So I've stated that I'm writing this because of friends who nag me that I need to share my story. I'm not sure why. Personally I do not find it such an interesting story. Sure, I may have information to share but it isn't very relevant information for most people. I have often been told that I should write about my life, but I've found that I have lost my inability to find the humor in my life any more. Any time I try to write about my situation it comes out sounding depressing and whiny. I will try to imagine Joe Friday standing over my shoulder saying "just the fact ma'am" and try to keep some of my darker moodswings from showing through.
So what is this situation? *deep breath* This is my third winter without heat. It is true that it is amazing what a person can get used to. My situation didn't develop from just an inability to pay my utilities bill. It is hard to decide where to begin sharing my stoy as there have been many years of stupidity, gullibility, and questionable choices. I suppose that this leg of my story begins around 2001 when I bought my house.
My home used to be two apartments. The neighborhood was rezoned to contain only one family dwellings. The previous owner was in the process of tuning the house back into a single family dweling when his wife became ill and he decided that the house had become an albatross and he was better off selling it than trying to fix it up to code to rent it out.
My home had two gas meters and two electric meters. I received three separate bills from DTE. That math isn't hard to do is it? Four meters, three bills. Two gas bills and one electric bill. I called DTE as soon as I realized this error. Not only am I basically an honest person, but I just don't have the luck for this to not come back and bite me in the butt somehow.
I called DTE monthly, always getting a different customer service representative. I also always got different answers. They varied from "we'll look into it", to "our records show that you only have one electric meter at your address", to one arrogant male who told me "You are most likely being billed correctly but, like most women, you don't know how to read your bill". With every call I made sure to request an employee number so that I could fill out the survey to give them kudos for their excellent assistance. Yes, that was hard to say without laughing.
By 2005, the meter reader began knocking at the door to inform me that I had 4 meters and was only being billed for 3 of them. I told him that I knew that and was SO glad that an employee from DTE was finally able to point out this error as well. He told me that he would make a note and have someone look into it. I asked the same question that I asked every employee that admitted there was an error, "Will I end up being punished for this mistake?" Over and over I was given the same response, I would only be billed if it was determined that I had acted fraudulently in some way to ensure free service.
The summer of 2005 DTE shut off that unbilled meter. I called them and explained the situation, AGAIN. Yes it is my meter, yes I AM willing to have the meter added to my existing account. They came out that day, turned the power back on - which has to be done at the pole because the meter is so ancient it was rusted shut years before I bought the house. They had me sign papers stating that I wanted the meter billed to my account and assured me that I would not be back billed for their error.
Not only was I not back billed for the 4 years of service they never billed me for, but I STILL was not receiving a bill for that electric meter. By this time, the upstair furnace had died and the upstairs bathroom had never been functional so the second gas meter had been removed. I was now receiving two bills from DTE - one gas, and one electric.
I'll skip ahead to 2009, still never received a bill for that second floor meter until it was shut off again. I called - AGAIN. Their records showed that the meter had been previously shut off in 2005 but there was no record of their turning it back on. They were going to investigate for fraud. Since that meter was always shut off at the pole I was confident that I would not be charged with fraud, like I shinnied up the pole and turned it back on myself, yeah right. Again I was told that if my actions weren't fraudulent that I would not be back billed as it was their error.
It took TWO months before they came to a decision. TWO months of me calling almost daily looking for information as to just when my power would be restored. TWO months of my phone company over charging me for the extra minutes I was using while sitting on hold with the utility comapany for HOURS. Then it took DTE another month to figure out my bill. Huh what? They did not charge me with fraud and when I brought out my list of employees that I had talked to and been assured that I would not be back billed, I was told that each and every employee ID that I gave them had never existed. Really? I could see that the male chauvanist pig had probably given me a fake ID number, but every single person that I talked to? I found that very hard to believe.
So they back billed me all the way to the year 2000 - even though I didn't buy the house until May of 2001 which I had provided them a copy of my deed to prove this, but they din't much care. They did provide me with a fabricated bill detailing what I was charged for each and every month, some months the bill was as high at $500, even though the only electricity used upstairs was my alarm clock, the overhead light that I rarely used in my bedroom, the cable box which was always on admittedly, an infrequently used VCR, and my television that I religiously used the sleep timer on so that infomercials wouldn't wake me up at 4am. I find it very hard to believe this ran my bill up to $500. I wasn't allowed to refute these charges though of course, the grand total of which was over $8,000.
When I couldn't pay this immense charge within 2 months, they shut everything off. The remaining electric meter and the gas meter that I was not behind in payment for at all. I think this is what ticked me off the most. They were not at all willing to offer me a reasonable payment plan nor listen to any arrangements that I tried to make for payment. They did not care that I had a 9 year old child living in my home. If I hadn't been assured repetitively that I would not be charged for THEIR error, I probably would be more willing to admit to the fact that I should be held responsible for the bill ... or atleast the portion of it that they could prove was not inflated as I suspect that most of it was.
So how do I survive in the 21st century without electricity, heat, or hot water? Well, I'm going to save that for my next post.