How to contest a sky-high utility bill?
April 10, 2021 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Our water & power bill is twice as much as usual, mostly because we've allegedly used a massive amount of electricity. I'm going to call the provider (Los Angeles DWP) to question it, but what should I know?

Because we are (still) home quarantining, I am in a state of complete mystery as to why we could have used so much electricity. We are home ALL THE TIME (and have been for more than a year) so I feel like I'd know it if we were suddenly using more electricity.

We have no new appliances. We don't have plug-in cars. We are in a shoulder season, not using heat or AC, so if anything our bill should be at its lowest. We aren't cooking significantly more than we have done during the entire year of staying home. We aren't doing extra laundry.

And yet, according to the handy graph the LADWP puts on the bill, I can see we just used an amount 3x as much as our usual, going back to January of 2019. It's 2x as much as the next two highest billing periods -- September of 2019 and 2020 (those months make sense because that's when it tends to be very hot and we run the AC a lot).

Help? Thoughts?
posted by BlahLaLa to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First thing I would do is check that the meter reading on the bill is close to the current reading on the meter at your home.
posted by wigner3j at 4:56 PM on April 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

Were your last bills based on actual or estimated meter readings? When I've had surprisingly high bills in the past it's usually meant that my utility had a few months of estimated readings and then when someone finally read the meter it was higher than before.

Are you in a house or an apartment? Is it possible that someone could be "borrowing" electricity or that a circuit on your meter is supplying the electricity for an adjacent apartment or a hallway?
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2021 [12 favorites]

We got a wicked bill one month because the meter reader transposed 2 digits, back when they had to use their eyes. Nowadays they do it by wifi & the meter reader just wardrives around the neighbourhood every couple months. (Note to self: find out if they still call it wardriving or if I'm just really really old now.)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:24 PM on April 10, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Were your last bills based on actual or estimated meter readings?

Seconding this. For me in Ohio something like the first 6 months of the pandemic my electric bill was based on estimates - and low estimates at that, slightly less than my lowest normal month. I believe this may have been part of a program and/or governor's order to keep people from having their service shut off for non-payment (in addition to the expected fewer people working or going into places to read the meter.) So in September or whenever once they actually read the meter I got a fairly hefty bill, as they could then account for the electricity I actually used.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:36 PM on April 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your last bill says "estimated", or the actual reading is incorrect, the way to contest it is probably to just submit an actual reading via a picture of your meter. For LADWP, it looks like the instructions are here. I had to do this in NY with an incorrect estimated meter reading, and 6 months later I still have a negative balance.
posted by true at 6:21 PM on April 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to the advice above, if your energy usage is actually that high, there are a number of possible culprits - one that I've seen before is the overpressure valve on the hot water tank failing partially open (by design) and just dumping a slow but steady stream of hot water into the overflow drain, which can go unnoticed and use a huge amount of electricity. I caught this in my apartment only because I have pretty sharp hearing and could hear the dripping sound, the tank was about 20 years old by that time.
posted by xdvesper at 3:33 AM on April 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing the advice to see if the past few months' worth of bills have been "estimated" and this current one is finally an "actual". That's got me a couple times.

But if this is a huge spike out of nowhere, and all the last few months have been indeed actual readings, another thing to consider is whether the meter itself is on the fritz. This happened to me once - the utility in question had been doing all actual readings, and my bills were really consistent, but then one month the reading just shot WAY up. I asked the utility if there was maybe something wrong with the meter itself - they had three years' worth of history for me, and saw that yeah, my usage was really consistent over all 3 years and this one month was the outlier, so they said "yeah, you may be right" and replaced the meter, and re-calculated an estimated usage for me based on my history and billed me based on that.

(Another tip, if you can afford it - go ahead and pay that bill as a gesture of good faith, while you work on resolving it; the utility will credit you back the overcharge to your account, and that will bring your next few bills down. I paid that overcharge after the broken meter, and they had overcharged me so much that my next 2 bills were wiped out and the 3rd month after that I only owed about five bucks. It was fun.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:21 AM on April 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

This happened to us because of a basement dehumidifier that had too low a humidity setting and was running nonstop. Doubled our bill.
posted by Geameade at 7:19 AM on April 11, 2021

sometimes this can also be if a grow-op splices the connection to power the grow-op. you can also have an electrician put an amp meter clamp on each line on your breaker box to see if it is something in the house.
posted by evilmonk at 4:07 PM on April 11, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. Someone in my neighborhood group posted a query and it turns out a lot of people are having the same problem, including folks with solar power who know they aren't using power, but who were billed. This person has involved our city council rep's office, so I'm waiting to see what info they can provide.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:38 PM on April 12, 2021

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