February 23, 2012

Water billing delay means bigger sum due

Micah Cohen got a nasty surprise recently when he opened the water bills for several of the Baltimore properties he rents out: They weren't for the usual three months. The charges stretched over half a year in some cases and nearly a year in others.

That meant much bigger payments than he and his tenants -- who reimburse him -- are used to making in one fell swoop. He sent as an example a bill for one of the homes, which came to $1,300 for eight months.

"How is anyone supposed to pay this?" Cohen wrote. "Are any other normal working people in the city being billed out-of-cycle like this (months and months of non-billing, then BAM! a huge multi-quarter bill!)?"

Yes -- along with other problems. Auditors looking at bills issued to 70,000 customers of the city's water system found that 65,000 were likely overcharged over the past three years, most of whom had not been made whole. The city said Wednesday that it is issuing refunds to 38,000 households in the city and Baltimore County, averaging more than $110 apiece.

More on that in this story by colleagues Julie Scharper and Luke Broadwater. (And check out @WaterBillWoman, the Twitter account of a city resident who's been insisting for quite some time that the system was in trouble.)

But what happened in Cohen's case? The city Department of Public Works looked into the bill he sent me -- covering nearly three full quarters rather than one -- when I inquired.

Continue reading "Water billing delay means bigger sum due" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Utility bills

October 12, 2011

Three housing events you might want to know about

If you're trying to cut your utility bills, find a less expensive place in live in pricey Howard County or get a loan modification from Wells Fargo, you might want to check out these events:

Energy conservation. The Fuel Fund of Maryland is partnering up with Direct Energy and The Loading Dock to hold a weatherization fair on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

They promise a hands-on look at subjects ranging from fixing leaks to installing weather stripping and caulking. Oh -- and an intro to "vampire energy," just in time for Halloween.

Where: The Loading Dock, 2 N. Kresson St. in Baltimore.

Affordable housing. Howard County's Moderate Income Housing Unit program is taking applications through Oct. 31 for people hoping to snag a less-pricey home for sale or rent there. Eligible purchasers must have a household income no more than 80 percent of the county's median income, while eligible renters have to be at 60 percent or below. (It ranges depending on family size -- more details here.)

Continue reading "Three housing events you might want to know about" »

October 29, 2010

Here's one housing-related bill that's heading down

If you're a BGE customer, you can expect your electric bill will fall next year.

Average residential bills will be $192 less during the June through May period than in the current 12-month stretch, according to the utility's projections. That's $16 less a month -- and $28 per month below the peak of two years ago. But the tab is still well above where things stood during the six-year freeze on rates that lifted in 2006 to much Sturm und Drang.

Usually, rates go up during the summer and fall during the off-season. But the drop in energy prices is significant enough that next summer's rates will be ever-so-slightly lower than they are now, with a bigger decrease to come next fall. Grand total: an 11 percent drop compared with June 2010 through May 2011.

How's your bill these days? Are you seeing any other housing expenses falling? (Folks due for a reassessment should end up with a lower property-tax bill in July, at least.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Utility bills

September 22, 2009

Struggling with energy bills?

If utility bills are overwhelming you, you might be eligible for help.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. -- along with Baltimore City Office of Home Energy Programs, Upton Community Association and Union Baptist Church -- is putting on an "energy assistance expo" today to help customers apply for that help.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave. in Baltimore. If you're going, make sure you bring these items:

Government-issued photo ID

Proof of total gross income for the last 30 days for all household members

Proof of residence (lease, rent book, mortgage statement)

Copies of Social Security cards for all household members -- kids, too

Copy of your most recent utility bill

Name of your home energy supplier and account number

Whether you're eligible for assistance or not, how have your utility costs been lately?


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Utility bills

September 4, 2009

An energy check-up for your home

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. is offering quick home energy check-ups to customers hoping to reduce their energy usage and bills. The hour-long check of your insulation levels, appliances and the like costs $40. (Unless you agree to use several energy-saving measures -- then it's free.)

Our Consuming Interests blog has more details.

And Sun reporter Scott Calvert wrote a story about energy audits earlier this year, in case you're interested in the trend itself.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Utility bills

February 27, 2009

Higher heating bills?

If your utility costs went up a lot recently, you're not alone. Baltimore Gas & Electric told state regulators yesterday that it has had 14,000 complaints about high bills.

BGE blames "colder weather, greater household consumption and, to a lesser extent, spikes in commodity costs for electricity and gas," Gus Sentementes reports today.

There's not much you can do about the weather or BGE's costs. That leaves consumption. And turning down the heat a notch isn't necessarily the best move: BGE notes that big-screen televisions and game consoles use a lot of electricity.

Have you done anything to change your consumption habits? Or, if you're thinking of buying, does a home's energy efficiency make a difference to you?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:59 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Utility bills
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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