PG&E holds renter responsible for big bill

June 14, 2011 7:35:27 PM PDT
If you rent a house or apartment, you may not be the one who receives the PG&E bill, but you also may not realize you are responsible for it anyway. That is what happened to one Bay Area woman and she was stunned.

This woman found out she was responsible for someone else's utility bill that was thousands of dollars worth. You may not know it, but it can happen, especially to renters in California. You think you're paying your share of the utility bill, but that legally may not be enough.

When Christy Rotter and her son moved into her rental house they had lights, they had heat, they had a fish tank, and then everything shut off.

"She says, 'Well we're not restoring your PG&E until you pay us $4,600.' I said, 'Now, how is that possible?'" said Rotter.

To her amazement, PG&E told Christy it would not turn on her power until she paid $4,600 for somebody else's utility bills.

"I asked them how were they holding me responsible if my name was not on the lease up there, my name was not on the PG&E there," said Rotter.

It's all because a woman who subleased space to Rotter wasn't paying her PG&E bill. And this little known rule of the state PUC says all adults living in a premises are responsible for the utility bill -- even if their names are not on the PG&E bill. It's called Electric Rule 3.

"I don't know what the third rule in PUC is, but I know that this isn't right," said Rotter.

Rotter says the rent at her old place included utilities. Yet, when she tried to turn on power at her new place, PG&E saw her old address on her driver's license, and said, "Pay up... $4,600 or no lights."

"All adults will be held responsible for any outstanding balance," said PG&E spokesperson Katie Romans.

Romans says indeed the old bill will follow you to your new residence and stop any service. Rotter didn't think it was right to pay someone else's bill and couldn't afford all that money anyway. So mother and son lived without power for days, then weeks, then months.

"It was super freezing, it was just horrible," said Rotter.

"I don't really like being in the dark. I'm not saying I'm afraid of the dark, I just don't like being alone in the dark," said Rotter's son, Zack.

"He did his homework in the windows because it got dark at five o'clock," said Rotter.

Zack went to live with a relative.

"Two and a half months without power and a friend of mine said, 'Call 7 On Your Side,'" said Rotter.

We contacted PG&E and things changed fast. The utility company spoke with the former landlady who agreed to take responsibility for the bill. And days later, Rotter's house lit up.

"I cried... I was crying," said Rotter.

"We did a poor job of understanding her story. Once we were able to get all of the information, she was able to contact the customer of record, who then contacted us, assumed responsibility for the debt, and as a result Ms. Rotter's lights are on today," said Romans.

"7 On Your Side works! It worked for me," said Rotter.

Our thanks to PG&E for working with Rotter to get her lights back on. The utility company says it will work with anyone having trouble paying their bills now in an effort to avoid having their power cut off in the future.

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