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How do I keep my neighbors from stealing my power?
June 5, 2006 11:24 PM   Subscribe

I just found out our new neighbors are stealing our power. What to do?

I am having another neighbor problem (this was me).


I live in the upstairs apartment of a duplex in New Orleans. Up until a couple weeks ago the downstairs was empty, then some Latino workers moved in. I had noticed an orange power cord coming out from their back door but had assumed that they were borrowing from the house next door (the inhabitants of the duplex next to us are about a trillion Latino workers, as are the new guys below us). When I moved back here in January it took about two weeks to get the power turned on because the utility company was so behind, so it didn't seem that out of the ordinary.

I come home tonight and my roommate informs me that the guys downstairs are stealing our power. She shows me a pair of outlets outside with power cords plugged into them - one going in through the window and the other under the house and in the back door.

Our actual landlord is a bitch who thinks all students are whiny and ungrateful, so she's probably no use. There is a sort-of property manager and a maintenance guy, neither of whom consider our property a priority (took them 3 months to put in the washer and dryer we were promised, and our dishwasher still leaks all over the floor!).

That said, what do you think is the best course of action?
- Do we even bother telling the landlord or property manager?
- Should we talk to the guys downstairs? (I speak Spanish, but if the next door neighbors are any indication of the new guys, they will smile and nod and continue to commit the offense.)
- Call the utility company?
- Call the police?
- Is there some way to lock the plug?
posted by radioamy to Human Relations (61 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
utility company, definitely. They will also likely call the cops, as growops are one of the most common power thieves. Be prepared to not be there when either come by.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:30 PM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


...so... when's your lease up? Your neighbors are scary and your landlord has issues. I'm sure you'd already be looking at moving, but you might want to pore over your lease and look for grounds to terminate.

That said, do you have access to the circuit breaker or the fusebox? If yes and if it's in an area not accessible by your downstairs neighbors, any external outlets are probably on a separate circuit.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:42 PM on June 5, 2006


I suppose you should probably try all those reasonable options: talking to your neighbors, the landlord, your utility company, and the police, in that order. But yes, there are locks you can install, or you can deactivate or remove the outlets altogether. Frankly, if I were in your situation and asking politely didn't work, I'd probably either cut the neighbor's extension cords or grab a hammer and smash the outlet. But I don't necessarily recommend either of those options.

You could also move. Sounds like you've had enough grief from that building, anyhow.
posted by cribcage at 11:44 PM on June 5, 2006


Lease is up July 31 and I'm out of here, but my roommate (and good friend) is staying because its super-close to the university we attend and she doesn't want to deal with moving.

Circuit breaker/fusebox (is there a difference) is outside so they have access to it too.

Kickstart, why exactly wouldn't I want to be there?
posted by radioamy at 11:49 PM on June 5, 2006


Most boxes have a spot for a padlock.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:51 PM on June 5, 2006


radioamy, you don't want to be there just in case they really are running a growop or other nefarious business and react in a highly negative way when the utility company and cops show up. In all likelyhood nothing bad will happen, but there is a chance that gunplay becomes involved and I'd rather not see your next Ask question be "How do I handle the drainage from a gunshot wound?". :)
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:59 PM on June 5, 2006


I have to ask. Is there any particular reason to tell us they're Latino? And what does Latino actually mean in this context -- migrant? Is there any reason you think you'll need to speak Spanish to talk to them?

I was thinking this the last time you posted.

You have some people living next door to you. They're doing something you don't like. I don't, on the face of it, see how race or nationality is relevant to your problem.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:04 AM on June 6, 2006 [2 favorites]


I have to ask.

No, you don't. Answer the question or keep out of the thread.
posted by cribcage at 12:15 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Ambrose,

The reason I mentioned nationality, especially in my previous post, is becuase culture clash is a factor. I'm not particularly well-travelled but I am aware that there are significant cultural differences between the United States vs Latin America. I have tried to be understanding and chalk some of the problems we've had to cultural differences and misunderstandings, so this is why I mentioned it.

Very few of my neighbors speak English, as far as I can tell. Every time I've tried to speak with any one of my neighbors in English they look confused and uncomfortable, but appear to understand what I'm saying when I switch to Spanish. When they are hanging out on the property they speak Spanish and listen to (loud) Spanish-language music.

I don't know or particuarly care about the legal status of my neighbors. I am not looking to get them deported or whatever, I am just sortof at my witts end!

MeFites, I hope I haven't offended anyone with my mention of my neighbors' race/ethniciy/etc (FWIW, I think the majority of them are from Honduras, as I find "La Hondurena" calling cards all over the place.) I was just mentioning what I thought was a pertinent detail.
posted by radioamy at 12:27 AM on June 6, 2006


Just to be clear, where are the outlets that they're plugging into? Is it possible that they do not realize the outlets are on your meter?
posted by nathan_teske at 12:31 AM on June 6, 2006


Nathan - yeah I thought of that too. The outlet is outside on the side of the house. Just looking at it, it's not immediately clear whose meter the outlet is hooked up to. The thing is, if they had legal power turned on, they wouldn't need to plug in from the outside. So it's gotta be our plug.
posted by radioamy at 12:35 AM on June 6, 2006


Why can't you just unplug it?
posted by A189Nut at 12:41 AM on June 6, 2006


Talk to the neighbours. If they nod politely and then continue what they're doing, call the landlord and ask if you can get the outside outlets disconnected. I'm guessing the landlord won't be very accomodating on that front though, so you could theoretically call an electrician and get them to do it. The money you pay for an electrician will almost certainly pay for itself in the electric bill savings, and you could charge it back to the landlord if you *really* wanted to, but it would be a hassle.
posted by antifuse at 1:53 AM on June 6, 2006


That outlet will have a circuit breaker or fuse, and it is extremely likely that you have access to it. If you find your fusebox, but cannot disable that outlet at it, then it isn't yours.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:32 AM on June 6, 2006


Are you sure the fusebox is outside? That's unusual. Hope I'm not being insulting, but the box in question (fusebox and breaker box are functionally the same) will have a door that opens to reveal rows of switches or round fuses. If it has no door, but a big glass bowl covering a wierd looking mechanism with a numbered wheel or a digital counter, that's the electric meter, which usually is outside.

If you can identify which breaker or fuse controls the outlet in question, disable it, if it does not also control some other outlet that you use. (Circuit breakers switch on & off like a light switch; fuses unscrew.) After you disable it, if it is outside, put a padlock on it, and give a key to the landlady. If the box is inside, you're all done. They'll have to steal their power from someone else.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:53 AM on June 6, 2006


You are almost certainly wrong in assuming that your landlord won't care to know about this. If nothing else, she's exposed to liability issues if improperly used extension cords, plugged in at her property, cause a fire. If you really want to see some action, fib - tell her that the cords are hot or sparking.

Call her and let her handle it. If she's not interested, call the police.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:14 AM on June 6, 2006


Nuke the disrespectful thieving fuckers. Really.

Reading your last question had me gritting my goddamn teeth - I've dealt with similar situations as a usually non-threatening male, and being meek and polite and civil just made things worse.

The Latino culture thing is valid, unfortunately. There is the reality of the whole machismo bullshit. This is not at all to say that all Latino males are thus, but it is a pervasive cultural value, especially in the more rural or poorer working classes.

Call the power company, call the cops, call the media. Just make a damn ruckus. Take a bat to one of their cars if you think you've got the fire and outrage by now.

This isn't some cultural difference where you might possibly be rude, this is some cultural difference where you - as a female - are wholly inferior, inconsequential, unauthoritative, chattel and property to their so-called superior maleness. Fuck 'em. Stop being so damn polite. If they're infused with the machismo-virus, they see you as fucking furniture. You getting pissed off yet?

Did you ever call the INSICE or Border Patrol? Did you ever call the cops? If not, call. ASAP. If so, keep calling. Call the ombudsman.

You can't sit on this and be wishy washy about it. It'll just get worse. They've already tested your boundaries many times, and found them very, very soft. And they'll keep pushing. For fuck's sake, they're stealing from you. Fuck political correctness, this has nothing to do with skin tone, cultural differences or any of that.

Would you be so timid if it was a bunch of headbanging stoner party animal students living next door? What if they were just trailer trash? Rednecks? Tweakers? What if they were Aleutian? Or Chinese?

It'd still be damn offensive and way over any commonly recognized boundary line of neighborly decency in your community or any US community, cultural differences be damned.

They've disrespected you in a huge way. They've stolen water and power from you. What's it going to take for you to stand up for yourself and fight for yourself like the stupendous badass you are? Stealing something tangible from your home? Taking pictures through your window? Rape?

Your home is not some playground that you need to cordon your resources off under lock and key just so they can run roughshod over your space. Start documenting all their bullshit and get the authorities involved.

Above and beyond all that, you have a huge list of rights as a tenant, and your landlord is legally obligated to comply with them. Did you document the last problems and air your problems with your landlord? Did they outright refuse to do anything about it?

Sue them into a smoking crater. There are reasons why these laws exist to protect tenants from scumbag landlords who could give a crap. You are entitled to a safe, clean, healthy place to live - and that includes your mental health and safety.

Go forth and kick ass, be it by phone or by picking out their Den Mother and kicking him square in the nuts with a pair of steel toes.

Your safety and sanity are worth it. But you have to actually do something, and not be lightfooted or halfassed about it.

Disclaimer for the faint of heart, the fanatically politically correct, or the easily offended:

Yeah, I'm a pasty gringo from El Norte. I lived in Mexico in a rural, impoverished setting for an extended period of time growing up. I also grew up Stateside with Mexicans and Latino Americans from Central and South America. I've lived in Santa Ana, CA, East Los Angeles, South-Central Los Angeles. I've bought a few thousand home made tamales and empenadas from street vending families. I can eat more tacos, mole, buche, menudo, and real hot homemade salsa - both verde and rojo - than you. And don't get me started about tres leches. I can eat a full sheet of that amazing cake.

Mi Espanol mui malo, but I lived, worked and wiped my ass amongst Latinos most of my life. Cuidado! I've loved many Latino people as brothers and sisters and even parent-figures and I love almost everything about Latino art culture, art and life and have nearly boundless respect for the culture and the many good things about it. My first real GF in high school was Mexican - her folks were first generation from southern Sonora.

But the male-centric chauvinistic machismo thing pisses me off to no end, as does the fucking outright disrespecting of shit like this. Sorry, but fuck that. That doesn't make me a racist. I'm talking about specific cultural behaviors and documented cultural norms and differences, not a race. As implied above, it'd piss me off just as much if it was a bunch of rebel-flag waving straight up honky-ass crackers.

posted by loquacious at 4:36 AM on June 6, 2006 [4 favorites]


Could they just be poor guys scavenging water and electricity from someone they imagine is some rich college chick living upstairs who will never even notice the extra charges because daddy is paying for everything anyway? Or that they figure it's not your problem either, but maybe the rich landlord's?

In any case, if they're taking money out of your pocket, call the cops. Avoid direct confrontation with a bunch that size.
posted by pracowity at 5:02 AM on June 6, 2006


If you have no response from the authorities, you might try this if you don't use the outlet:

1. cut power at the breaker
2. remove the outlet cover
3. pull out the socket
4. disconnect the socket
5. put wire nuts on the ends of all the wires (strictly, you only need to do black, but you might as well do them all)
6. put the wires back in the box
7. replace the outlet with a blank outdoor wall plate

This is an easy DIY job. For tools, you will need a screwdriver and maybe pliers to straighten out the wire ends before putting on the wire nuts. As for cost, a box of of wire nuts and a faceplate cost $10 tops.

No more power.

Really, the thing to do is to put in a weatherproof, locking outlet, but my google-fu was failing me.
posted by plinth at 5:37 AM on June 6, 2006


Start with the assumption they weren't aware they were stealing from you, to keep it polite, and mention that you are not rich and can't afford to pay for their electricity, and then go ahead and remove the power cords (or tell them you'll be removing them in two days, or three, max - but definitely remove them). And absolutely tell the landlord, for documentation, mentioning if it happens again you'll be calling the police, of course. Surely she can't think that will be good for her. You should be keeping a notebook with detailed dates, times, actions and responses, too.

If it continues, it seems to me a simple "We want to leave you alone, but if you don't stop stealing from us we'll call the police" would probably do wonders. You're getting out, but if your roommate doesn't have the guts to say that, it's only going to get worse. You really have to assert some rights here. These folks seem to be using the excuse of cultural ignorance to take clear advantage of you. I find it very hard to believe they don't know electricity isn't free.

Oh, and cribcage is right. It's completely ridiculous to question the inclusion of the ethnicity/language difference, and AmbroseChapel was derailing.
posted by mediareport at 5:42 AM on June 6, 2006


I assume you are paying the power bill, or else you wouldn't be asking the question, but I agree with the zero-tolerance approach to this. It is theft and it is a potential hazard. Utilities generally take theft pretty seriously, so they would be one of the first places I would call. but getting the landlord, law enforcement, and anyone else involved is fine too, since your neighbors have a history of causing problems.

Loquacious, you make some good points, and chose your screen name well.
posted by TedW at 5:53 AM on June 6, 2006


Oh, good grief. Cut the cord. Then lock the box.
posted by desuetude at 6:13 AM on June 6, 2006


(1) Find your circuit breakers/fuses - is the breaker box located inside your apartment where they can't get to it or outside where they can? If the former, determine which breaker/fuse goes to the outside outlets they have access to and are stealing power from. Trip the breaker/remove the fuse - are they other outlets/lights, etc. on that circuit that you can live without? If so, problem solved (for now).

(2) If located outside, can the box be locked (like with a Master lock)? If so contact your power company & ask them to lock it, or if they balk, do it yourself. Write them a letter (with copy to landlord & for your files) explaining the problem & letting them know that you want them to do.

(3) If the utilities are in your name ask the power company to provide you a survey of your past power consumption and correlate that against when your neighbors moved in - should bolster your case due to increased consumption. Send a copy of that to your landlord requesting action with a cc to the local District Attorney - call the DA's office first and cget a contact name who'll know what you're talking about when the letter comes in.
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:25 AM on June 6, 2006


Unplug the cord.

Saw off the metal bits of the plug end. Sand any remaining stumps until flush with the plastic bit.

Place a dollop of strong epoxy on the outlet, small enough to be covered by the plug. Press the modified plug end into the epoxy, positioning it so that it looks like a legitimately plugged in cord.

Watch to see how long it takes them to figure it out.

(Shamelessly stolen from Philip Jose Farmer's Nothing Burns in Hell. DISCLAIMER: the character who did this later got the shit beat out of him.)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:26 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


posted by radioamy The outlet is outside on the side of the house. Just looking at it, it's not immediately clear whose meter the outlet is hooked up to. The thing is, if they had legal power turned on, they wouldn't need to plug in from the outside. So it's gotta be our plug.

Let's try to forget your neighbors are Latino, and deal with the issue at hand, which is their suspected use of your power.

First, are you certain the outlet is wired to your box? I doubt it is--most buildings have external outlets wired to their own meters and I doubt you're paying for this outlet. If your neighbors were running an entire apartment from your meter, you'd see a tremendous surge in your power usage, your fuses or circuit breakers would blow, and your bill would be very high.

Second, how do you know your neighbors don't have "legal power"? Again, just because they'e getting power from a live outlet doesn't mean their unit is without power. Aren't most utilities sold as a group? I don't think you can buy your gas separately from your electricity--and even if you could, I don't think you could run an 220V electric range from a 110 outlet without creating a noticable spike in your bill. A marijuana grow-op on one extension cord? Come on.

Third, if I saw an outlet on the side of the building, I would assume it was a building outlet, not an apartment outlet--Many of the buildings in which I've lived (including the one I'm in now) have had outdoor outlets wired to a separate meter and are billed to the complex. Your neighbors might have seen the outlet and thought, "Hey, free power!" without realizing the outlet was wired to your box., so let's just give them the benefit of the doubt and presume they didn't realize they were stealing your power.

So, to sum up:
1. I doubt the outlet in question is wired to your box
2. I doubt your neighbors are running their entire apartment from that extension cord and outlet
3. Even if the outlet is wired to your box, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn't know they were stealing your power.

So I'd politely first ask them if the extension cord belonged to them and explain it's a huge fire hazard, and I can't pay two electric bills, so would you mind disconnecting that cord, por favor? Gracias. If you're uncomfortable approaching your neighbors, or you want to remain anonymous, take photographs. Call and write the landlord, and send copies to the building manager, the super. Give your roommate copies to give the utility company, the police, and the fire department if the problem persists.

All that said, I'd want to know what they're doing with that extension cord, because the more voltage they're pulling through the line, the hotter it's going to get and a setup like that is a huge fire risk, and that's the angle from which I'd approach this problem since they're putting you, your roommate, and themselves at risk. When I was much younger, I discovered an outlet on the side of the building in which I was living and I ran an extension cord to it so I could get free electricity from The Man--and you're gonna have to trust your old pal Matt on this one-- "Fuego mama fuego!" is the last thing you want to hear your downstairs neighbors screaming in the middle of the night, particularly if the smoke is coming from your extension cord.
posted by fandango_matt at 6:57 AM on June 6, 2006


I have to agree with the earlier posters that the larger situation here seems to be that you live in a shitty apartment.

Locking the box is likely not going to change anything... Assuming it's even legal (and why make yourself a lawbreaker when that's one of the biggest advantages you have right now?) a "silent war" with your neighbors is futile, because anyone with the tools and skills to tap a power box will just as easily be able to take a pair of wire cutters to a padlock, and that's exactly what will happen until you directly notify your neighbors they can't do this. Not to attack you, but if you're completely in the right, there's no reason you don't want to other than being afraid of confrontation. I don't blame you, I wouldn't want to do it either.

From personal experience, this is sort of what happened to me. One of my roomates was from China, and apparently from an area where they never heard of recycling. Partially because he spoke little English, and partially because I was afraid of confrontation, I spent six weeks no-so-subtley pulling his trash out of the recycling bin and moving it three feet to the garbage can before realizing that nothing's going to change until I sit the dude down and explain to him what the big blue bin is for. I think your situation is a bit more dire, however, because this isn't just assuming there's a secondary trash can in the kitchen- given the technical requirements of the theft, your neighbors quite clearly know what they are doing.

In the long run, you need to move. In the short run, you need to call the utility company. You also need to tell your landlady, and if she ignores you, she'll change her mind if you tell her you'll have to call the police if she can't do anything about it.

You mention "a lot" of people living under you. By "a lot" do you mean "far beyond any legal capacity codes?" Assuming these still exist in New Orleans right now, if this is the case, then both your neighbors and your landlady are breaking the law; the latter case by allowing it. In such a case, neither will want to deal with the cops, so I'm guessing if you tell either you're calling the cops unless they stop breaking the law they'll damn well listen.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:02 AM on June 6, 2006


One thing I'd be worried about, by destroying the cord, property which belongs to them, won't that possibly encourage retaliation against something that belongs to the question asker? As XQUZYPHR pointed out, I think it'd be best to avoid a "silent war," but rather seek out a solution with a definite result, be it the landlord, power company, or the police (which also makes them more the "bad guy" versus the question poster).
posted by Atreides at 7:07 AM on June 6, 2006


loquacious has got it right. unfortunately, you have already established the standards, and the the chances are really great that they are taking advantage of you because you are female.

you can solve this problem by the circut box or vandalizing the power outlet. but it won't stop--next, they'll take your parking place, or leave trash near your door.

you need to get out. barring that, get rid of them. call the zoning dept., and tell them that they have a unlicensed group home next door. they will know how to proceed.
posted by lester at 7:11 AM on June 6, 2006


Just as a note on why your landlord may not want to deal with this— I rented a house where myself and my buddies had the downstairs, and the upstairs was rented by three other guys. The landlord failed to tell us that the electricity and heating for the whole house went only to one meter. Our meter. He tried to argue to us that things like the upstairs having no thermostat and no heat didn't affect our bill, and that since when we signed the lease it said we were responsible for utilities that it was our problem to get cash for electricity and heating from our upstairs neighbors. This degenerated into an ugly, ugly legal battle and general low-level insurrection in our house. So, having dealt with slumlords, make sure that your landlord isn't complicit. If they are, you need to get building inspectors in who can yank the rental permit.
As a side note, don't ever rent from Romain Realty in Ypsilanti, Michigan. If you do, go down to the building inspector's office before renting to make sure that he has the proper permits and inspections to be renting the property. (I know that part might not be helpful to you, but if it keeps one person from getting screwed by Romain it will have been worth it).
posted by klangklangston at 7:14 AM on June 6, 2006


If you ask them nicely to unplug the cord from the outlet as it is connected to your meter they probably will. It certainly doesn't hurt to ask. You don't have to be accusatory or anything. If you let them pretend it was just a mistake then they can save face and pull the plug. I would at least try it before trying the more aggressive strategies discussed above. If necessary I would take it up with the landlord, utility co. and police, in that order, so as to reduce the chances of starting a feud with neighbors who are stronger, more in number and obviously lacking in moral character. The advice about moving seems pretty spot on to me.
posted by caddis at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2006


Kirth - this is New Orleans, nothing is normal here ;). If you're talking about the thing that I go mess with when too many things are plugged in and the power blows on one part of the house, then yes it's outside.

Lester - what do you mean "next, they'll take your parking place, or leave trash near your door. " - that's already happening! Gotta love tripping over Corona bottles.
posted by radioamy at 7:43 AM on June 6, 2006


Before you do anything, you need to determine with 100% certainty that the outlet is yours. If it's outside in a rental complex, it's generally not hooked up to your meter. (In fact, there may be laws or ordinances about this in your state or locality.) Your power utility will be able to give you a definitive answer to this, though they may need to send someone out.

You've said the fuse box that turns off this outlet is outside. Is this the same fuse box that turns off the power inside your unit?
posted by sequential at 7:51 AM on June 6, 2006


FWIW, I had a friend once who worked for a local electrical co-op, who told me that he was sent to the home of a contractor who had built his own house and wired it in such a way that he had somehow bypassed the meter.

He and his coworkers showed up and told him they were going to basically take a backhoe to his driveway and trace this electrical line and then probably arrest him.

The guy freaked out, told them they could not do it, the cops came and restrained him while the electrical guys dug up his yard and proved he was a thief, and he got in all sorts of Really Big Trouble.

I also knew someone in a community once actually split his electrical line at the meter, so some of his electricity went to the trailer of a tenant he was renting the trailer to, so she would pay him for her electricity. The electric co. found out and went ape and they both lost power.

This is all to say, don't underestimate what a properly motivated electric company can do for you.

Remember, they have to be losing money on this, because they are only getting all those misc. fees on your bill once (from you). Part of what you pay them for is to do this kind of enforcement. I suggest you cash in your chips and let them be the heavy.
posted by 4ster at 7:53 AM on June 6, 2006


Just call the cops... this is a serious crime.
posted by reverendX at 7:58 AM on June 6, 2006


well, then imagine what would be worse. that's where it's going.

i have been in similar situations--but i generally don't have as much of a problem because i'm male. even so, there were some things that i had to accept because i had to do some cultural adjusting--just like they need to. the group you have sounds like they are closer to the bottom then the top, and probably care little for anything outside of their own world.

i guess things are different in new orleans. most of our suggestions involving the authorities won't be as effective there. you can focus your energies on this battle or you can move and enjoy life more somewhere else.

if you and they are all with the same landlord, i would stop paying rent. tell the landlord that the value of the property has diminished with the new neighbors.

unfortunately, there is no way for you to win this battle without using a lot of resources. but it is very easy for you to lose this battle, especially if they start doing something like outright vandalism, robbery or assult. are they making inappropripate comments to en espanol?
posted by lester at 8:01 AM on June 6, 2006


Here in NYC I witnessed a shop owner discovering that an illuminated sign in his awning had an extension cord into the store next door. The guy next door was taken away in handcuffs.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:22 AM on June 6, 2006


I think you and your roommate are going to have to face facts and move. The last (redneck, tweaker) neighbors I had who stole power and water from me - and had a Rottweiler named Satan, poor thing - finally got so out of hand that moving was the only option and I never regretted it. Frankly, fuck the lease and start house hunting. A cheap apartment in a good location is just not worth it if you feel threatened in your own home, and if you don't feel threatened yet I'm willing to bet money that you will eventually. This seems to be an escalating situation; your landlord has made it clear that s/he isn't going to do one damn thing about it, and if I was you I would just leave. If you haven't paid your June rent yet, don't, and plan on moving at the end of the month.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:45 AM on June 6, 2006


(1) Tell them to stop and that you are paying for it, not the landlord.
(2) Take photos.
(3) Inform the police. This is called theft and its illegal. Get copies of utility bills to show size of problem.
(4) Inform the utility company.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:51 AM on June 6, 2006


Here's what I would do in your situation:
Go see your landlord. S/He sounds like a goof who won't answer the phone, return you calls, or give anyone the time of day. Go to her house/office/whatever and get in her face. Ask directly if the outlet on the side of the house is YOURS (billed to you), theirs, or complex property.

If it's the latter two, nothing to be worried about. I'd still want a second opinion, maybe from the power company, or like others have said before, look for the fuse in your breakerbox.

However, if it's the former, call the cops. Screw politeness. Don't talk to them, don't bother with the landlord. They're theives. They're costing you your money.
posted by triolus at 9:17 AM on June 6, 2006


if you and they are all with the same landlord, i would stop paying rent. tell the landlord that the value of the property has diminished with the new neighbors.

You don't sound like you're considering this, but if you are, it's usually not a good idea to just stop paying rent -- it needs to be a formal action, depending on where you live. See here and here for advice on the procedure.
posted by JanetLand at 9:35 AM on June 6, 2006


What sequential said. You absolutely need to be sure that the outlet is "yours" before proceeding. If there's no other way, perhaps you could pick a time when they're home and presumably using a lot of power, turn off everything in your house (very briefly of course, so stuff in the fridge doesn't spoil), and check your meter to see if there's still a lot of power being used.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:55 AM on June 6, 2006


Step 1: Pull the plug.

Step 2: Pull the plug and cut the cord.

Step 3: Pull the plug and put into a 220 outlet.


posted by kc0dxh at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2006


Take photos of the power cord situation. I'm actually curious as to what it looks like, because you really didn't explain it very well.

Otherwise, yes. Call the utility company. In many places, it's illegal to occupy an apartment without proper utilities. If they're stealing power from you, then they're probably not paying for other utilities either.

Write a letter to the landlord detailing BOTH of your situations. At least start a paper trail, so if you guys do decide to move and they try to stick you with some deposit crap you can go back to them with the letters. It's worth a shot.

And yeah, call the cops. Call INS. Might as well.
posted by drstein at 10:47 AM on June 6, 2006


i have to run but i will post pix tonight if anyone is interested.
posted by radioamy at 10:52 AM on June 6, 2006


posted by drstein Call INS. Might as well.

Public Service Announcement:
1. The INS does not police electricity theft or fire code issues.
2. Latinos and/or people who speak Spanish are not always illegal immigrants. Please think twice before making racist assumptions.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:55 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Since the only certainty in all that I've read so far in this thread is that this situation poses a fire hazard, why not call the fire dept. and ask them to evaluate the situation. They will certainly respond faster than the utility company or the landlord/building manager. It will not take the fire dept. very long to establish that something wrong is going on here and sort out who needs to remedy it.

Doing this establishes two things: first that you intend to take action when something like this happens; and second that your action is aimed simply at protecting your safety, which is your right. All other issues are thereby side-stepped even though they are remedied.
posted by RMALCOLM at 10:55 AM on June 6, 2006


Step 3: Pull the plug and put into a 220 outlet.

Neither wisecracks OR encouraging people to cause a fire in the apartment BELOW WHERE THEY LIVE them helps people find answers.

For the quick & dirty solution, I'd suggest a compromise between plinth and pinktail's suggestions - go spend $3 on some quick-dry epoxy, unplug the extension cord and gob it all over the outlets. You don't need any competency to do this but the damage it does is only to a $2 outlet that's easily replaced. They can fix it if they have the competency and drive but that seems somewhat unlikely.

For a more comprehensive solution - and I think you should do this in case things degenerate - I'd also write the landlord a brief letter explaining the situation and stating that you will not be picking up the tab for their electricity just because of an inadequately secured electrical system. She may think you're a whiner but you want a paper trail on this even if she ignores you. There are also legal reasons to do so (see below).

Also, call Entergy's (not Enterty) help line and ask them what you should do. You are far from the first person to have this issue and you should get it on record with them that you've identified the problem. They may tell you to call the cops - utility theft is usually a felony - and almost certainly will tell you to contact your landlord.

If you've been saving your bills, gather them up. You'll want to be able to show the notable increase in kwh consumption since their arrival. Entergy can gather up this information if necessary - they do a huge amount of data mining on it looking for fraud - but paper is much easier to show to cops and landlords.

You're fortunate in a way that the problem is from tenants in a unit owned by your landlord. She is obligated to deal with problems arising from other tenants. She is not obligated to assist with problems from neighbors. She also owes you 'peaceful posession' and has a liability for "knowing or negligent disturbances to lessee’s peace." This cuts two ways, however - you have an obligation to be a 'good administrator' and if you don't notify her of problems you have a reasonable expectation of knowing about (things on the outside of the building) you aren't holding up your end of the bargain.

I don't see anything in the below resources about withholding and escrowing rent, however there's very clear entries about withhold and repair, meaning you can just fix the problem yourself and short her the cost of doing so. However you have to have made an effort to inform her of the problem and should be prepared to demonstrate that fact.

Some resources:
A landlord-tenant law outline.
A good Loyola writeup on landlord-tenant law and issues.
Some LA landlord-tenant law info.
posted by phearlez at 11:52 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Print out a copy of this thread, draw a little comment box at the bottom and tape it to their door with a note asking for reply.

Or,

Figure out who the socket in question belongs to. If it belongs to you, ask them if they have their own hookup, explain that you are paying for that socket and ask them to use their own.

If they don't have and can't get their own power, consider a non-fire hazzard sharing arrangement where the two of you split costs ... or just tell them to stop and wait for them to cross you, then you get to be an asshole, (but you shouldn't assume you have to be, unless you want to be).
posted by airguitar at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2006


I just read this. I can see why you would be at the end of your rope by now. But I think the strategy still holds, start with a reasonable request and wait for them to give you license to strike back.

...good luck...
posted by airguitar at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2006


"Public Service Announcement:
1. The INS does not police electricity theft or fire code issues.
2. Latinos and/or people who speak Spanish are not always illegal immigrants. Please think twice before making racist assumptions."

Oh sod off with the "racist assumption" crap. Based on the situation in LA these days and radioamy's other thread (you did read it, right?) it's quite likely that some of them are illegal immigrants. I believe that we have every right to chase 'em out - regardless of color. If that's 'racist' then you're an idiot.

I believe that she's quite aware of the fact that INS doesn't police theft issues. However, they do police immigration issues.
posted by drstein at 4:29 PM on June 6, 2006


Thank you for proving my point. See you in MeTa, already in progress.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:07 PM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


"Neigbors stealing your water and power, squattin' on your stoop, and otherwise living 8 to a bedroom, and the cops and landlord don't care? You probably live in the ghetto."

Don't discount that instead you may be a redneck, especially if those 8 in the bedroom are cousins.

My neighbors are meth-heads (I think). Should I call the DEA?
posted by mischief at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2006


Oops, that was meant for MeTalk. Boy, do I feel stupid! heheh
posted by mischief at 9:37 PM on June 6, 2006


Unplug the cord.

Saw off the metal bits of the plug end. Sand any remaining stumps until flush with the plastic bit.


A lot of people are suggesting you cut the cord hack off the wires etc. If you do this, don't forget to turn off the outlet before you go modifying anything.

If you can't figure out how to cut the power, then don't try to cut anything physically, or you might get fried.
posted by Paris Hilton at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2006


FWIW, if anyone still cares after all the bantering...I just called the utility company and they told me that if their box isn't tampered with there is nothing they can do. When I said that their meter had a yellow tag on it and asked if that meant that they don't have service, she said "I can't verify another person's account, or tell you what that means." So I said "can you tell me what the different tags mean" to which she replied "all I can say is that red tags mean you have power."

My roommate uplugged the cords earlier today. After taking into consideration everyone's helpful suggestions, I wrote up an official-looking notice (not explicitly saying who it was from) that the plugs were creating a fire hazard and that if they were plugged back in the police would be notified.

I found out yesterday (via a roommate) that the guys downstairs speak perfect English so the note was in English. We shall see what happens...
posted by radioamy at 3:30 PM on June 7, 2006


That sounds like a really good response to this situation. It avoids direct conflict with the neighbor, it takes a strong position and shows excellent judgement on your part (with a little help from AskMe).
posted by caddis at 4:50 PM on June 7, 2006


Things are different in New Orleans right now.

You need to the the hell out of that apartment. Your landlord won't do anything, and in fact, is probably dying for you to move out and forfeit your deposit. The police won't do anything unless they hear gunshots over the phone. The fire department won't do anything unless the place is burning. You've seen what the power company will do for you.

Here's my thoughts: Your landlord is in violation of her side of the lease agreement. She's probably in violation of some law concerning how many people can live in one place. Tell her that you're moving, tomorrow, and you want your whole deposit now, because she violated the terms of the agreement. If she fights you, remind her of the illicit arrangement she's got going below.

In any case, move!, and take your roommate with you. If the situation escalates, can you handle 20 pissed off latinos?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:52 PM on June 7, 2006


Gunn - trust me, I'd love to move. The landlord would love to get rid of us but I can't handle moving just quite yet because of school. Also, tere are 4 of us in this apt, and sadly its considered cheap right now. And one of my roommates wants to renew the lease with some other friends.
posted by radioamy at 7:32 PM on June 7, 2006


Okay guys cross your fingers for me because I *think* the problem is taken care of, at least temporarily. I just went to check, and the cord appears to be connected to the house next door not to our plug anymore. I hope it stays that way...
posted by radioamy at 7:42 PM on June 7, 2006


way to go, radioamy. maybe you can work it out!
posted by lester at 7:47 AM on June 8, 2006


Congrats on your success.

A few of the above suggestions made me think of something - make sure you have smoke detectors and that they have fresh batteries. If they're living on stolen power downstairs they likely have no stove and are using butane/propane and/or a hotplate. It's a situation that lends itself to accidents so make sure your early warning system is in place.
posted by phearlez at 9:58 AM on June 8, 2006


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