I have been avoiding blogging about this for the last few days.
Probably because I have been trying not to think of it, really.
Ever since I moved to Hoboken I have always been the "responsible roommate". I'm the guy who puts his name on the electric, phone and cable bills. I collect the money from the roommates and pay the bills myself. Heck, lots of times I even forget to ask my roommates to pay me and pay the bills anyhow. I have never been great at keeping track of my money, but I have always been fairly good at not overspending what I have and paying my bills on time.
One day, about a month ago I got an automated phone call. This time it wasn't from Corzine's Gubernatorial campaign, but from PSE&G. The automated response informed me that my electric meter hasn't been checked in...
87 months? 7.25 years? That is about how long I have lived at this condo. I have been paying an estimate on my electric bills for 7 years?
I really hadn't noticed. I just get the bill, which is electric and gas, and pay it with a check. I tell my roommates each month what 1/3 of the bill was and they paid me in cash. I don't really care how much I was spending, but on average my electric costs were always very low. Now I know why.
The meter guy came to my house two weeks later, after I made arrangements with PSE&G to have someone check the meters. At first we had trouble finding the meters. Like many Hoboken brownstones, this was converted into 2 units - the downstairs (a basement and first floor) and an upstairs (the second and third floor). Unit 1 and Unit 2.
It turns out the electric meters, for both Unit 1 and Unit 2 were inside of Unit 2. Inside an electrical closet, the only way to gain access is hope that someone from Unit 2 was home to open the door. I never knew that. No wonder why they haven't been able to read my meters for 7 years - they have been unable to get access to the other apartment. The meter guy read the units and left saying I would get my bill in a few weeks with the current charges.
I started to do the math in my head. 87 months, and if they were off by, say $10 a month...$870...$20 a month...$1740...$100 a month? Oh, shit.
I got my bill last Friday and opened it up. My worst fears were realized, I owed PSE&G a boatload of money, about $8,000. They were incredibly wrong for the last 7 years estimating my electric bills. I never noticed it. My gas & electric were on the same bill, so I would see each month the full price and pay it, not realizing that electric was ridiculously cheap and an estimate.
I have a condo with 3 roommates. We split all the bills over the years. I have had about 9 roommates over the last 7 years. Some I haven't seen since they left. Others have gotten married and moved out of Hoboken. Some have bought their own condos in town. I really should owe 1/3 of that $8000 bill - $2,666. I can pay that. But 8 grand?
What the hell am I going to do? Call my roommates to pay me back?
"Uh, hi, Rose. Remember you lived with me for a year from 2002-2003? Yea, PSE&G was wrong about the electric bills and you need to pay me back." [click] "Hello? Hello?"
This isn't going to be a scene from "It's A Wonderful Life",
where all my friends and ex-roommates come storming over to my house giving me a basket full of cash to help with the mean-old Potter at PSE&G.
I'm sure Zuzu will show up when a bell tinkles from a tree just to say, "Look, Furey, everytime a bell rings you get kicked in the balls!"
I'm not George Bailey, i'm just Furey.
I called PSE&G their basic reponse was, "Didn't you notice how low your bills were? Do you have central air?" (we do) "Didn't you think that it was low? Sorry, but you have to pay us!"
I am fortunate that my roommate Jon has a friend who is a lawyer. She pulled some case files of similar situations and got me to call The Board Of Public Utilities (BPU). I'm working with them to figure out a solution, and to see if there is anything I can do. I also have the second apartment involved, they got a very expensive bill from PSE&G also (about half of mine, because they have been in the apartment only 3 years). Right now i'm waiting to hear from BPU, but my hopes aren't very high.
"Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence! Get me back! Get me back, I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids! Help me Clarence, please! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. Please, God, let me live again."
That only happens in the movies, not Hoboken.
I have been dreading the realization that i'm going to get stuck with the bill here. My ex-roommates won't lift a finger to help me. My friends and family will be sympathetic. And like the mantra of my life - I have always been alone and I will deal with it on my own.