Satellite TV provider charging for movies not ordered

September 12, 2013 19:56 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

My satellite TV provider charged me for movies that I did not order and refuses to give me proof showing that I did order them (which they claim to have).  What are my legal rights in this situation?

Consumer Ed says: 

Satellite TV is considered a type of cable television service.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and local cable franchising authorities (the city, county or other government organization responsible for regulating cable television services in your area) regulate certain aspects of the cable industry, including some rates and business practices.  However, for the most part, price and service decisions are determined by each cable company, and your right to dispute billing charges is set by your provider’s complaint procedures as laid out in your service agreement.

Below are some suggestions for handling billing disputes with your satellite provider:

  • Contact your satellite provider first, by phone and in writing, and attempt to resolve the dispute following the company’s complaint procedures.  The customer service representatives at your satellite provider are your first and best line of defense, especially since rates for premium movie charges are not regulated by the government.
  • If you aren’t satisfied with your satellite provider’s response, or if it fails to respond, contact your local franchising authority.  The name of the franchising authority (which may be the Board of Commissioners in the county where you receive service) should be on the front or back of your TV bill.  If this information isn’t on your bill, contact your satellite provider or your local town or city hall.
  • Your local franchising authority may have adopted the FCC’s Customer Service Guidelines, which gives cable/satellite subscribers additional rights, such as the right to a response to a written complaint about billing matters within 30 days.  Or your franchising authority may have its own customer service or billing rules regulating local cable service providers, which may provide you with additional rights or procedures for handling billing disputes.  Some local franchising authorities have online complaint forms that you can use to complain about unresolved billing disputes and practices.
  • If you are still unable to reach an agreement with your satellite provider, you may consider contacting the Better Business Bureau to file a complaint (www.bbb.org).
  • At each step, keep clear and detailed notes about each development, including names, dates and contents of each person and communication in which you participate.

 

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Management may be overcharging for water bill

April 16, 2012 23:22 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I live in an apartment and have to pay my water bill to the management company.  My bill has risen by about $50 per month since a new management company took over.  I have spoken to others in the complex and their bills have gone up the same.  I believe the company is overcharging us.  How do we get someone to correct this?  With over 500 apartments in the complex, they could be pocketing thousands each month.


Consumer Ed says: 

Under Georgia law, the management company can charge tenants for water usage in the apartment complex, including the common areas, calculated by either installing meters measuring individual usage or by mathematically dividing the amount on the water bill among the tenants (also called allocation). Note that residential buildings constructed after July 1, 2012 will be required to have individual water meters. 

In your lease (or in a separate document given to you before you signed the lease), it should state how your water usage will be calculated.  If this information isn’t in the lease, or you’ve lost the paperwork stating how the water bill will be allocated, you can ask the management company for another copy of it.  If the paperwork detailing the allocation of water bills says that the billing will be determined by individual meters, you may be able to call the water company directly and figure out your individual usage. 

If there’s only one meter for the entire building complex, you can ask the management company to see the water bill for the entire complex (which will show the total amount for everyone).  Take the amount the complex’s bill shows for your individual water bill and multiply it by the total number of units in your complex. Then compare it to the total amount shown for the complex.  Georgia law says the sum of all the bills of the tenants in your apartment building cannot exceed the bill paid for the water in the complex.  However, the management company can charge an additional, “reasonable” fee for providing water and maintenance; this figure can vary by unit, simply because there may be more people in one unit as opposed to another.  Unfortunately, the law does not provide any way of calculating just how much would be considered “reasonable”.  A safe guess is that surcharges totaling at least half or more of your actual water bill may be excessive but, again, this isn’t written in stone.  If you decide to sue, it would be up to the court to decide whether the surcharges are reasonable.  We should point out that making these threshold calculations will rest on your ability to get the complex’s total water bill from management; you may or may not have the right under the lease to be shown anything except your own water bill, so if management resists showing you the entire bill, it may be difficult to force them to do so. 

Even if the management company refuses to give you the total water bill for the entire complex, you can still estimate the total usage, if you know where the water meter is located for the complex (please note that this would be an estimate, and may not reflect actual usage over a month).  To figure out the apartment’s water usage, read the meter at the same time, two days in a row.  Subtract the first day’s reading from the second day’s reading to see how much the complex uses in a day; repeat, including weekends and weekdays, then calculate the average reading.  With this rough estimate, you can see how it compares to your water bills and the allocation documents. 

Remember, generally your rights are determined by the terms in your lease and/or whatever document outlines how the water bill will be calculated.

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Is new home owner responsible for old propane bill?

August 17, 2011 22:49 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

I recently purchased a home in Albany, Georgia, which was foreclosed upon several months ago.  It is serviced by a propane gas company that is saying that since the previous owner did not pay for the gas in the tank, it is now my responsibility some four months later. The home was purchased as is. Do I have to pay for the gas?

Consumer Ed says: 

It depends.  You need to determine who owns your propane tank and whether there are any agreements or contracts regarding the tank.  Typically the propane company maintains ownership of and liability for the propane tank, unless the property owner has chosen to purchase the tank outright.

Ask the company for a copy of the agreement regarding the service of the tank, a record of the amount of propane that was in the tank when you purchased the home, and the billing and payment history for the gas. If the gas was not paid for and if you have been using the gas as the new homeowner, then chances are the bill is your responsibility. If the gas was not paid for, and if it was used by the previous homeowner prior to your purchasing the property, the bill would be for arrears (or past due amount) that the previous owner should be responsible for.   For future reference, have details like this one made a part of closing documents.

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