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Price Gouging on Utilities?

Discussion in 'Other Residential Landlord & Tenant Issues' started by maxaroni, Sep 25, 2020.

  1. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
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    I’m trying to figure out if this is is even legal. My apartment complex, where I have lived for 4 years, came under new management very suddenly (I’m talking notice on the 29th that they would be taking over on the 1st) at the end of 2019. At that time and through September 30th, we have been billed submetered for water and sewer. Trash was included in the rent, but we paid extra for valet service.

    Now, as of October 1st, they have switched the utilities to being allocated from a master meter reading. On submeter, my monthly usage was approximately 6000 gallons a month. I live alone in a 1 bedroom apartment. With the master meter method, they are claiming my usage is now over 12000 gallons a month, literally doubling my utility bill. In addition, they have also shifted the cost of actual trash service by our county to the residents—-so we are now charged twice for the same service.

    In my lease, it does say in regards to their billing of the utilities that we (the landlord and myself) agree that this method is fair and reasonable, and understand there may be some allocation of common utilities...so essentially the sprinkler systems and some overflow from my neighbors.

    However, I do not think that a 100% increase could be defined as “fair and reasonable”. I know I am not the only one who experienced a sharp uptick, because there was a line out the door of our leasing office on the day we received our statements, and they sent an email out basically saying “tough luck” this morning.

    Do I have grounds to seek legal action based on this?
     
  2. welkin

    welkin Active Member

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    If your lease says that they can charge you by apportioning of the master meter, then there is little you can do. Are they apportioning by the number of people in the apartment or by the number of bedrooms?
     
  3. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    The lease says it’s allocated based on square footage and number of tenants.
     
  4. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    If the landlord is properly computing the charges based on the method specified in the lease then the answer is no. You agreed to that method when you signed the lease. If they are doing it right then it would appear that for the previous year you were getting a break in having the charges computed by another method that gave you a bill of half what the current bill is. The submetering may not have included all the water use in the place, e.g. water used for common areas, etc.

    That said, the usage does seem high since the EPA water use page states: "The average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. Roughly 70 percent of this use occurs indoors." Based on that you'd expect the average family to use around 9000 gallons a month. Of course, this will vary from place to place in the U.S.

    If this is the first month of the new billing consider that there may be more water use shown the first time because of quirks involved in converting from one method to the other. So you might find the following bills show lower use. You might ask the landlord to provide you with the computation of your bill if the bill does not explain it to ensure the landlord has done it correctly.

    How much is your water bill each month anyway? My typical water bill when I was in an apartment that did water bill computation like yours does was about $3/month. Unless your water bills are a whole lot more than that it simply wouldn't be economical to sue over this anyway.
     
    Michael Wechsler likes this.
  5. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Previously, my water, sewer, and valet trash combined was roughly $60 a month. When I renewed my lease, they accidentally had that two people lived in my apartment, so for one month I paid $105, with a 1.6 multiplier...so still about $60. This new bill is $135. I would consider a 20%, maybe even up to a 50% increase as fair and reasonable, considering the fact that I'm now being charged for them to water all of these plants and pressure wash our breezeways once a month. More than double is absolutely ridiculous.

    Our utilities are billed through a third party, but paid by the property in addition to our rent. Our statements state (in theory) the way they calculate usage is based on the fees set forth by our municipality, with a multiplier based on the number of tenants in the apartment. That's how I was able to calculate they were literally doubling my usage from the past 3.5 years. Originally the management advised us to contact the third party. The very nice rep I spoke to said that overall the usage was high for our property this month, but they couldn't speak as to why.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2020
  6. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    At present no. For the future, there's no way to answer this question intelligently without reading your lease and better explanation of the relevant facts.

    That said, I agree with "Tax Counsel" that, "if the landlord is properly computing the charges based on the method specified in the lease then the answer is no."
     
  7. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    I agree that your usage seems quite high for an individual.
    Investigate how the total is calculated and see if you can find an error.

    Was there any advance notice to this change in billing that explained what was going to happen?
     
  8. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Yes, attached is a copy of the brush off we recieved via email this week, and a copy of the original email that was sent out in July (I actually requested it, because I couldn't remember if they were really specific about the methods they would use--they weren't) notifying us of the impending changes.

    If there is no recourse as far as how ridiculous these charges are, as residents, since we are now cumulatively paying 100% of the community's water usage, can we demand that the leasing office drastically change their maintenance and upkeep behaviors? As I mentioned, they frequently mop and pressure wash our outdoor, open-air breezeways in addition to the pavers in front of the leasing office and the main pool, so that everything looks presentable for potential residents.
     

    Attached Files:

  9. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    I notice you are using the plural tense, rather than the singular tense.

    Yet, in your top post, you claim to occupy the unit alone.

    If you have someone living in the unit with you, could it be that the landlord knows that?

    If the LL does believe someone occupies the unit with you, that could explain why the assessment increased.

    If you DO LIVE ALONE, perhaps a letter to the LL or his/her agent might help you correct their misunderstood belief.

    Have you made an appointment with the LL (or his/her agent) to discuss the situation and ask how the calculation is made to insure that each tenant is charged correctly?
     
  10. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Yes; as I mentioned in the original post, I was not the only one who saw a drastic increase in my utility bill. If you look at the PDF of the notice, you can see it is addressed to the entire community. So when I say "we", I mean we communally as residents.

    When I renewed my lease, they did think I had someone living with me; that's why I was charged $105 for my utilities that month; they used a multiplier of 1 for the first tenant and .6 for the second. I called and had this corrected, and since then all of my utility bills (including this one) state very clearly they use a multiplier of 1 to calculate my charges.
     
  11. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    You've identified your problem.

    Now you simply need to fiercely endeavor to make sure the LL gets it right!

    The LL (or his agent) still appears to disbelieve you.
     
  12. PayrollHRGuy

    PayrollHRGuy Well-Known Member

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    Just to confirm you are still unhappy with the bill when they use the x1 multiplier? Then why did you sign the lease?

    I'm curious as to who you think should be paying for the community's water usage other than the tenants?
     
  13. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    It seems your next step is to contact the utility company as management suggested. If there is a problem with the calculation of your usage then perhaps they can identify it.

    There is power in numbers. If many residents have this complaint then join together to try and resolve it.

    Maybe collectively you can suggest some ideas to conserve and reduce the overall cost to everyone.
     
    army judge likes this.
  14. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    Conservice is not actually a utility company. It is a company that specializes in providing utility billing and related services to property owners, in particular apartment and condo complexes. That company provided the billing for the apartment in which I lived using a similar formula system to allocate the utility costs among the many residents of the building. The company can help answer questions about the computation of the bill, but it cannot really answer questions about the actual utility service. Thus, if there is a problem with the water service itself — like a leak — that is resulting in unusual water use it likely cannot tell the OP anything about that. Those problems have to be figured out by the actual utility providing the water service.
     
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  15. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Ok, I'll try to answer everything brought up here....

    #1, army judge, are you saying that, even though a multiplier of 1=1 tenant, that the automatically generated statements have a math error they are not expressing?

    #2 Payroll...I would expect a business to reasonably pay its own expenses. In this scenario, they have neither accountability for their own usage (since residents now pay all utilities), nor the incentive to find new residents (again, since they now do not pay a percentage, they can leave the complex at a low capacity, which hikes up utilities for us living here). Even the new county trash fee....although not terribly expensive, THEY are required by law to furnish the dumpsters. I already pay for valet trash, which is essentially the service of someone *else* disposing of my trash for me. Now should I pay extra for that service? Maybe. Honestly I've lived a lot of places and this is the first place I've ever been that charged for the dumpster service. There are also plenty of ways for them to reduce their own expenses while keeping our costs pretty much the same. *If they would have told me when I renewed they would be doubling my utilities, I would have told them to stuff it.

    Unfortunately, the city that provides the water and sewer is unable to provide residents a direct answer on master meter readings....they directed me to the leasing office....who has already shirked the responsibility of answering questions by directing us to the 3rd party who has no answers.
     
  16. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Possibly, or someone THINKS there is MORE than YOU occupying the unit.
     
  17. maxaroni

    maxaroni Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Then why would the multiplier only be 1? Point blank, if they thought someone else lived here, as they did when the lease was renewed, the multiplier would be 1.6. It is 1 for this extraordinarily high bill. Furthermore, the utility bill comes in my name only; the only one who pays rent is me/I am the only one with a resident account; the management company does random “inspections” every 6 months or so and I am the only person here every time (I work from home); and there is only one parking decal issued for my unit. So either they think I’m VERY good at hiding a body, or the math they’re now using charges me for my neighbors’ usage and the maintenance usage in addition to my own, unfairly burdening us residents on the whole.
     
  18. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    I am just guessing/speculating.
    You know more about what is being done than do uninvolved strangers.
    Frankly, I think you're being scammed.

    You are being assessed an amount of money each month, with no proof of HOW the assessment was derived.

    You might wish to organize the tenants, discuss the scam, and see if folks are willing to pony up a few bucks to stop the landlord from scamming money without proof you owe one dime.

    The group of you could then hire a lawyer to see if the assessment is accurate and authorized, or merely another very clever scam.

    If I were in your position, I'd be making arrangements to move upon the expiration of my current lease.

    I don't need to prove to myself if I suspect I'm being scammed.

    My suspicion is all I need to sever all ties with a thieving, conniving, lying, fleecing scammer!
     
  19. PayrollHRGuy

    PayrollHRGuy Well-Known Member

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    Tell us a little about the "community." Other than the water use by tenets what water do you think is used there?

    Do you really think they will keep units empty and not get the associated rent just so they can charge you more for water?
     

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