Zero Hour Approaches

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I got a call this morning from PSE&G. It was an automated response saying I had until April 27th to pay my $9,800 bill. I don't know how in 3 months I used $1800 worth of electricity. I put a call into the customer care center with PSE&G asking why they are after me. I thought the BPU was still investigating this, I spoke to them Friday about it.

Part of me is just thinking I should give up. I hate this looming over my head, it feels like a burden. I was trying to do the math of how many bartending shifts I would have to work to make $8,000. If I worked my ass off, I bet I could make $8,000 in about 3-4 months. I have the money to pay this bill off in the bank. I'm very good with saving my money. As much as I drool over having a BMW, I have been practical enough to just drive my 1993 Volvo. As much as i'd like to jet to Vegas a few times a year, I just settle for chilling in Hoboken. Yea, only a few weeks ago I just sprung for a few plasma TV. I just don't think it is fair that i'm assuming the entire burden of this payment for the last 7 years of my apartment - its a 3 bedroom place, and I would like those who have lived there to pay what they owe, too.

Also I dread the idea of approaching my old roommates about this. I wouldn't go back to anyone who lived with me before 2002. By my calculations each roommate would owe me around $35 per month they lived with me.

The whole lawyer angle is just more months of fighting this and having it looming over my head. Its a huge burden. I just feel tired thinking about it and worrying that somehow my credit rating gets ruined over this. If I don't pay while i'm fighting it and it turns to be a whole credit quagmire that is on my report for the next 10 years. That would suck.

Don't get me wrong, if this whole PSE&G issue were just me paying what *I* owed, I would have paid them $2,666 long ago. But the fact that i'm paying for 2 roommates, for all the various souls who have moved in and out with me over the last 7 years, is what sucks about this whole situation. My name is on the electric bill. Not their name.

I called my mom to see if she could get a friend of my family to assist with some legal questions.


I'm a relatively compassionate and reasonable person, and yes, like you I'm "the bills guy" with my two roommates.

Based on how you present your story - if I were a past roommate and you came to me, I would be compliant. I mean, I pay for what I use, and if I used $1000 of electricity I never paid for, well, then I would pony up the cash if you came to me professionally and provided a clear explanation of what had happened. It's not like you got the expensive bills in the first place and then decided to wait 2 years to ask for the cash - PSE&G is the one who waited 2 years.

I also did a quick poll of my two roommates and asked them what they would do if two years down the road I came to them and presented the situation to them that they owed me $1,000 in unpaid electric bills that I was previously unaware of. Their response in general was that if I had all the paperwork and math to show them exactly what had happened, and that if they didn't help, I would be screwed out of several more thousand of my own money, that they would be willing to cooperate, and at a minimum help towards a fight with PSE&G.

I think even if 1 roommate of the past is able to help out by paying their share, the better for you. The ones who either kindly decline, blatantly ignore, or outright refuse your request would deserve a letter from you or your lawyer to the effect of "I just wanted to let you know that I paid $X of your bills that you owed. I hope you enjoy your $X gift from me." Whether or not the guilt-trip works, at least you'll have some closure. Seriously, if these people honestly don't see their reasonable liability for their share, and how screwed you'll be money-wise, are you that worried about offending them?

I think the lesson here in retrospect (I know, hindsight is 20/20) would be to sign an additional agreement with any roommates to cover these types of issues. My roommates and I are renewing our lease in June and we'll also be renewing some personal contracts as well (such as our joint ownership of our TV, etc.).

Agreed about the hindsight. I also should have gotten the meter checked long ago, but I was seriously not expecting it to be off $80-100 per month.

I'm going to ask a few of the ex-roommates if they can pay their share, if i'm forced to pay the bill. I just would frankly be amazed if they paid me back. I figure they are going to respond, "It is your fault, and you should have let me know 'x' years ago."

Lots of them have also moved away from Hoboken, gotten married & all.

I'm fairly certain that if you had to, you could take many of the ex-roommates to small claims court and recoup your costs. I really don't remember much about torts law and the statute of limitations in this type of situation, but any that fall within that time period are on the hook.

The real question here is how much of this is your fault, and how much of this is PSE&G's fault? Although you were clearly irresponsible for not having your meter read, they let that go one for 8 years... seems negligent (not that I know if that's the actual legal standard for this type of suit). What I do remember, and what you should think about is this: Contract law is intuitive... the result in a court case is usually the fair result. That being said, it would seem to me that a court will divy up responsibility and say "Furey, you are 60% responsible and PSEG is 40% responsible, so your total bill is 5400." Slightly better than 9000. Also, because they're a big corporation and you're just one man with your first set of bills, you can play the ignorance card and they may seem MORE responsible than you. It's worth getting a lawyer (who deals with this type of stuff) IMO. Or maybe I just like to promote the profession. :)

Having had bill payment problems with old roommates in the past (mine was a whopper phone bill)I can relate...
if you can't/don't want to fork over all of your savings, try explaining the situation to PSE$G and offer to re-pay on a payment schedule.
This would give you time to get in touch with the old roommates and hopefully get some $$ back
from them that won't come out of your pocket, and keep your lights on.
Maybe you should ask future roomies for a utilities security dep to protect yourself.
good luck!

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on April 24, 2006 12:12 AM.

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