on September 17, 2009, the PSC issued its Order Denying in Part and Granting in Part Petitions for Rehearing and Establishing Further Requirements. The order focuses on the submetering of electrically heated buildings, but indicates in a footnote that some of the principles it is adopting may also apply in other situations.

-- See Clare Trapasso, Mitchell Lama Tenants Win Out in Dispute Over Electric Bills, Daily News, September 18, 2009.

-- See $1000 Monthly Electricity Charges No Longer Feared By Roosevelt Island Eastwood Residents As Public Service Commission Halts Submetering Attempt, Roosevelt Islander Blog, September 21, 2009.

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