Fight Unreasonable Deposit Demands

In May TURN received a call on the consumer hotline from L.L.Y. She was in the midst of a nasty dispute with Pacific Gas & Electric over their unreasonable demand for a deposit. Armed with years of consumer advice from TURN newsletters, she fought back—and won!

Consumer FIGHT BACK Tip
Utilities have a lot of discretion when it comes to deposits.

Fighting an unreasonable demand for a deposit is not as difficult as fighting a bill for service the utility claims you’ve already received. In that case the burden is on the customer to prove there has been an error.

If you’ve been asked for a deposit that is unfairly high, it’s always worth negotiating with the utility. And, as TURN has often suggested, it is best to ask for a supervisor when you call.

L.L.Y. and her husband were moving from Little River in Mendocino County to the Sonoma County community of Cloverdale. For the past eight years, L.L.Y. and her husband had lived in a senior managed community as master-metered customers. This meant they paid their utility bill as part of their rent, and their rent did not vary from month to month. They received no direct bill from PG&E, and so had no billing history with the company, despite years of timely payments.

L.L.Y. refused to accept PG&E’s demands, and instead decided to fight. L.L.Y. went to the PG&E office counter in Geyserville to plead her case. (Unfortunately, this is one of the offices PG&E closed in 2007. The good news is TURN enabled 75 offices to stay open, rejecting PG&E’s proposal to close all 84.) At this office, L.L.Y. was able to talk to an excellent PG&E employee who said that it would be possible to get the deposit waived, but she herself could not do it.

When L.L.Y. called PG&E to establish service at her new home in Cloverdale, she was told that because she had no credit history with PG&E she would be required to pay a deposit. L.L.Y. wanted the new account to be under both hers and her husband’s names so as to avoid any problems (smart move), so PG&E required a deposit of $512 from each, for a grand total of $1,024! This high amount was obligatory even though they both have good credit histories.

L.L.Y. had her husband follow up with PG&E on their 800 number. As TURN often advises, he asked to speak to a supervisor right away. He explained to the customer service representative that he’d called about the issue before, and that he had been unable to resolve it at that level. When he finally got put through to a supervisor he again pleaded his case. He pointed out that due to their good credit history such a high deposit should not be necessary. The supervisor eventually agreed, and waived the deposit entirely.

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