Demi Spiliotopoulos is upset with her new utility company, Wyse Meter Solutions, for what she says are the company’s “shady and very aggressive” billing practices.
“I definitely feel like I’ve been ripped off,” said Spiliotopoulos, a second-year kinesiology student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
Wyse recently sent her and her three roommates “individual” utility bills that appear to include duplicate charges for the total amount of water used in their apartment.
A review of other invoices from the same building shows Wyse also sent individual electricity bills to students who share an apartment and the same electricity meter — something the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) tells Global News is outside “normal” industry practices.
But unlike Hydro One, which says regulations prohibit it and other local distribution companies (LDCs) from sending multiple electricity bills connected to a single meter, there may not be any rules that explicitly prevent submetering companies such as Wyse from doing this — at least none the OEB will publicly acknowledge.
“The fees we are being charged are ridiculous,” Spiliotopoulos said. “They’re just taking full advantage.”
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In a written response to Global News, Wyse said that “under no circumstances are any individual residents billed for the same consumption as another resident.”
The company also said it has complied with all requirements under the OEB’s Unit Sub-Metering Code and that its billing practices are in accordance with all federal and provincial regulations.
Four bills, four sets of charges
Spiliotopoulos is one of roughly 1,100 students living at Foundry Lofts, a privately owned student housing complex managed by Castle Student Housing. Wyse recently started signing up residents for individual billing after it began taking control of the building’s utilities last September.
But rather than divide the total cost of utilities by the number of roommates in each apartment, which is how Wyse says its billing is supposed to work, the company instead started charging some roommates what appear to be duplicate fees for the cost of the utilities they used between Sep. 26 and Nov. 15.
A review of the bills for Spiliotopoulos and her three roommates shows each person was charged $18.59 for the total 15 cubic meters of water used in their apartment based off the reading from a single utility meter.
But if the listed rate of $1.347 per cubic meter of water were applied, the students should have been charged a total of $20.21 for water use. According to Wyse, this amount should then have been divided by four to give an individual water fee of $5.05 per student.
Breakdown of charges on Wyse water bill
Instead, Spiliotopoulos and her roommates were charged 3.7 times this amount — or what appears to be $54 in excess usage charges.
“One word to describe this would be extortionate,” Spiliotopoulos said.
Individually, Spiliotopoulos and her roommates were charged $64.44 each. This included separate consumption fees, $6.58 in delivery fees, $1.85 in taxes each and separate $37.50 security deposit fees.
In total, the four students were charged $257.76 for their water bills for a single billing period.
“We were led to believe that it would be made simpler for us… Little did know the prices would be going up, delivery fees would be per person and this whole thing would be chaotic,” Spiliotopoulos said.
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Global News made multiple efforts to get Wyse to explain the bills in detail. They failed to do so.
Wyse’s lawyer, Malvina Sternak, said the company never charges for consumption amounts “lesser or greater than” what appears on the meter.
“When individual billing occurs, we calculate the total bill amount for each suite based on the metered consumption. The total bill amount is equally divided by the number of occupied bedrooms,” Sternak said.
The company also failed to answer questions about whether delivery fees are charged on an individual basis or are part of the “total bill,” which is supposed to be divided by four in the case of individual billing.
If fully realized, the plan to send each student separate invoices would increase the number of utility bills at Foundry Lofts from 286 — the number of units in the building — to more than 1,100.
‘One account per meter,’ says OEB
Submetering companies allow landlords to shift the cost of utilities from one large bill for the entire building to individual bills for each unit by installing “suite meters” for every apartment.
According to the OEB, “normal industry practice” is to have “one account per meter.”
“The OEB does not have regulatory requirements that specifically allow the practice of having more than one account per meter,” said the OEB’s head of consumer protection, Brian Hewson.
“If the OEB finds that unit submeter providers are not complying with applicable legal or regulatory requirements, or that some other consumer protection measures are needed, we will take appropriate action.”
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Meanwhile, a review of bills from Foundry Lofts shows Wyse sent two students who share the same apartment — and the same electricity meter — identical bills with what appear to be duplicate fees for the cost of the electricity they used. The bills also had separate $34.83 delivery fees, $21.61 consumption fees and $37.50 security deposit charges.
Each student was billed $120.82 cents for their combined water and electricity bills for a total of $241.64 in charges.
The OEB told Global News it is investigating at least one complaint about submetering companies issuing multiple bills connected to a single utility meter. However, despite multiple requests for answers, the OEB refused to say how many submetering companies it is investigating and whether Wyse is the subject of an official complaint.
The OEB also refused to say whether there are any rules that explicitly prevent LDCs and submetering companies from issuing multiple bills for the same utility meter.
But in a written statement, Natasha Demetriades from Ontario’s Ministry of Energy confirmed the OEB is “reviewing cases” where submetering companies have “created multiple accounts for single meters.”
Demetriades said the government is awaiting the results of this review before deciding what, if any, action it will take.
Meanwhile, Hydro One and Enbridge Gas, which provide “bulk” utilities to Foundry Lofts, told Global News they do not create multiple customer accounts or issue multiple bills for a single meter.
Hydro One said it believes the rules as currently written prevent LDCs from doing this because of the “one-to-one relationship” between a customer and an electricity meter.
Neither Hydro One nor Enbridge commented on whether existing rules prevent submetering companies such as Wyse from doing this.
Wyse plans to refund money
After receiving complaints about high fees, Wyse agreed to meet with residents of Foundry Lofts.
According to partial video obtained by Global News of a Feb. 13 meeting with students, Wyse’s co-CEO Peter Mills said the company would lower “administration” fees for residents to $11 a month.
He also said that anyone who receives an individual bill could be switched back to group billing — with just one administration fee per account — and that the decision to charge residents separately was made in error because the company was not informed that students were on “group” leases.
But Mills also told students they’d be given the option to remain on individual billing and that anyone who signs a new lease at the building starting in May will be enrolled in an individual account.
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Meanwhile, students who were incorrectly billed during the first billing period will be credited these amounts back to their accounts, Mills said. This includes returning administration fees, security deposits and other amounts that were billed individually.
But exactly how this “math gymnastics” would work was still unknown, he said.
“ reverting all of the bills back to their original group status as they should be,” Mills told students during the meeting.
Mills apologized for the “upset” his company caused, saying he takes “full responsibility.” Wyse also said it has taken steps to help “avoid confusion” about billing in the future.
But for Spiliotopoulos, these changes come too late. She’s happy she’ll get her money back but she’s moving out.
“For me, it’s too little, too late,” she said. “We’ve already experienced this, we’ve already been stressed with the huge bills.”
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