‘We didn’t have the $4,000’

N.L. cou­ple is­sues warn­ing over seven-year power bill saga

The Western Star - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK

Paula Tucker and Michael Tucker of Car­bon­ear were fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally thrown when, in 2017, they were told they owed more than $3,300 to New­found­land Power, based largely on un­set­tled ac­counts, years old.

They told The Tele­gram they had no idea the ac­counts ex­isted, hav­ing been out of the prov­ince at the time costs were in­curred.

In an in­ter­view this week, they pro­duced the bills pro­vided by the power com­pany, show­ing charges on dif­fer­ent ac­counts for their home ad­dress, un­der the name Paula Tucker.

There were two bills for dif­fer­ent times with the same name and ad­dress, but each with dif­fer­ent ac­count num­bers. The ac­counts were also dif­fer­ent from what the hus­band

and wife had un­der­stood to be their only elec­tric­ity ac­count with New­found­land Power.

They said they were at a loss. The Tuck­ers had been play­ing catch-up with their elec­tri­cal bill, but didn’t see a prob­lem get­ting clear of that bal­ance, un­til the ad­di­tional bills were pro­vided to them.

“For us, it be­came a very per­sonal thing. We didn’t have the $4,000. I had to go to his 82-year-old mother. She had to go to the Sco­tia­bank in Brampton, Ont., and ap­ply for a non­se­cured credit card to pay this god­damn bill so we could get our power back,” Paula Tucker said, speak­ing through welling tears of frus­tra­tion and em­bar­rass­ment at hav­ing to ask for the help.

They tried to ad­dress the old bills with New­found­land Power, to fig­ure out why they ex­isted, to no real avail.

Cer­tain the bills shouldn’t ex­ist, the Tuck­ers ul­ti­mately went the route of small claims.

Last month, on July 23, they were awarded a de­fault judge­ment for $4,190.91.

No­tice of the judge­ment was sent off to the power com­pany last Fri­day.

New­found­land Power has re­fused to com­ment for this story, say­ing the mat­ter is “an on­go­ing le­gal mat­ter,” de­spite not hav­ing con­tested the Tuck­ers’ claim, and the or­der be­ing is­sued.

The de­tailed story

The Tuck­ers said they want to share de­tails of their case for other prop­erty own­ers, as a warn­ing. They’d also like to of­fer it to any­one who has found them­selves en­coun­ter­ing sim­i­lar, sur­prise bills.

For them, it started in Oc­to­ber 2011, when they de­cided to move to Al­berta for a time, while still keep­ing their house on the wa­ter in Car­bon­ear.

“I was al­ways fly­ing back and forth to Al­berta,” Michael Tucker said, sug­gest­ing the turn­arounds were tak­ing a toll then.

It made sense to live out West, he said, then come back when they could.

“I fig­ured I’d be home ev­ery night with her then, rather than be­ing gone three or four months at a time,” he said.

There was a fi­nal me­ter read­ing for their Car­bon­ear bun­ga­low, and fi­nal bill of $70.55 as they made their move.

“As far as we knew, that was the end of my power bill. We were done,” he said.

The cou­ple ended up rent­ing their home from Oc­to­ber 2011 to Novem­ber 2012. The ten­ant in Car­bon­ear opened an ac­count and paid bills in his own name. The ten­ant gave his no­tice and left when a rel­a­tive passed and a fam­ily prop­erty be­came an op­tion, Paula said.

This was when the first ac­count un­known to them was ap­par­ently opened by the util­ity.

“They put it back in my name with no land­lord ten­ant agree­ment or any­thing and it ran up to this amount,” she said, point­ing to a June 2013 bill for $1,701.18.

“There was no one here to run up this bill. This house was empty, va­cant,” she said, adding her un­der­stand­ing is the power was shut off.

They rented to an­other ten­ant. Again, that ten­ant had an ac­count un­der their name and the Tuck­ers be­lieved the power was shut off once the ten­ant left.

“(But) they opened up an­other ac­count in my name, and ran it up to this amount,” she said, point­ing to a bill for $1,615.97 from May 2014.

Au­to­matic trans­fers pos­si­ble

New­found­land Power spoke gen­er­ally on re­quest, about the idea of dif­fer­ent ac­count num­bers for a sin­gle prop­erty and land­lord. A pro­gram for land­lords and prop­erty own­ers does ex­ist whereby New­found­land Power will au­to­mat­i­cally main­tain ser­vice and sim­ply trans­fer the ex­pense back to the owner af­ter a ten­ant de­parts.

In those cases, The Tele­gram was told, a new ac­count num­ber would be cre­ated for each pe­riod of time where a rental prop­erty is with­out a ten­ant — po­ten­tially ex­plain­ing the dif­fer­ent ac­counts in the Tucker’s case.

But the Tuck­ers say they never signed up for the land­lord pro­gram, or in­di­cated that is what they wanted. They say no proof was ever pro­duced to show they agreed to the pro­gram, with New­found­land Power’s own rules and reg­u­la­tions stat­ing land­lords would have to “sign an agree­ment” to be­gin those au­to­matic trans­fers.

Paula Tucker said she’s only the sec­ond name on their mort­gage in any event, so any ac­count opened should have been in ei­ther her hus­band’s name, or both names. De­lay in the bills

The cou­ple re­turned to their Car­bon­ear home at the end of 2014 and re­set­tled. They had an in­spec­tion on the home as they re­turned and had to have some small elec­tri­cal up­grades, in­clud­ing new ground­ing rods installed, with New­found­land Power re­quir­ing its peo­ple on site be­fore power was re­stored.

The cou­ple be­gan pay­ing bills at that time on what they un­der­stood as their only power ac­count. There was no men­tion of the un­paid bills, they said. And years passed.

“We weren’t hid­ing any­thing. We’d come back; we con­tacted light and power; we said we’re the own­ers of the house, we want power back to the house. We weren’t hid­ing any­thing,” she said, sug­gest­ing the dis­cov­ery of the old bills might have been tied to some ques­tions they posed in 2017, about the power bill re­fund, tied to the rate sta­bi­liza­tion plan. The years cov­ered by the re­fund would have in­cluded time be­fore the cou­ple moved West. They were pay­ing in, and wanted to know if they were re­ceiv­ing a re­fund.

As for the mys­tery bills from the power ac­counts cre­ated while they were away, the bills shown to The Tele­gram were marked with an ad­dress in Al­berta. But the Tuck­ers say they don’t know where New­found­land Power would have got­ten the ad­dress — it’s one they moved on from be­fore the bills were dated.

The cou­ple also asked for the in­for­ma­tion New­found­land Power had on hand, in start­ing the new ac­counts, re­ceiv­ing a print­out of a com­puter screen cap­ture. They showed The Tele­gram a printed page show­ing the screen cap­ture, with no con­tact phone num­ber show­ing in the in­for­ma­tion, no email con­tact and only the ad­dress of the Car­bon­ear home.

“I just won­der how many other land­lords have been put into this sit­u­a­tion where they’ve had th­ese mon­ster bills when they re­turned home to prop­er­ties that were never sup­posed to have power,” Paula Tucker said, freely shar­ing copies of power bills, email ex­changes, notes from her phone con­ver­sa­tions with cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives, a fi­nan­cial state­ment show­ing the money trans­fer from On­tario they are anx­ious to re­pay and their court doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing their copy of the de­fault or­der from small claims.

“What got me is we weren’t even faced with it when we came home. We were faced with it three years later,” she said.

ASH­LEY FITZ­PATRICK/THE TELE­GRAM

Paula Tucker and Michael Tucker in their home in Car­bon­ear. They want to share their story of un­ex­pected bills and ac­counts they weren’t aware ex­isted.

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