Free electricity!?
April 26, 2006 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I've been living in my apartment since December, and I still haven't received an electric bill from ConEd. It was made clear that we had to sign up to receive power and we did that -- my wife called in, gave them her social security number, address, etc. Still, no bill. The meter man comes by every month and checks the meter. Still, no bill.

My wife is of the opinion that we better fess up, or we'll be getting a nasty surprise in the future. I'm of the opinion "Hey! Free electricity!"

I want to call them up and ask some innocent questions, but I don't want to alert them to the fact that I'm getting a free ride. Any ideas?

I called the other day and got the automated system. I entered our phone number and my wife's SS#, both of which did not return a valid account. To me, that says we're not even in their system. If that's true, though, who is paying our bill? The previous tenant? Wouldn't he notice? Am I about to get stuck with a bill?

For anyone living in NYC, you probably know ConEd is run by a bunch of asshats. Between the freak electrocutions on the street, and manholes exploding, I think they've got their hands full. You think they'd notice a little billing error such as this one?

Has anyone had any similar experiences? What should I do?
posted by jeffxl to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
Perhaps you are being billed quarterly?
posted by meerkatty at 7:49 AM on April 26, 2006

So if they have no record of your account, come clean and create a new account as if you just moved in.

I agree free electricity is tempting, but remember all billing mistakes are noticed eventually.
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:54 AM on April 26, 2006

(Well, first of all...are you using any electricity?)

Am I about to get stuck with a bill?

Probably. I was listening to Bill Handel's radio show a few months ago, and a woman asked a similar question. She hadn't received a bill in several years, and suddenly the company knocked on her door with a bill for a couple thousand bucks. She asked if she had to pay, and he told her flatly, "Yeah, you do. You've been getting a free ride, and now you're screwed. Work out a payment plan. Beg, borrow, or steal."

If I were you, I'd make sure the problem is corrected ASAP.
posted by cribcage at 8:04 AM on April 26, 2006

You're gonna get whacked with a hell of a bill one day. Same thing happened to me w/ ConEd and eventually they'll shut off your service one day if it goes on long enough (It took them 4-5 months in my case). You'll have to make an appointment, have someone come out and turn it back on. Just get it sorted out now.
posted by lovejones at 8:05 AM on April 26, 2006

This same no-bill thing happened to me with Con-Ed when I first moved in. After a couple months of not receiving the bill and accumulating a balance I knew nothing about, I rectified their inability to send me snail mail by just signing up for online notification of bills. My email never fails to tell me about a bill and I can just pay it online. Super easy. But yeah, it's not free electricity. Somebody, somewhere, is keeping tabs on your usage.
posted by superfem at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2006

Perhaps I could have read your question correctly....sorry.
posted by meerkatty at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2006

In terms of worrying about a bill, estimate what you would pay each month, put it into an interest-bearing account and don't touch it until you move out. If you get hit with a bill, you'll be ready. If not, you've got some money.

On the other hand, who knows how/if you are listed in their system, and if you go to a new apartment and need electricity it might finally trigger their system to notice you owe them some money. Or you might move out of state and one day find your credit rating messed up, or collection agencies calling you.

Too many variables for my comfort, so I would do as rabbitsnake suggests and call and try to setup the account again. If they don't connect the missing five months with you, that's a pretty good free ride. If you still don't get a bill with the new account, you might want to check with your post office for mail delivery issues.
posted by mikepop at 8:16 AM on April 26, 2006

Another voice to the pile: you better get this fixed, and fast. It's clearly not free because you know they're keeping track of your use. And no one would (probably) be so stupid as to pay your electricity bill for you. So if it's just a mail snafu, they'll figure it out eventually and do something bad: 1) come around with a huge bill with non-payment charges and interest added, 2) cut off your power with no warning, or 3) report you to a credit bureau. Most likely all three. Not fun.
posted by Plutor at 8:16 AM on April 26, 2006

You could figure out what your neighbours are paying for electricity and save that monthly. If you do it rigorously, you shouldn't need to worry when/if they come knocking. Remember... you'll get the benefit of investing that money while the electric company drags its feet on the issue.

They probably could try to charge you interest on the bill, but I highly doubt they would be able to convince anyone important that it's right to charge X years interest up to the date of the first time you found out you needed to pay. The time value of money dictates that without interest, YOU are the one making money.

If I got *several* years of electricity for only a couple thousand dollars, I'd be laughing! That's an incredible deal! As it stands you should be paying at least $1,000 a year for electricity, probably LOTS more... Imagine how you could invest that money and how much more you could turn it into.

And to those that suggest I'm a scammer, let me tell you about all the very large American companies that have been known to take advantage of stupid billing departments by double or even triple billing them for work. You gotta keep your own house in order -- you can't expect your customers to do it for you!
posted by shepd at 8:17 AM on April 26, 2006

Oh and count on the fact that they will notice the issue and turn off the electricity either when you are hosting a big holiday dinner or when you are out of town for a week.
posted by mikepop at 8:19 AM on April 26, 2006

(And yes, I'm the type of person who considers court/paperwork to be a complete non-issue/non-consequence if I know I'm in the right [ie: I haven't IGNORED a bill, I've just not RECEIVED one.] -- I've been known to ENJOY writing 40 or more pages to companies and spend hours on the phone with them to solve issues. I guess that makes me very odd... If you do care about that then perhaps going the "safe" route is the better investment for you... That means you'll need to pay up ASAP.)
posted by shepd at 8:20 AM on April 26, 2006

We had a similar experience with Reliant when we moved into our place in 2002. Although I signed up for server, we never received a bill for a few months, and then we received a disconnection notice. I had to call them and get it straightened out.

The problem was blamed on changes in "the system" related to the electricity deregulation that was taking place at the time. They did not bill me for the back months; I'm not sure why, but it might have been because they didn't have meter readings.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2006

Oops. Make that "signed up for service".
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:43 AM on April 26, 2006

remember all billing mistakes are noticed eventually.

Not always. A few years back, my bill (usually about $220 per month) inexplicably went to under $10 for four consecutive months, then went back to normal.

I paid the bills I was sent and never heard anything more about it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:46 AM on April 26, 2006

Once I was subletting a place, and the electricity bills were getting sent to the property managers (I don't know why, but they were). For some inexplicable reason (they were not the best property managers I've seen) they held on to them. We didn't find out about this until a few months after the actual tenants moved back in, when their power was shut off. And then we had to pay the bills.
posted by advil at 8:59 AM on April 26, 2006

You might want to check with your landlords. In most of my apartments, the landlords have the electric bill switched to their name between tenants. They may still be getting your bills, and not forwarding them to you. (Or, possibly, paying?)
posted by occhiblu at 9:08 AM on April 26, 2006

I have also been billed by my landlord - DTE switched electrical to my name, but left the gas (it was coded as a different location in their system). That sucked - I had to pay them ASAP or risk getting evicted b/c they told me changing the billing was part of the rental agreement and I was in default...
posted by blackkar at 9:17 AM on April 26, 2006

If it's bothering you, either from the fear of future calamity or moral responsibility, call them up and talk to a person. If it takes more than twenty minutes of your time to straighten it out, follow mikepop's suggestion of putting the money away and collecting interest (keep a record of when you called and who you spoke to). There's a limit to the amount of trouble you should go through to give money to someone who's responsibility it is to collect it.

I'm a little surprised by the rates people are quoting-- I live outside Boston so am not a Con Ed customer, but my last month's bill was $67. I live on the first floor of a house and the hot water is gas not electric. But are people in NY really paying hundreds of dollars per month for electricity? (sorry for the hijack)
posted by justkevin at 9:21 AM on April 26, 2006

There's another reason you should sort this out now, global energy prices are rising, this means there's a good chance that the price of the electricity you use will rise, often quite significantly. Paying for the lot after six months may involve having to pay the whole thing at the rate at the end of the six months, rather than getting the early month's power at the price then prevailing. The same advice applies to everyone who gets estimated bills that are lower than actual usage, ring the right number in! This is certainly the case in the UK but I can imagine it will apply in most places due to the global nature of the energy market. In the UK we're talking about price jumps of 15-22%, so it's very unlikely that any savings you make by holding on to your money a bit longer will outweigh the eventual costs.
posted by biffa at 9:27 AM on April 26, 2006

Billing screw-ups happen all the time and I imagine most of the time you will have to pay up (this isn't a cable company we're talking about!). I also like the idea of putting the money aside, just in case, and doing a little more leg work to make your conscience feel better about the free ride your currently (HA!) getting. If the billing gets ironed out you're in the clear, and if not, you can at least say you tried.

To add to the personal anecdotes, my power was cut off one saturday afternoon a year back. The power company had the meters incorrectly labeled so I was paying my neighbor's power bill and the neighbor never opened an account to pay for the my power that was running through the meter labeled as theirs. With no notice or warning, but five months of inaction, PEPCO sent Bruno to inform me of my failure to pay. It all got straightened out with just a phone call and a letter; the neighbors got on a payment plan and I got almost two months free for overpaying their bill all along.
posted by peeedro at 10:27 AM on April 26, 2006

I used to work for one of these big soul-less companies, and you are not in the right just because you don't receive a bill. I used to be the person that you had to call when this issue was finally caught, and I can assure you, there are no free rides.

If you know you are using the service, pay for the service - call them up. Because if they haven't turned the power off, some poor schmuck IS being billed for it, and might not even know it. I used to see that all the time - we used to ruin people's credit ratings because our records indicated that they were using a service at an address they 'claimed' they no longer were responsible for.

By being honest, it is entirely possible to get a connection fee waived, and start the billing as of when you call, especially if you just come clean - my company used to bend over for people like that, just because it was so freaking nice for a change to deal with someone honest. If you don't call them and they disconnect your service, you pay the reconnection, plus if your address is listed as a bad credit risk (which is will be, because no one is paying for the power being used) you may have to put down a deposit or pay a premium to get service. And who knows how long it will take them to reconnect you. It really isn't all 'flip a switch'.

Not paying for it is theft, as well. So there is also the moral aspect to consider.
posted by sperare at 10:44 AM on April 26, 2006

I was in a similar situation. I didn't get any bills, and I assumed that the landlord had taken care of the electricity issues.

Then one day without warning they just cut me off. I could only set an appointment 4 days later for them to reconnect me.

On one hand, I got free electricity for about 2 months, on the other hand having electricity cut off without any warning for several days is NOT FUN.
posted by Sharcho at 12:18 PM on April 26, 2006

This happened to me once; after moving into an apartment, I didn't receive a bill for over a year, and didn't think about it even once. Then one day I got a bill for the entire amount, due at the end of the month.

In short: call them. You're not getting anything free if the meter guys are coming out, you're just getting a delayed bill for reasons that you'll probably never know -- and even if the meter guys weren't coming out, they know the meter read from the last tenants, so any time in the future they can send someone out to read the meter, then bill you with 30 days due for the full amount.
posted by davejay at 1:30 PM on April 26, 2006

Imagine this question being asked from ConEd's point of view.

"Hey, Charlie, this guy signed up for electricity, and he's been using it - a boatload of it! - and he hasn't paid us a red dime."

"Wow, how much late fees has he accumulated?"

"Looks like a couple hundred dollars worth."

"Should we try to reach him?"

"Nah, that's why we have collection agencies! Let's shut his power off, report him to Experian, and sell off this bad debt at 80 cents on the dollar. Central office can take the tax loss on the rest!"
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:08 PM on April 26, 2006

Response by poster: UPDATE:

So I called ConEd. I talked to a guy, who was a bit of a douche. I went through the information business -- giving out the SS#, then our Address -- only to have him find that we're not in the system. He said it's listed as "Pinnacle" (our apartment leasing company). He then said "Well, we're not sure why your information didn't get put in, but we'll change that. We'll put you in as starting the date when you moved in."

To this, I stammered "Buut, how much of a bill is that? I mean, who paid the bill this far?"

"Pinnacle did, I guess"

"Well, we wouldn't want to double pay, would we? Couldn't we start it as of today?", I said

"Noooo. You wouldn't double pay. We would refund Pinnacle the money, and then bill you."

"Wouldn't it be easier if we just started from today, though?", I pleaded

"Easier for you maybe."

I finally got off the phone by saying that I'd check with Pinnacle to see if electricity wasn't in our lease agreement. The guy agreed. I'm pretty sure it's not in our lease agreement, but, we do receive a paper bill for our apartment from Pinnacle each month, and there is no mention of anything else owed.

Any further advice? Continue on the path to good karma and a hefty bill? More innocent questions? Any tips?
posted by jeffxl at 7:32 PM on April 26, 2006

If someone else is actually paying the bill, at least your power won't be shut off unexpectedly.

However, it leads to the sort of questions I suspect only a lawyer can answer: could Pinnacle hit you with a bill even though they willingly paid; could Pinnacle contact ConEd and attempt to set things straight, seeking to be reimbursed for the money they paid ConEd, and pointing ConEd to you for the money. What could Pinnacle/ConEd do legally if they didn't figure out their error until after you moved out, etc.

My (non-legal) guess is that this would make the "put the money in the bank just in case option" a bit safer - since ConEd is getting paid, there wouldn't be any late charges if they decided to give all the money back to Pinnacle and you paid up promptly. You should definitely review your lease to see if any of this sort of thing is mentioned in the fine print.

You might contact Pinnacle, in writing, vaguely asking them to confirm your account with them is in good standing, that you don't owe them for any reason, etc. If they still don't notice your error and send you back a letter stating you are all settled with them, you might be able to get out of paying for the time elapsed.

The more straightforward thing to do would be to contact them, via registered letter, explain the situation and ask them if you need to fix this with ConEd. Include language that if you don't hear back from them in thirty days, you will consider the matter settled. This way if you keep falling through the cracks you can show you made an effort to set things right.

Of course, the most moral/karmic thing to do would be to simply call ConEd and pay up for the electricity you use.
posted by mikepop at 7:45 AM on April 27, 2006

"We would refund Pinnacle the money, and then bill you."

That is what's going to happen. Better now than later.
posted by cribcage at 12:23 PM on April 29, 2006

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