By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Residents who have seen their electric and water bills skyrocket over the fall and winter months are receiving credits this month from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Numerous customers throughout the city saw their bi-monthly charges increase significantly since October — in some cases more than doubling their usual charges. Homeowners took to social media sites like NextDoor.com to see if they were the only ones seeing the hefty spikes. They quickly realized they were not alone.
Leimert Park resident Aurora Reyes, who runs a child care business from her home, usually pays about $550 every other month for electricity. Her first fall bill last year, however, was for $800. That continued in December and February.
“I understand that everyone is working at home right now due to the pandemic, but I’ve always worked at home,” Reyes said. “So to go from $550 every month to $800 is a big deal.”
In one thread on NextDoor, a handful of residents reported bills ranging from $600 to $800. Two said their charges were over $900.
Reyes’ cousin, who lives in the Harvard Park area, has had bills over $1,000. Many of those overcharged reported having older meters.
Customers who called the agency over the winter were told that there wasn’t enough available staff to read meters, which forced them to use an estimation system.
In a statement, a spokesperson for DWP indicated that a temporary loss of staffing was behind the billing errors.
“As a result of COVID-19, our meter reading division experienced operational impacts, resulting in the number of estimated bills increasing. Some customers may have received bills that do not reflect actual consumption, but were based on estimates,” the statement said.
On April bills, most customers have seen a return to their usual billing amount, or close to it, and credits issued for future bills.
“When your meter is read, the estimated bills are canceled and customers are provided a revised bill with actual reads and applicable charges,” the LADWP statement said. “The correction on a bill may either result in customers receiving a balance higher or lower than previously billed, depending on the accuracy of the estimation. A customer can tell on their bill if their charges were based on estimated reads.”
Reyes, whose last bill was for $804, said her current charges are $671. She has had to scramble to adjust her budget.
“It does cause a strain (on finances),” she said. “It means I have to cut back on something else or shuffle things around. It’s hard when you’re trying to stay on a budget. And when you get a bill like that, it makes you question what you’re doing wrong.”
Reyes said she has neighbors who have paid what they could, but could only watch while their bills went higher and higher.
The DWP said the problem is eradicated for now.
“We have returned to normal operations with field personnel now obtaining actual reads,” the statement said. “Estimated reads can still occur due to inability to access a meter or a broken meter. Meanwhile, customers can take advantage of our very flexible payment plans. LADWP is not turning off service to customers for failure to pay, nor are we charging late fees.”
Though her bill is lower now, Reyes said the incident has convinced her to get a solar-powered energy system installed in her home.
“Once I swap out my meter for solar, I won’t be going through this again,” she said.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.