Electricity Bill Too High?
January 17, 2007 9:10 AM   Subscribe

We live in a two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Our electricity bill averages between $60 and $80 a month. Yesterday, however, we received a bill in the mail seeking an additional $645 for the past 215 days.

Apparently, ConEd conducted an actual meter reading last week, as opposed to the estimates it had been using. This seems extraordinarily high, and breaks down to an extra $80 a month on top of what we've already paid. Are electricity bills of $160 a month at all common in NYC? Granted, over the summer we used window air conditioners, but we did the same thing last summer without having to pay this much.

Do I have an recourse with ConEd? They're coming to re-read the meter, but I have a feeling they're not going to say they're wrong.

One wrinkle is that last spring, ConEd discovered that the two tenants in the building were paying for the electricity in the common areas, and that the landlord never had his own meter. Over the past month or so, this has been remedied. Could the work being done by my landlord's electrician (around the same time the meter was read) have somehow changed the reading? It is now unclear exactly which tenant (me or my neighbor) was paying the landlord's bill. ConEd seems to think it was my neighbor, because they've received a reimbursement.
posted by suasponte to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
If you can get access to your meter, you can try turning off the breakers in your fuzebox and seeing if the meter is still moving, which would indicate that your electricity is being used elsewhere.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:14 AM on January 17, 2007

If you know where your meter is do your own readings from month to month. Heck, if you have access to your own breakers, trip them all and see if the meter is still ticking along at a fast pace, if it is chances are you're meter is wired to someone else's electricity. I've no idea what electric bills are like on the east coast, but you should be able to figure out the per unit cost and from that figure out how much electricity you are supposedly using. I guess with an apartment complex it is also possible that different apartments are at least partially wired together, especially since it seems like the wiring isn't terribly clear-cut from your description

Even at $60-80 bucks a month it makes me appreciate the $30 we pay for a three bedroom house.
posted by edgeways at 9:21 AM on January 17, 2007

posted by edgeways at 9:21 AM on January 17, 2007

Have there been any changes to the major appliances you use? For example, did the landlord or somebody else perhaps increase the thermostat setting on the water heater? Did you get a new refridgerator? Maybe your clothes dryer's exhaust is badly clogged and it takes forever to dry things now?
posted by Rhomboid at 10:17 AM on January 17, 2007

It seems rather fishy that they could bill you in arrears for prior periods that you've already been billed for. I'm not a lawyer, but $645 is starting to getting into the "worth fighting over" territory. I'd at least ask them in writing to justify how they think they can ask for money now, when they (assumedly) chose to bill you based on estimates in the past, rather than actual meter readings. It seems like they made the decision to do estimated billing, not you, and if your actual usage was higher, that's their problem.

Perhaps there's a consumer affairs office that you can deal with, to give you a straight answer?

For what it's worth, it doesn't sound like you're the first person this has happened to.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:33 AM on January 17, 2007

They are perfectly able to bill you for electricty you used but they haven't billed for in the past because of some mistake. i just went trough this (on a much smaller scale) because the electric company installed a malfunctioning transmitter when they replaced our meter last year. So it was telling them we where using about $10 less then what we where per month. They finally read it visually and we got quite a large bill (by our standards) and negotiated payments because it came right after the money drain of holidays.

So, long story to essentially say, forget the route of saying the electric company can't bill you for legitimate mistakes or oversights. Go the rout trying to prove that all that electricity wasn't yours. If, in the end you have to pay they should let you pay in installments.
posted by edgeways at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2007

I've spent $100 in one month for electricity for a medium sized studio in Con Ed territory. But it was when it was really really hot and I used the A/C excessively. I have since learned better. So it's possible that your bills for a 2BR could be that high, but I don't know if it's likely.

I agree with everyone that this warrants further investigation, especially since that fishy stuff was going on with the common areas.
posted by Mavri at 12:35 PM on January 17, 2007

You know, this is weird: I had exactly the same situation in December. Moved into a new apartment (Flatbush, Brooklyn), paying about $35/month (single, studio, no appliances except AC, computer, and lightbulbs). Thought $35 was good. Then they send me a bill for an extra $265 for the past 180 days, giving exactly the same justification (past readings were approximate, they did a real one). I bit the bullet and paid (as a student living off loans, three hundred bux is a lot of money).

What's strange about this is that the ratio of bills is almost identical (real bills almost double "fake" bills). Someone should investigate this.
posted by nasreddin at 12:45 PM on January 17, 2007

For your reference, I'm in a 2BR in Brooklyn as well, and our ConEd bill over the summer was around 150/month - we used a LOT of A/C. Now it's down to under 100 in winter months (we don't pay for heat).

It seems accurate...as far as I know...
posted by infinityjinx at 12:53 PM on January 17, 2007

My roommate (Above!) handles the bill, but I seem to remember ConEd trying to overbill us at first and then backing down. This month's bill was also suspiciously low. Go figure, but 600$ is certainly worth fighting over.
posted by GilloD at 1:02 PM on January 17, 2007

It seems rather fishy that they could bill you in arrears for prior periods that you've already been billed for.

It's actually quite common, and legitimate.

Do you have your old bills so that you can compare usage rates in different years? If you used significantly more this last year without changing anything I would be suspicious that someone else is using electricity from your meter. I like StickyCarpet's suggestion of throwing the breakers and seeing if the meter stops.
posted by caddis at 2:10 PM on January 17, 2007

If you can't get to the breakers for some reason, just unplug/shut down absolutely everything. I shared a house once where the landlord lived in the back half, and I was in the front - but there was a greenhouse at the front running a heater for his orchids. I started getting huge gas bills that winter, and he swore up and down that the greenhouse was wired to his side. (Two separate meters for the house)

Long story short, no, it wasn't.
posted by Liosliath at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2007

I used to work for Con Ed. Go first to their dispute resolution system. It's good and proves your good faith.

If the landlord has the common area run through your meter, you won't have to pay for that. Have them get the historical usage records. If the bills had been $60-80 per month before the landlord's fix, that's good proof of a problem that's not your fault.

Remember that most of your usage goes for the refrigerator. It's like running a tiny air conditioner 24 hours a day.

However, it's a sure loser to argue that the should have gotten actual meter readings or made better estimates.

They will make a long payment schedule if you insist that you can't pay quickly.

If all else fails, go to the Public Service Commission, which has a dispute resolution service.
posted by KRS at 10:11 AM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

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