These may seem like simple tasks but all require significant time and effort, as well as a trained eye to know exactly what to look for and when. In addition, dealing directly with utility providers can be challenging if you aren’t accustomed to navigating the processes.
1) Utility rate errors. You may not be charged the correct rate. Check the provider website and compare the posted rate schedule to your bill. If your building is multifamily and you are being billed a commercial rate, it is likely higher than a residential rate. Also, there are some rates based on occupancy. These occupancy numbers on occasion on are reverted to a factor of “1 occupant” if the numbers aren’t updated by the owner. The result is a rate increase. Rates may also be based on meter size. Find out sizes of your meters and compare with your bill to make sure it is reflected correctly. Contact the provider to find out if the meter associated with the account qualifies for a lower rate. If the building does qualify for a lower rate, you may be able to request up to a 5 year credit of the incorrect rate you were charged
2) Utility providers have charged the account taxes. In several states utility taxes aren’t allowed to be charged and yet, the provider charges them anyway. For example, Texas utilities were charging tax on utilities. If you find taxes on your bill, contact your PUC or attorney to find out if the type of tax on your bill is allowed and how far back you can request a refund if applicable. If you’ve been incorrectly charged, you can estimate the taxes you’ve paid and send a request for a refund to the provider going back 5 years or more.
3) Meter read error. If your consumption has increased more than 15% over the previous month and the previous year, same month, you have a problem. First check to see if the previous read is the same as the end read last month. If not, there’s a definite meter read error. Next, assuming no known leak or work requiring water (like filling a pool, power washing, etc.) has been done, look for a leak. Check to see if the meter is running when the building is unoccupied or residents are likely sleeping. Have a qualified maintenance supervisor check the meter after midnight and take a video if the meter is moving. Utilities are quick to say there is no leak without thoroughly investigating. You will need proof either way. If no leak is apparent, request a re-read of the meter. Be sure to have an onsite maintenance team member there when the utility company re-reads the meter to verify their findings.
4) Estimated reads. Estimated reads can have a very negative impact on your budget by hitting you with an expense that is too high or low. Estimating too low may result in an immense true-up expense on a future bill. Stay vigilant about calling the provider and requesting a “true read.” The provider may be having trouble accessing the meter. Schedule an appointment and meet the meter reader to ensure your read gets correctly trued up.
5) Erroneous deposits. If you are charged a deposit, always investigate it before you pay. Even if this is a new property you may not need to pay a deposit if the same owner name has credit in excellent standing with the utility provider. Call the provider and they will look up the credit standing for the legal entity name. If you can’t get the deposit waived, find out how long the deposit hold will be and make a calendar note to reach out for a future refund.
6) Charging late fees during the grace period. If you have a late fee on your bill, check your records to see if you paid by the due date. If you have proof of the payment date, call the provider and request the late fee be removed.
7) Multiple bills for the same account/same period. If you receive two or more bills for the same account in a bill period, call the provider for an explanation. Unless the dates line up perfectly, there’s a duplicate bill issue to be credited.
8) Bill use/cost duplicate. The use or cost amount of the bill is exactly the same as the previous bill. Unless this is a flat rate bill versus a bill based on actual consumption, it may be an estimated bill. Call the provider and ask for an actual consumption based bill.
9) Overlapping bill periods. If the beginning or end dates are the same as the previous bill overlap you may be charged twice for those days. Call the provider and request a credit for the overlapping days.
10) Zero usage on bill. The meter is likely not working or the provider’s process isn’t catching the read and charging you. Don’t let this for more than one billing period or you will eventually receive a large true up bill.
Don’t let your revenue go down the drain or out the window! By not auditing utility bills, many portfolios are paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in extra fees and incorrect rates. It’s worth your time to get to know your bills or assign a skilled analyst to manage it for you.