San Mateo woman fights utility bill after home destroyed by fire

A San Mateo woman lost her home of almost 15 years to a huge fire back in November then had to deal with a utility bill.
March 14, 2014 7:52:28 PM PDT
A San Mateo woman lost her home of almost 15 years to a huge fire back in November. Before the shock had worn off, she had to deal with another shock, the huge PG&E bill for a home that was no longer livable. So, she asked 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney to step in and help.

It was one of those mix-ups that can be very frustrating for consumers. And as Murphy's Law would have it, it came at a time Linda Stephens could least deal with it.

Stephens opens the door to what's left of her San Mateo home. Fire swept through the residence in November. She says it took just three minutes for fire to destroy it.

"My family was here. My son grew up here. His room is next door," said Stephens.

She admits returning to see the home in such shape is still difficult four months later.

"I cry every time. I cry every time," she said.

Stephens recalls the power being disconnected after the fire. PG&E records confirm that.

"We were notified on November 9th of the fire at Mrs. Stephens's residence. Our representative did go out to the residence that day to remove the electric meter," said Jason King of PG&E.

Her PG&E bill for the month beginning just 10 days before the fire was $738. That was 60 percent more than the entire previous month.

"But what made it even worse, is in December, I got a bill for this house for $533," said Stephens.

"At that time, that representative should have entered a tag into the system letting us know, letting records and the building department, know that the meter had then been removed so the charges wouldn't continue," said King.

But that didn't happen.

So, even though the utility now knows power had been shut off to the home, its billing department didn't know it at the time.

When the smart meter failed to record any usage, PG&E sent Stephens a bill based on her historic usage.

When she called several times to dispute the charges, customer service insisted she was still living at the home.

"If I could live in here I would, but I can't so, I mean it's been hard enough without having, without PG&E doing this," said Stephens.

Seven On Your Side contacted PG&E. By then the utility had already figured out their mistake.

"My understanding is that our records department discovered the discrepancy on the bill and issued a corrected bill. Because the bill was still going to her old address, she didn't receive the corrected bill," King.

Back at Stephens's home, flowers are beginning to grow back in the garden.

"Life is coming back finally," she said.

"We apologize to the customer for the inconvenience caused by the erroneous bill," said King.

Stephens plans to rebuild her home and investigators have been unable to determine a cause for the fire.


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