Dear PoPville – Washington Gas Doesn’t Bill Me, How Do I Make This Right?

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

Dear PoPville,

I have lived in a house for 4 years and for a variety of reasons, have never received or paid a gas bill.

Washington Gas maintained in several calls in 2007 that we don’t exist (note: our house is oddly located), though there is an old meter. We read her the meter number and she said that it was turned off in 1979. After many phone conversations with Washington Gas, we finally set up an account number, and sometime later, they even came to our house, set up a high pressure line, and had to re-drywall where they worked. My wife thought I was paying the bills, and she thought I was, and now we realized we are still getting a free ride. I remember reading an article somewhere that up to 5% of DC homes are off the radar of Washington Gas and do not receive or pay bills.

I want to resolve the issue and pay up, but I don’t think there will be any way for Washington Gas to apportion our use from the previous owner’s, who was clearly getting free gas as well. (I do not know if we ever gave them a meter reading; I don’t think so). I also am hesitant to try to resolve it for fear they will cut off our gas until we pay the full amount going back to 1979. I would be willing to multiply every bill for the next 12 months by 4 (for 4 years total) but I don’t want to risk them saying no and have my gas cut off.

Any advice on how to proceed?

42 Comment

  • leave it be. enjoy the bank error in your favor.

  • I laud the OP for his honesty… but this seems like the kind of situation where trying to do the honest thing could result in all kinds of hassles and bureaucratic tangles.

    Is there a compelling reason not to just continue with the status quo?

    • and an extremely high past due notice.

    • well it’s stealing, so there’s that. And suppose he moves, and new owners set up an account and then he gets busted, or if WG just figures it out . . . it’s easier to negotiate something when you have the high ground and weren’t just caught. I can understand wanting to resolve it, but WG is incompetent so good luck with that.

  • Have PoP forward this post to a W-Gas representative and post their response. If it looks like it can be resolved amicably, identify yourself. If not, I’d suggest continuing the free ride, for fear of losing your access entirely or having them demand more than you owe.

  • Based on my experience with them, I would avoid broaching the issue even though it makes you ethically uncomfortable.

    My horror story – we had a leak, the house was filling up with gas and I needed to know how to turn it off. The person I got on the phone told me he had no idea what to do, no idea who to talk to, there was no protocol to follow, and that he didn’t have a supervisor. Outside of that fun evening, they’ve also screwed up our direct debit requests a total of five times, resulting in overdue bills that should have been processed through their system months before.

    I know there are a lot of shitty companies out there, but Washington Gas is by far the worst. I wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole if you can avoid it. I wish they thought that our house didn’t exist!

  • christanel

    Speaking of Washington Gas – I recently moved into a new apartment and they charged me $60 to turn on the gas / have it set up in my name. Is that common? My old apartment range was electric so this is new to me.

    • I seem to recall a fee when I took over an account, but that was years ago. It got more exciting, though, when the man came to turn the gas back on (house had been vacant) – he condemned the furnace and then our landlord wouldn’t replace it. Eventually we got a DC housing inspector to come by. He took a temperature reading in an upstairs bathroom of 41 degrees, and issued some sort of ticket or citation which forced our landlord to replace the furnace, but it was December before we had any heat in the house.

      • /begin rant/

        Wow, we should do that. My house has what we’re pretty sure is the original furnace (1930’ish) which runs on FUEL OIL. Last year the Petro guy told us that the oil tank was about to spring a leak and that if the landlord didn’t replace it, he would call the EPA. Well, my landlord is a CHEAP BA***RD so of COURSE he wouldn’t replace it. The damn thing barely works and we pay an arm and a leg for the oil.

        /end rant/

    • When I because a costumer they charged $240!!! and got it back a year later. Was really angry about it since I think that is extreme but there was nothing I could do if I wanted to have water a cooked meals!

      • That’s not a fee, it’s a deposit for people with bad or no credit. If you have a decent credit score you don’t have to pay that.

  • We had a similar situation with Pepco where we weren’t getting bills for 5 months or so. They only started billing us from the point where we had identified ourselves, and didn’t make us pay for the amount we had used in the 5 months leading up to that, probably because they couldn’t determine what we had used and what the previous occupant had used. Not sure if the same would apply to Washington Gas.

  • I understand where the OP is coming from. While the free ride is nice, it will be a huge pain if Washington Gas eventually figures out what’s going on and demands immediate payment, potentially back to 1979, or the gas will be shut off. I like the idea of approaching Washington Gas again anonymously and seeing what they say.

  • Unless you’re up for a cabinet appointment or federal judgeship, enjoy the freebie.

  • I wouldn’t worry about the billing issue — I applaud OP’s sense of doing the right thing, but it does invite a tremendous amount of uncertainty that he’d end up getting a bill for thousands that then would result in countless hours of wrangling WG bureaucrats or potentially some legal or credit-damaging action by WG. But I would worry about not being on Washington Gas’ radar screen. In the event of a gas leak, you want to be in their system for immediate response.

    It’s in the realm of the white lie, but why not call back as-if you were new owners/tenants and try to establish service in your spouse’s name, starting a new billing history?

    I had a similar issue with Pepco years ago. My bills were like $3-5/month, despite way more usage than that. I called the first month. I called the second month. I think I even called a third month. After that, I figured the ball was in their court. They eventually got it right, but I gave up trying to do their billing for them.

  • Washington Gas can’t back-charge more than 6 mos. Check with the Office of the People’s Council: which is a go-between with the utilities. We had this happen – and eventually they realized and I got 6 mo charged. But they’d not charged for almost a year.

  • I would check the DC Public Service Commission, but I’d be willing to bet they couldn’t bill you back to 1979. If they haven’t been reading the meter, they would have no record of how many tmes the meter reset. I also remember learning that utility companies can only back bill 2 or 3 years worth of consumption.

  • It sounds like you’ve done everything reasonable already, going back to 2007 where you had to convince them you actually were one of their customers.

    If you actually went through the effort you said you’ve gone through and they still can’t be bothered, then that is their problem.

    And worst case scenario is they finally get with the program, the most they can hit you up for is like 6 months of usage.

    So just let it rest, I wouldn’t worry yourself over it. It isn’t your responsibility to continually do their job.

    Oh, and if you don’t have it already, make sure and switch your hot water heater and furnace over to gas!

  • When I first moved into my house in ’96 I was was paying 8.33 in gas (the minimum charge) for a couple of years, eventually, they figured out my meter was broken and fixed it. I honestly didn’t know I was underpaying as I never paid a gas bill and I didn’t know how expensive it was. As far as the OP goes, if they can only charge you for 6 months back bills and you have tried to fix the issue and they refuse to help you, take the gas and be ready to pay a 6 month assessment when they figure it out.

  • If you can demonstrate (lease, deed, whatever…) that you’ve only been living in the house for 4 years, I don’t think you need to worry about them trying to bill you back to 1979. Also, if you can demonstrate that you did in fact set up an account with them at that address in 2007 but they never billed you after that, then again I don’t think you need to worry about being on the hook for gas back to 1979.

    I am kind of curious how a married couple can go 4 years without realizing that neither of you was receiving or paying a gas bill.

    • When we moved into our house, we went for nearly a year without realizing that neither of us was paying WASA/DC Water. That one was our fault; we both thought the other had it taken care of. And over six months not paying Washington Gas, who’d never sent us a bill until we got a notice saying it was about to be shut off. It happens.

    • I don’t think Washington Gas allows automatic payments, unlike the other major utilities. (If that’s changed please tell me!) When we first moved my husband thought I was paying and I thought he had set it up for automatic payment. We figured it out once we finally started getting the paper bills a couple months later.

  • Estimate what you should have paid. Donate that money to a charity – Wash area fuel fund perhaps. Let Washington Gas sort themselves out from there.

  • You can pay my gas bill if it would make you feel better.

  • this happened to me! It was on when I moved in and did my renovations….. so I called to get it switched to my name – they told me I didn’t exist. I called again, same thing. I called again and insisted. They said they’d send someone out – we went through the process of setting up and account – no one showed up and finally I was like look – I don’t care if you come or not, I have gas so it’s up to you guys to figure this out. 3 years went by and magically a bill just showed up – there was a small start up fee and then a normal bill. There was no back billing or anything and now every months I get a bill…… so odd.

  • A word of caution…while it seems other people have had success not having to pay for usage from before they moved in, that was not the case with us. The gas was shut off when the previous owner left in September. The developer than illegally turned it back on and used it all winter long. When we created our account in May they billed us for everything from the last meter reading. It seemed pretty obvious that we hadn’t used $400 worth of gas in one month (especially one that doesn’t require any heating) but our pleas fell on deaf ears at Washington Gas and we were stuck paying for it.

  • I feel like I’ve read someplace that electric companies can determine how much electricity is being used in a certain block(s), and then can add up the usage as read my the meters and see if they are equivalent. If there is, for example, X usage by block but only 80% of X usage as reported by summing the meters, then they start to look for meter cheats or other reasons why the totals wouldn’t match.

    I wonder if something like this is available for other utilities as well?

  • I had the same problem in a carriage house that I rented. Didn’t say a word for the two years I lived there. Next renter did – W. Gas ended up coming out, determining that the location was commercial (despite the C of O), and started charging commercial rates that averaged around $600 a month. Just a heads up – the oddly located part of your description sounded pretty close to ours.

  • i was in a very similar situation w/ Pepco. my landlord has been ‘updating the electric’ in my building for the entire 4 years i’ve lived there. i worked w/ Pepco to get an “estimated” bill so i had proof of payment, which was initially very low, $10 to $15/month.

    However after about a year they adjusted my estimate to ‘the average family in Washington DC, and started billing me $150 per month. i have no recourse until my landlord finishes the electrical work, which i’m guessing will never happen. I’ve asked Pepco for documentation on how they calculate the ‘average’ payment i pay and they won’t provide it, i live in a one bedroom apartment by myself so there’s no way i could be using as much as they charge me each month.

  • Their address abbreviation system is not good at guessing what you mean. You have a meter issue, too, but when I called for our new house (after being told online that the address didn’t exist… yes I live on the major street that is my username), the woman overseas gave me a local number and the person at that number figured out that the road is listed as “N HAMP” in their system. Which their system did not guess based on my entry of the address or the woman in their phone bank.

  • I bought a condo and never open an account with WG, five year later they wrote a letter giving the condo some credit for overpayment. From that date I started to pay. Do not deal with them, they are not good.

  • I would beware fo the “You can’t be billed for more than 6 months” meme; I read the Customers Bill of Rights and it did not say anything about that, but did say they can cut you off for nonpayment or if you are using gas without paying.

  • I get it: you aren’t a deadbeat. Now enjoy free gas.

  • Contact the PSC and see iof they can help resolve this. It is the right thing to do. Also you don’t want to take the risk of being cut off during a cold month when WG realizes they are supplying gas to an invalid address.

  • You have made a good effort but it’s on them to bill you. My advice. Don’t rock the boat.

  • Make a payment of 60$ to them to the correct account (from an old bill) for that address. Wait for your next bill. Keep that bill up to date. Problem solved. No need to have them dig up the past.

  • I recently puchased my first home and had to deal with Washington Gas for the first time ever. I had no idea. Now I do, and I wish I didn’t.

    The only other thing I would recommend is to keep a detailed account of when you called them to inform them of your mistake. If possible, call them again and tape record the conversation! =) It may be helpful for when we finally band together and sue them for incompetence.

  • I work at Washington Gas and can help you if you email me directly. The meter you have a picture of is from a local commercial establishment and shows a reading that indicates the picture was taken in the summer of 2010. The meter would show no use in the summer as the establishemnt only uses gas for heating , not hot water or cooking.

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