Who can tell me why my gas bill is too high?
November 16, 2014 1:59 PM   Subscribe

How, in a multi-apartment setup, do I determine what gas-run appliances are serviced/connected to which apartment? I strongly suspect I am paying for appliances I am not responsible for, but I need to be able to prove it to my landlords or gas company.

I've has my suspicions for a while and even raised questions with my landlords regarding my seemingly-high gas bills, but as of now have no proof that I'm on the hook for more than my share. There is a boiler connected to a shared washer and dryer that I believe is connected to my apartment's bill- I can't imagine what else it could be.

I was recently out of state for a month, left all my heat off, no one used the stove or oven or shower while I was gone (I live alone but had family members check in on the place) and somehow my gas bill for that exact timeframe is $60. There's no way that's correct unless there are appliances that I'm unaware could use that much gas while no one's home!

Who can I contact to have come out and determine exactly what is going on? And what happens if I can prove that I've been overpaying for the year and a half that I've been here?!
posted by rachaelfaith to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Were you out of state on exactly the dates between one meter reading and the next?
Does the utility company sometimes estimate readings?
Do you have a water heater that's connected to your gas meter, did you turn that off? (Because it would have maintained temperature while you were gone.)

These are questions you would need to answer before you assume that $60 bill was incorrect.
posted by HuronBob at 2:05 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding checking whether or not your meter was read; another thing to check into is how and if your gas company charges for delivery: at least where I live, the gas company charges a flat delivery rate (rather than charging a set fraction of amount of gas used), which meant that we get $20 bills, even in the summer with the heat off, etc.
posted by damayanti at 2:12 PM on November 16, 2014

Do you even have individual meters for each unit in the building? Or is your gas bill a portion of the shared building-wide gas bill --- are you and your fellow residents perhaps charged (via your landlord) by the square footage of your various units?

If you do have an individual meter, then yes: check into whether or not you are paying for the shared boiler and washer/dryer.
posted by easily confused at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If they do estimate bills based on average use and you didn't actually owe that much, they may credit it to a future bill. This happened to a relative of mine (who made a big production out of "Where's my interest? If I paid them late, they would charge me interest. But they have use of my money for free and...blah blah blah ...No Justice In The World.").

I read a story a long time ago about a disputed utility bill, I think electric, not gas. Someone rented an apartment on the top floor of an old building in Europe and had a crazy high bill. They tried to argue it with the landlord and got told, no, you owe this. So they went to the fuse box and began removing fuses. After all the rooms of their apartment went dark, there were still fuses. The next fuse they removed cut off the elevators in the building. With each fuse removed after that, one by one, the street lights went out. Apparently, the original penthouse occupant was wealthy and brought civilization personally to their street. So it isn't unheard of that things are run through a particular apartment for some reason. Weird things like that sometimes happen.

So, first thing to do is call the company and ask if the bill is estimated and, if it is, ask if the meter can be read or when it will be read. If you determine this really is based on actual usage for the period, ask the utility company how it could be determined what all is going through your individual meter.

If you do not have an individual meter, it may not be worth it to dispute it. At one time, I owned a house where part of the HOA fees paid for water. Houses did not have individual water meters. People were terrible about blowing off their HOA fees until the HOA decided to crack down by cutting off their water. This involved installing an individual meter for the house in question, a substantial extra fee on top of any back fees owed to the HOA (they came in, dug up your yard, installed the equipment cutting you off and then gave the back bill plus the bill for this new stuff, to be paid in full before water would be restored). The houses in that neighborhood were relatively affordable in part because the builder had cut corners and only installed a water meter for each street, not for each house. If you wanted to protest that and only pay for the water you personally used, getting your own meter was big bucks.

So, if your building has a meter and your apartment does not, the lease may be written such that you don't have a leg to stand on here. Though, usually, when that happens, the landlord covers the utility in question and rolls the cost into your rent and then the lease reads "Water included" or something like that.
posted by Michele in California at 2:52 PM on November 16, 2014

Do you have building heat/hot water? I do, and I pay a set percentage of the gas bill for the entire building. This is specified in the lease. I am individually metered for gas and electricity that comes directly into my apartment but the management company charges me separately for the hot water and heat (which does end up including heat in common areas and such). Therefore, if I left for a month and closed off all the radiators and stuff, I'd still owe money. (This only bothers me a little because I can't think of any good way to do this outside giving everyone their own boiler and hot water heater, which would be nice but is not really reasonable.)
posted by mrg at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2014

In my jurisdiction it is not legal to charge tenants for gas/electric unless you have a separate meter for each tenant. So. Some of this will depend on your local laws.

I also wondered if it was estimated usage -- it should say on the bill.

Also, check which meters they are reading. It COULD be that the meters got swapped, and you're paying for the washer/dryer meter while the landlord's paying for your apartment's meter. Or maybe you're paying for your neighbor's gas, while your neighbor is paying for your gas. Or it could be that you are paying for two meters. (That happened with electricity at my last apartment -- my landlord said it was just an old house thing, having two meters for one apartment, but then I moved into a bigger apartment and my electric bills dropped $20 a month, so I suspect I was paying for something I shouldn't have been.)

You may also be able to call the utility company and ask them (1) what the previous tenant's gas bills ran, and/or (2) what the gas bills are running for another unit in your building, for comparison's sake -- go for a unit on the same floor and of the same square footage. (Or you could ask your neighbors directly about what their bills are running.)

Do you have access to the meter, and can you confirm that it's your meter? In your situation, I would shut off every appliance in your apartment (heat, stove (keep the pilot lights on), water heater if you have one and you can) and then go run the dryer you suspect is connected to your meter. If everything in your apartment is off except the pilot lights but the meter's still running, you have a case. At that point I would escalate it with the gas company.
posted by pie ninja at 3:57 PM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Could be a lot of things. Some gas companies offer a billing plan that averages your annual usage and charges you the same every month, rather than a bit in the summer and ton in the winter. Helps you budget.

Could be the gas company's minimum bill. Having gas available costs you, even if you don't use one little therm. My PG&E bill in my little apartment in Oakland, with building supplied hot water and steam heat was $35 monthly (in 1984.) It was the minimum you could pay.

Or you could be funding the building's basement cauldron.

Call the gas company and have them walk you through it. If you suspect weird plumbing you can ask them to come out and verify it for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:06 PM on November 16, 2014

You can call the gas company and they will come out and do an evaluation.

Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 5:08 PM on November 16, 2014

The gas company should be able to determine this. I had a friend whose unit was responsible for the bulk of the utility billing every month; it was the former landlord's unit (the other units were rented out as "utilities included". When the landlord died and a company took it over, they were unaware, apparently, of the arrangement. After a few months of insane bills, the utility company came out at her request and determined the problem; the new company had all of the units re-wired with individual meters. Back in the day (and I'm talking 50-60 years ago) individual meters were not required.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 5:49 PM on November 16, 2014

My gas company (PG&E) actually lets you track your daily gas usage online - I imagine that other companies may have similar tracking tools online that may help you outline exactly how much gas was used each day your were gone to show to your landlord. Also your gas company should be able to come to your home (if you are in the US) and do an energy audit. That'll for sure tell you if someone else is using your gas. I have to say a $60 gas bill is a lot where I live, but I'm not sure where you are.
posted by Toddles at 8:01 PM on November 16, 2014

I am assuming that you get a bill from the gas utility and not just an add on to your rent from the management. If this is correct than you must have an individual gas meter that measures how much gas you are using, it has dials. Locate your gas meter. Turn off all your gas using appliances. See if the meter moves over a days time. It shouldn't. If it does than call the utility and ask them what to do.
posted by Pembquist at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2014

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