RIRA Rep Seeks Answers To Manhattan Park Electricity Submetering - As A Result, Building Management Invites Rep To End Leasehold, They Don't Want Unhappy Tenants
Understanding Your Con Ed Electricity Bill from NY Times
Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Manhattan Park Common Council Member Mark Lyon reports:
Manhattan Park and several other Roosevelt Island housing developments submeter electricity instead of allowing residents to purchase their electrical service directly from Con Edison. While controversial, the NY Public Service Commission has strongly pushed submetering as an environmentally friendly measure that provides incentives for conservation and which also has the potential to offer electrical service at a lower rate than direct metering.I asked Manhattan Park management if they wish to comment on the matter. They have not replied but will update if they do comment.
Unfortunately, efforts at submetering have neglected to consider a number of issues including the loss of incentives for landlords to provide energy efficient structures and appliances and the risk that some landlords may not be well suited to also performing the duties of a utility provider. Coupled with the regrettable decisions of RIOC and its predecessor organizations in failing to require developers to make use of the existing island steam plant for effective, low-cost district heating, Roosevelt Islanders find themselves, in many cases, paying significant sums for electric heat to keep their apartments at a comfortable temperature during cold weather.
In December, the PSC adopted new rules for submetering. After reviewing these new rules, I thought it prudent, as a member of RIRA, to evaluate the impact of these changes on my electrical service and at similar submetered buildings on the Island. To legally submeter electrical service, individual PSC orders granting such authority to each development are required. As an initial step, I sought out the approved orders for all Roosevelt Island buildings. I was able to easily locate the orders for The Octagon and Roosevelt Landings, but not for Manhattan Park. When I submitted a records request, the PSC indicated that no such order could be found.
I reached out to the Manhattan Park management office, but received no response to my request for evidence of their approved submetering order. As a result, I registered a complaint with the Secretary of the PSC, expressing my concern over the lack of an accessible copy of the order and also pointed out several issues with the way submetering is handled at the complex. Many of the concerns I outlined have been shared with me by numerous other residents and affect everyone. Fearing retaliation, however, few are willing to approach the management office with their concerns.
Manhattan Park responded by sending documents they claim indicate their approval to submeter and ignoring the other complaints. In their response, they note that I am a “market rate tenant” with “market rate electrical consuming devices, the use of which [I] should pay for.” My complaints, however, are not about receiving free electricity. Instead, they are about ensuring management operates in accordance with the rules, laws and protections afforded to utility customers. Manhattan Park then invited me to end my tenancy (even though I have a year remaining in my lease) because they “prefer to have tenants who are not unhappy with their leasehold.” I visited the management office and requested the attachments (which they intentionally omitted from my copy of the response), but the request was refused; I was instructed to contact the PSC for copies.
Finding this response more than a bit odd, I contacted the PSC to request copies of the attachments and to reiterate my concerns with the handling of submetering at Manhattan Park. Those attachments have not yet been provided. Even if the attachments to the letter demonstrated proper authority to provide submetering, there are still concerns to be addressed. These include:
* Potentially charging more for electrical service than would otherwise be charged if tenants received directly metered service (violating the PSC's "rate cap" applied to most submetered service).
* Requiring a utility deposit before providing service (generally, utility deposits are allowed only in circumstances where a customer has a track record of missing payments).
* Failing to provide utility bills in a clear and understandable form. Currently, the utility charges are added as a line item on our rent statements, showing a total kWh usage only. PSC rules require additional information, including present and previous meter readings, on bills.
* Requiring excessive late fees.
* Delivering combined rent and utility bills on or after the due date.
* Failing to provide yearly Home Energy Fair Practices Act notices.
Two of the most critical issues with utility billing at Manhattan Park are the late distribution of bills and the lack of information about the service provided. Without access to the meters, historical readings or to the rates that will be charged, residents have no way to measure their electrical usage and anticipate the charges that might appear on their next bill. Giving residents precious little time to pay before imposing late charges, while simultaneously providing almost no transparency creates a situation in which tenants can be easily abused.
The Public Service Commission is currently investigating these complaints. Other complaints regarding overcharging, cross-wiring (where the power that you pay for is used for things outside your apartment like hallway lights or ventilation fans), billing practices (including threats of eviction or excessive late fees) or any other issues can be reported to the PSC online, by phone or by mail. If others are experiencing issues with their submetered electrical service, I urge them to contact the PSC.