On Shutting Off The Electric

Reaching for Electricity by holding a lit light bulb.
Reaching for Electricity

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Our moving had a number of challenges, but one challenge we didn’t expect was having our electrical service cut off. But we did, at absolutely the wrong time. Not that there’s ever a good time to lose electrical service.

Background

We’ve owned this house since October 2008. After extensive renovation we rented it out as income property. All told, we rented to five different families over the past 12 years. All renters had their issues, but the last family was the worse. Besides being months behind in rent, they were systematically destroying the house. After we forced them out through not renewing their lease we were left with a serious mess. The house was essentially wrecked, and Winnie and I spent the next eight weeks cleaning, repairing, and painting, to make it liveable again.

Largely from this experience, Winnie and I lost interest in remaining landlords. After lots of discussions we decided to sell the house we were living in and move to our new old house. We then spent the next several weeks moving belongings across town and emptying out our former residence. We finally had everything out and into our new house to move in on Wednesday, December 15. So, that evening we hauled over to our new future residence, planning on spending our first night there.

But, it seems our former tenants left one last surprise for us, seemingly out of pure spite.

A Gratuitous “Screw You”

Prior to our tenants moving out I contacted them about shutting off their utilities (water, electric, and cable/Internet). I was assured they would be shutting everything off. I then contacted water and electric utilities to be sure our service would be turned on in our name. Once again, I was assured our services would start as soon as the former tenants accounts were closed. We took possession of the house, water and electricity worked, and all was well with the world.

So we arrived at our new house the evening of December 15 expecting to spend our first night. Winnie opened the door, went in, then came out telling me “Dear, the electricity is not working.” I checked, and sure enough – no electric. I looked around the neighborhood and saw our neighbor’s lights on, telling me this wasn’t a general outage. Not good.

My next step was to call Dominion Energy, the power company which tends to dominate Northern Virginia. After a gratifyingly short call tree an actual customer service human voice answered and I explained my power outage. The customer service rep then asked me for my account number. I explained I was standing in the middle of my front yard, no power in a house were we moving into, and didn’t have my account number handy. The rep grumbled something then asked for my address. I could hear keyboard keys clicking in the background. She came back on line and said “Sir, you don’t have an account with us.”

Non-Customer Service

I was pretty sure what happened and asked “Is service in the name of < former tenant >? The rep answered “I can’t tell you that, but the service is not in your name. The service was cut off due to non-payment.” So, I was pretty sure I knew what happened.

Our former tenants never canceled their electrical service so my account, which was set to open automatically upon cancellation of theirs, never opened. The tenants had to have been receiving their Dominion Energy bills as all mail was being forwarded to their new address. So, this was most likely a deliberate “screw you,” as payback for not renewing their lease.

The net result was Winnie and I standing out on our front lawn at 8:00PM on a cold December evening with no place to go.

Dominion Energy customer service was absolutely no help. I was disconnected from the first rep and called back a second time. After repeating my saga the second rep told to call back the next day during normal working hours, as there was nothing they could do for me at night. The customer service rep I called the next morning did get us setup, grudgingly, after lecturing me on “expressing frustration” over having my power cut off through no fault of my own, in the middle of winter, and having made three calls over a 13-hour period trying to get service restored.

Power did come back on later that day, and Winnie and I were able to move in that evening.

Fallout

While I’m angry with our former tenants over what I believe to be a deliberate “screw you” action, I’m also angry at how Dominion Energy treated us. We had no prior warning that service was about to be discontinued. Dominion Energy had the records to know we (Winnie and I) are the actual property owners. Cutting off power in mid-winter has the potential for causing significant property damage. At a minimum, we should have been notified as the property owners about pending service cutoff action.

Virginia has no laws regulating how/when a utility company can cutoff service, which absolutely does not surprise me. Just for practice, I wrote a letter of complaint to the CEO of Dominion Energy expressing my annoyance over lack of warning prior to the cutoff. I also complained about the lack of any extra effort on part of three customer service reps to make things right. I doubt my letter will result in any policy changes, but I feel better having written it.

There’s nothing I can do to our former tenants except continue actions towards reimbursement for back rent and damages. This incident is my confirmation that getting out of the landlord business was the correct thing to do.

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