I Thought My Apartment Included Utilities. Now I Have A Zombie Gas Bill

Jesse has turned to Consumerist for help because he is being haunted by a relic from his past. Specifically, he writes that a debt collector has contacted him, claiming that he owes them for having a gas service account that he never used–in an apartment where he thought all utilities were included. What should he do?

Here’s his email:

I’ve run into a small problem recently, and I’m not sure what to do about it. I got a call from a debt collector saying I owe a gas bill from a couple apartments ago. I’ve never heard of the company and certainly never opened an account with them.

The debt collector gave me a phone number and an account number, so I called the company to learn what I could. They said if I lived there, I owed the bill, which is comprised entirely of fees for even having an account (I was a single bachelor and NEVER ONCE used the stove in that apartment).

As far as I knew, gas was included in the rent for that place. I’m not confident I still have a copy of the lease agreement, though. If I’m mistaken about utilities being included, what are my options? I’m quitting my job in 6 weeks and moving across the country, so I’m a little strapped for cash just now (there’s no lucrative job on the other end of the move).

We’ll turn this over to the Consumerist hive mind in case any of you have been in similar situations, but here are some places to start: First, Jesse should get hold of that former landlord, whether it was an individual or a company, to see whether they have any idea what’s going on. It’s possible that the building just recently switched to having tenants pay gas–and former tenants like Jesse were caught up in some kind of crazy billing error.

If hecan turn up evidence that the debt is invalid (or if he’s really, really sure that the gas was included) dispute the debt after making sure that the zombie agency really does own the debt.

Check out the comments of this classic post from 2008 for more ideas. And the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities may also be able to help out in this situation–give them a call.

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