SF couple overpays for alarm services

February 17, 2011 7:52:36 PM PST
If you own a burglar alarm, you may know about the fines many cities impose for false alarms. In San Francisco, there's a fee just to own a burglar alarm, and one couple found out they were not only paying the fee, they were overpaying.

Krista Lotto has one alarm system in her San Francisco home, so she wondered, why was she getting two bills? First, the city sent a bill for $45 to cover her annual alarm license registration fee. Then another invoice came from Bay Alarm demanding $55 for what it called a "city alarm permit." It sure seemed like two bills for the same thing, so she called Bay Alarm.

"I even said, 'Well, I think I've paid this before.' They said, 'Oh no, you have not paid for this... this you have to pay,'" Lotto said.

Lotto couldn't get any answers from Bay Alarm or the city about the reason for the two fees, so she contacted 7 On Your Side.

"It sounds like there was some confusion there at some point," San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros said.

Cisneros said a city law requires owners to register their alarms and there's a $45 annual fee. It's meant to hold owners accountable for false alarms that had reached tens of thousands each year, and now owners can be fined.

"The number of false alarms has dramatically decreased, which means emergency responders are more free, more available to take care of the real emergencies," he said.

But Lotto shouldn't have to pay two fees. So Cisneros looked into her case and found, by mistake, there were two licenses issued for one alarm system. Bay Alarm had obtained one license, and the other was in the last name of her husband, Rodriguez.

"It's very puzzling. He doesn't believe in alarms in the first place so that's the funny thing," Lotto said.

Lotto said her husband doesn't recall ever registering the alarm and still they had been double paying for the past three years. So right away, the city refunded the duplicate payments and Lotto was delighted to receive a check for the full $125.

"Good. I'll be able to use it, I'll have to think of something fun to do, I will get a glass of wine. One glass of wine," she said.

In case you're wondering why Bay Alarm charges $55 when the city fee is only $45, it's because the company tacks on $10 for doing the paperwork for its customers. You may have to pay a fine if you don't register your alarm, or if you have more than one false alarm per year.

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