[do] leave the light on, baby
January 31, 2009 4:24 PM   Subscribe

We've been in our apartment for six months this February. We have yet to receive an electric bill.

The electricity for our apartment was shut off when we moved in. We called to have it restarted, and all was well for the first month. After 6 weeks without a bill, I called the electric company (we're in Michigan, fwiw). They said not to worry, we should be receiving our bill soon. Every month, I've called to report we still haven't received anything. I do have an electronic account for online bill payment, and the balance has remained $0.00 the entire duration of our stay.

Each time I call the electric company, I get transferred several times, and each time hear some version of "Huh. That's strange. It says here you've called multiple times, but it doesn't look like anyone's followed up. I don't know why you haven't received a bill, but you should next month." Each time, a month comes and goes with no bill.

At this point, I'm not sure what else to do. Our landlord hasn't received a bill either, and we still have power, even though we haven't paid a penny. I've tried to be very proactive with the electric company, but really don't know what else to do if they refuse to send us a bill. Is there some statute of limitations on utilities? If our account still shows a zero balance when we move out, could a collections agency come after us a few years down the road? What can I do to make this right, aside from continuing to log useless phone calls each month?
posted by meghosaurus to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you written a letter? I'd write a letter and keep a copy for yourself so you can prove that you've been trying the rectify the situation. You might also want to put aside some money every month for when it catches up with you.

At some point they are going to figure it out, just make sure you've got your buttocks covered.
posted by wrnealis at 4:48 PM on January 31, 2009

I've seen similar stories on Consumerist. If you used it, you owe it and they will send you a bill eventually and yes, you will have to pay it. Try contacting their Executive Office (you'll have to do some digging to find a number), then I would suggest resorting to an EECB.
posted by Sufi at 4:48 PM on January 31, 2009

Well, when they sock you with a giant bill after a year or two, you can point out that you called every month and that they shouldn't expect you to pay a bazillion dollars all at once. In the meantime, DO save the amount you think your electric bill should be (mine's always been ~$60 US down here in the south where we use A/C year round) in a savings account. The interest is yours to keep. The lump sum is insurance against them demanding it all at once, which they very well can do when they figure out where it was getting logged.

It's probably something that's strange but nontrivial to fix, such as your meter being under a different account number or the meter having been "started" at a higher number than the current readings which makes it look like it took a big step backwards. Or a software bug or something else that a customer service rep has to escalate. Things like that have sat on my desk (government worker, IT guy) for months before being fixed because they were just an unrewarding pain in the ass.
posted by SpecialK at 4:49 PM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and in the letter that wrnealis suggested (which you SHOULD write!!!), make sure you include all the dates and times that you called so that they know you've been tracking it. If you don't have them, I suggest calling at first opportunity and getting them -- "can you tell me all the times you have it logged that I've called? I want to make sure that I've got these correct in my list."
posted by SpecialK at 4:51 PM on January 31, 2009

Go ahead and submit a complaint to the Michigan Public Service Commission using this form, or call them at 1-800-292-9555. Utility companies may drag their feet when dealing with a consumer, but you can bet they jump to it when regulators give them unwanted attention.

You probably will be held responsible for your back payment, but it's worth asking the MPSC if their failure to bill releases you from that liability. In either case, if the company tries to hit you with interest or late fees the MPSC should help you get them eliminated.
posted by valkyryn at 4:54 PM on January 31, 2009

Which company do you use? I'm just outside of Lansing, myself. I know that consumers energy has an online account system, so that you could at least find out what their records are showing.

If it is consumers energy, I also know that someone doesn't necissarily come out and read your meter - they tend to estimate it each month based on x-number previous months. I'm not sure while it would be estimated as '0' (perhaps the property was vacant for awhile?), but eventually when they DO read it, I would expect they will bill you - all at once, which could turn out to be not so pretty.

Again, not being sure what company you are using, I can only make guesses, but I'd also think that you could request the last meter reading that was actually -taken-, and either request someone to physically come and read your meter, or try to take a look at it yourself. Make sure you document everything in process. You have been using electricity, and someone (either you or your landlord) will be responcible for paying for its use.

(FWIW, I've been in similar situations with consumers energy before, where they have TREMENDOUSLY underestimated the power usage, and when the meter is physically read, sock me with a huge bill out of nowhere - that being said, they have been more than helpful and willing to work with me as far as payment arrangements go)
posted by waxlight at 5:00 PM on January 31, 2009

You definitely want to be keeping records here to CYA. And sending them a letter by certified mail, so that you have a dated receipt, would be a really good idea about now.

I agree that contacting the public utilities commission is probably your best course of action now.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:03 PM on January 31, 2009

You could also try sending them something like a 1 cent payment. Might attract some attention to your account by the people in accounting.

Also, check whether they have access to the meter. If they can't get a reading, they don't know how much to charge you.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:06 PM on January 31, 2009

My meter readings appear on my online account (actual, not just estimated). That's what mystifies me - my address is correct, my electricity usage is there, but my balance owed remains at $0.00. Thanks for all the suggestions, I'll have to get more creative about hounding the electric company.
posted by meghosaurus at 5:13 PM on January 31, 2009

A similar thing happened to me; it turned out that no one was able to get in to read the meter for several months, and I got socked with a big bill all at once. They did give me time to pay over a period of six months though.
posted by OolooKitty at 5:22 PM on January 31, 2009

This happened to me last year. We didn't receive paper bills, and when I would go to check our bill online, it would always read "0.00". Finally, I got the right person on the phone, who was able to tell me what happened.

It turned out that when we had switched residences, the power company had given us a new account number. We were reading the online bill for the cancelled account, and had to toggle something in our settings, so that our bill would show up when we freaking logged in.

Nobody told us this would happen, and we were behind in our bills by 3 months by the time we figured it out.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:18 PM on January 31, 2009

Have you checked the meter? Maybe it isn't recording usage accurately.
Just my $.02.

Good luck!
posted by bach at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2009

You could also try sending them something like a 1 cent payment. Might attract some attention to your account by the people in accounting.

I doubt that the computer which does the accounting has been programmed to give a damn.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:59 PM on January 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, check whether they have access to the meter. If they can't get a reading, they don't know how much to charge you.

I can't speak for anyone else's experiences, but in my podunk town of 900, they'll just estimate what they believe your bill to be, send it, and figure out the actual useage/cost later. This includes the water, electric, and gas companies. One month, you'll get an uncharacteristically low bill and one that's nearly double that the next. I've asked the gas and water guys about this, and they said that they don't have to check our meters to charge us. Swell guys, really.
posted by Wasabunchi at 12:25 AM on February 1, 2009

Some utilities will let you self-report your usage in between actual employees reading the meter.

You could also just start paying a realistic amount ($20, $40, etc.) so that you have a credit when they finally do get it sorted out.
posted by dhartung at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2009

If it's DTE, my housemate might know someone who can help you with this -- MefiMail me.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:46 AM on February 2, 2009

Quick follow-up: after following valkyryn's advice, I filled out the MPSC complaint form and got my bill the next day! I guess it pays to tattle.
posted by meghosaurus at 6:00 PM on February 2, 2009

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