I'm not her, I swear!!
May 4, 2011 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I don’t want Time Warner to penalize me for someone else’s delinquency. Help me be prepared to prove that I’m not her.

So my mother has a NYC rent-stabilized apartment that is about to be transferred over to my name. For several months, about a year ago, my mother let a friend of hers stay in the apartment. The friend moved out but didn’t take the cable box with her. She and my mother parted inamicably, so we have no way to contact her. But her cable bills keep coming here. She owes several hundred dollars, including the fine for not returning the box.

I could just go down to Time Warner with my new lease and say “Hey I’m ready to open a new account and oh by the way, the previous tenant left this box, do you guys want it?” Except that I know that cable companies are usually very skeptical of this because I guess people claim to be a new tenant in order to avoid paying their old bill. I know someone who had to fight for months before they could get a new account because the previous people had an outstanding bill and it was that company's policy to go by address, not name.

On top of this, my mother’s ex-friend and I have the same last name. It is a very common last name, literally in the top-five most common last names. But still… it all could seem fishy. Even if I went in with my social security card and whatever else, I still could be related to her. And I have no proof that she lives somewhere else.

Is there some kind of affidavit I can get, like, so-and-so swears that I am not this person nor am I related to this person in any way? (The landlord will not be a help here--my mother was subletting illegally and we don't really want to say that this other person was living there.) Is bringing back her old box an admission of guilt?

Or do I just need to suck it up and pay it?
posted by thebazilist to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I brought in a copy of my lease showing my move in date to get the block removed from the cable on my condo. I would start by calling Time Warner and asking them what sort of proof they would like.
posted by Zophi at 1:25 PM on May 4, 2011

A couple of years ago, I moved into an apartment where the previous tenant had racked up something like 6 years of unpaid gas bills. They wanted me to pay for the past-due amount when I called to put gas service in my name when I moved in. It took almost an hour moving up the chain of customer service reps before I found someone who was willing to understand that I was not the person with the delinquent bills, but I did eventually get there. I also had them send me a letter stating that I was not responsible for the past-due amount in case it ever cropped up again.

I've only dealt with Comcast as far as cable companies go, but I know that they're a lot more difficult to deal with than the necessity utility companies. You ought to be able to resolve it over the phone, though. Just be firm, polite, and patient. (And at the end of it, do request for something in writing.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:37 PM on May 4, 2011

I know this gets trotted out at the first sign of legal issues, but, I wonder if it might be worth consulting with an attorney versed in NYC housing law. You're walking a fine line here, where you're trying to tell TWC that this bill is actually associated with a previous tenant who you also don't want to acknowledge was living there. I believe that illegally subletting a rent-stabilized apartment may be cause to terminate the lease, and if you want to retain the rights to it, you don't want that to happen. So depending on the potential ramifications and just how far below market rate this apartment is, you may just want to suck it up and pay the bills.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:55 PM on May 4, 2011

I think I would try making two trips to the cable company. On the first, drop off the box and say you found it in your apartment upon moving in. Help them figure out whose it was. On this trip, you have no interest at this time in getting cable for yourself. You don't want anything from them, you're just doing them a favor.

A month or two later, after that's all settled, call them up and say you're new and would like service (if you still want it).

I don't think it's possible to guess what proof they will want, or whether they will accept it. I think you should control the situation so that such questions requiring proof aren't as likely to come up.
posted by fritley at 1:56 PM on May 4, 2011

Also – has your mother continued receiving cable service since her friend moved out? Or are these bills just unpaid from the period she was actually living there?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:58 PM on May 4, 2011

The friend moved out but didn’t take the cable box with her. She and my mother parted inamicably, so we have no way to contact her. But her cable bills keep coming here. She owes several hundred dollars, including the fine for not returning the box.

This seems weird... why not return the box or call the cable company to clear this up back when it first happened?
posted by lilnublet at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2011

If it was not a legal sublet, you might come out ahead (substantially ahead) by eating the cost of the back cable bills in order to protect your rent stabilization. Consult with an attorney who specializes in rent stabilization.
posted by andrewraff at 2:25 PM on May 4, 2011

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