Help make sense of my house's gas bill
February 24, 2009 9:09 AM   Subscribe

What is wrong with the electric and gas in my two-family house? Our bills are incredibly lopsided.

Some background information: I live in a big ol' college house in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The house has three floors- the first floor is one 'apartment' and the second and third floors are the second 'apartment'. There is a large basement.

Our heating and electric bill has skyrocketed this year. This month, we were asked to pay $803.65 for gas and $144.28 for electric, for the occupants of the second and third floors.

The first floor's gas bill was $54.00.

We keep our heat set to 60 degrees in an attempt to keep the bill down, and they keep their heat at 72. We use space heaters to make it comfortable, but we're not as concerned about that since the gas is the part that is astronomically high.

Things we found out:
1. There is only one boiler for all three floors and we pay for it.
2. They have forced air heat and we have steam heat.
3. We pay for heating the very large basement where there are two broken windows. (Asked the landlord to fix them and they were simply boarded up)
4. We pay for the washer and dryer, which is accessible to all occupants of the house.
5. PSE&G cannot look at the boiler and such because they did not install them.

What recourse do we have here? Our landlord is pretty much throwing his hands up at us and saying he doesn't have to do anything, even though the house's floors aren't equally equipped and the bill is not shared correctly.

We called an electrician today to look at the house, but I'm not really sure what to ask them. Suggestions?

I am at the end of my rope trying to sort this out between PSE&G, my landlord, and the residents of the house.

posted by rachaelfaith to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Erm, might this be caused by some of the peculiarities of billing/meter-reading? Living in an entirely different part of the world, my meters are read only about once a year, while my monthy bill is computed from a price-adjusted average of prior consumption. I've had the equivalent of 3000 dollar electricity bills drop on my head after the power company decided to finally expose our optimistic estimates to metered reality...
posted by themel at 9:18 AM on February 24, 2009

Do you have your own meter or is the landlord billing you for what he thinks your using?
posted by majortom1981 at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2009

Best answer: Your landlord is screwing you. Your gas bills are probably paying to heat the water for the washer/dryer, for showers, for dishwasher, for the basement, etc.

From a billing perspective, it makes some sense, though the bill is very high.

themel is right about estimates. Often utilities estimate bills 10 times a year and read them twice, truing up your bill on those months. Most likely you have the right to call and request a meter read at any time. This varies by jurisdiction.

Re you paying for everything, that does not make any sense.
- Why would you pay for the boiler for all three floors? Is that in your lease?
- Why would you pay for the basement? Is that in your lease?
- Why would you pay for the washer and dryer? Is that in your lease?
posted by charlesv at 9:43 AM on February 24, 2009

I lived in a similar situation to your first floor neighbor. I was sandwiched between two floors that were heated by a central boiler. There was just so much heat coming through the floor from the basement boiler that I didn't need much of my own heat. My neighbors never complained to me about the cost, and I assumed it a perk for living in what was otherwise a total dump of an apartment.

In my area (which is not in NJ) the local gas company will do an energy audit and make recommendations about obvious issues. Perhaps with that information you can advocate to your landlord for a more equitable distribution of the heating costs.

(on preview, seconding charlesv's suggestion to check your lease agreement)
posted by joe vrrr at 9:52 AM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: The meter is read every month, and we had someone come out to read it today. It matches the bill, so it's not estimated.

There is no clause in the lease about what parts of the house we heat- each 'apartment's lease says we 'are responsible for paying gas, electric, etc' without specifying what areas that includes.

The electrician is here and says he thinks something is very wrong with the system, but our landlord refuses to pay the diagnostic fees to find out what IS wrong.

posted by rachaelfaith at 10:06 AM on February 24, 2009

The Law Society of New Jersey says you can deduct repairs from your rent so if he won't pay then you should and deduct it from next month's rent. Getting a lawyers would probably be a good idea. Gas can be dangerous and you really need to have it diagnosed properly, especially since a professional electrician thinks there is something wrong. Maybe contact the local board of health as well?
posted by saucysault at 10:33 AM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: Electrician and landlord are both here. Two things found wrong with the boiler already- not sure exactly what, but the landlord seems very annoyed with the guy who installed it and is yelling at his cell phone.

Thanks for all the input- I hope he pays for the tests and repairs without too much fuss.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:44 AM on February 24, 2009

Best answer: Some resources for you:
The New Jersey Truth in Renting Guide Pages 21-22 of the guide (that's pages 15-16 in the PDF) are the ones that seem to apply to your situation. Particularly the second paragraph on page 22 on diversion of utilities.

I did a bunch of digging in the New Jersey state law and New Brunswick city law and didn't have much luck finding the pertinent statutes. It seems (and I can't find the cite now) that New Jersey state laws apply only to units of 3 or more dwellings and everything under that falls under the jurisdiction of the city. That said i did manage to find the: New Brunswick, NJ Municipal Codes
and the Grounds for removal of tenants New Jersey statute referred to (ironically?) in the New Brunswick municipal code as Tenant's Bill of Rights.

Good luck.
posted by clockwork at 10:46 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

And I hope you get some sort of rebate on your rent/utilities for having overpaid!
posted by saucysault at 10:47 AM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: Clockwork, thanks so much for the resources- these are a great help.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:48 AM on February 24, 2009

Definitely check into the laws regarding billing. I'm in MA and not NJ, but here we have laws in which the company is required to do actual readings every other month. Our electric company had been sending us estimates for close to 10 months, and then slapped us with a huge "actual." It turned out too that they hadn't sent out a tech to take an actual at the start of our account.

We called a local government renters' aid association, got some information, and then cited the relevant laws to a call center manager, and the excess bills managed to go away.

A lot of landlords and companies both will take advantage of the fact that 90% of people don't know the laws or how to find them. Armed with knowledge, you can sometimes even get off the hook for stuff you should owe, except that they were too lazy to properly document it.
posted by explosion at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2009

"A lot of landlords and companies both will take advantage of the fact that 90% of people don't know the laws or how to find them."

A lot of landlords and companies don't know the laws or how to find them, unfortunately.
posted by talldean at 4:08 PM on February 24, 2009

If there's one boiler, then there's only one meter. And you're paying for it.
posted by gjc at 4:20 PM on February 24, 2009

Response by poster: Oddly enough, there are two meters.

Anyway, this is how it played out. There were signficant problems with the boiler and its settings. The landlord has agreed to pay for the diagnostic testing and repairs the electrician did.

In addition, if the repair significantly decreases the cost of our next gas and electric bill, he will reimburse us for part of the past bills.

So, it seems to be working out. Thanks all, for your info and suggestions.
posted by rachaelfaith at 4:54 PM on February 24, 2009

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