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South Dunsmuir Avenue resident Bradley Davis said he has lived in his current apartment for approximately 10 years, and his Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) bill has almost always been about $150 for two months of service.
That is why he was shocked to receive an $875 bill from the utility recently for his March bill. Like his neighbors, Davis had been paying estimated bills from the DWP for the last 10 months because the utility couldn’t read the meter.
However, he said the utility has constant access to the meters through the property manager’s lockbox, and that his electrical usage hasn’t changed much in the 10 years he’s lived in the 600 block of South Dunsmuir Avenue.
“This is just part of their institutionalized fraud,” Davis said, adding that meter readers from other utilities have never had a problem with gaining access.
Unsatisfied with the DWP’s explanation of the issue, he said he called customer service to file a complaint, but the utility had to re-read the meter first. Davis said he spoke to a supervisor, who said he would relay the matter to the field office and conduct an investigation. He said he has yet to hear back.
Joe Ramallo, director of communications for the DWP, said residents of the eight-unit building were notified that they’d experienced a significant delay in their billing, which resulted in them receiving estimated bills.
He said the building’s meters were locked or otherwise inaccessible, and that staffers sent a message to the property manager or owner on record. Ramallo said he wasn’t sure what the initial problem was at the property, but DWP workers have encountered just about every issue possible when trying to read meters. He said staff members made at least six trips and were not able to get access.
Michael George, the manager at Doud Associates, which owns the property, was not aware of the issue. He said the lockbox is on a side gate, which has a phone number for utility workers to call if they cannot gain access.
“They certainly don’t have any trouble calling you if they have to send you a bill,” George said.
He said the property had never encountered any such issues with a utility. George said the DWP had contact Doud Associates before, when they called to check on a new name on the route.
Ramallo said the bills clearly indicated that they were estimated, and the utility did re-read the meter. Generally, when a customer files to have a meter re-read, the utility charges a $30 fee. Ramallo said the fee was waived in this case.
“There’s really no question the electricity was used,” he said, adding that new roommates or air conditioners can contribute to increased bills. Ramallo said the DWP also implemented a 5 to 6 percent rate increase for electricity last year. “We can’t not charge it. That would unfairly burden our other customers.”
He said only one resident in the building had expressed reservations about paying the bill. Ramallo said the charges would be “difficult for just about anyone to pay at once,” so the DWP allows customers to pay the amount due over the same period of time that the bill was delayed. In this case, it would be 10 months to a year. The $875 bill was based on the difference between the estimates made and the actual meter read.
“We are very reasonable when these instances occur,” Ramallo said, encouraging residents to contact the utility if they are concerned about an estimated bill. “We get those calls every day.”
Davis isn’t sold. He referenced a 2011 Park Labrea News and Beverly Press story in which city officials called for audits of the DWP’s billing after the utility sent late bills to residential customers, requiring payments in the thousands of dollars.
“I find it to be no coincidence whatsoever [that the issue is arising again],” Davis said. “They’ve got multiple ways to notify the property holder and the residents that they failed to read the meter.”
He said no customer service employees notified him that his bill could be spread out over several months. Davis also believes that the DWP failed to send notices to residents or the property manager about the lack of access.
He said he plans to file a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission and write to local officials. Davis said it is concerning that the utility’s system of checks and balances is solely managed by the DWP.
“There’s no independent verification,” he added.
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I’m having the opposite problem – we are getting OVERCHARGED every month on estimated bills. 4 cycles ago our (non-estimated) bill was $60. For the last 2 cycles we have seen “estimated” under “current read” and our latest bill is $170! They are over-estimating!