When Zombie Utility Bills Attack! 4 Years Later, You Owe $696.51

Here’s one for all the Florida lawyers out there who read this blog. (We know you exist!) When reader Matt moved 4 years ago, he transferred the utilities at his college apartment to one of his roommates. Now, 4 years later, the utility company says that the account was never transferred and that Matt owes $696.51 because his deadbeat roommates never paid the bill after he left.

Reader Matt writes:

I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now, and I had hoped that I’d never have to write in for advice…but I think that day has come.

I attended college at Florida State University, in Tallahassee, FL. During my last semester there, I rented a house with three roommates. The utilities were in my name, and when I moved out in January of 2003, I went to the Tallahassee Utilities main branch with a roommate and transferred the utilities into his name, along with paying my final bill at that time.

Fast forward now to January 2008. I receive a collections letter stating that I owe Tallahassee Utilities $696.51! First, I call the collections agency and get the run-around; they have no idea what the charges are for, or from when, and tell me that the ONLY way I can wipe this off my credit report is to pay the full amount. They also discourage me from even calling Tallahassee Utilities, because (and I quote) “They don’t take phone calls from deadbeats whose bills get sent to collection agencies.” Needless to say, I called them as soon as I hung up with the collection agency.

Surprisingly enough, Angela the CSR I spoke with was sympathetic, and was able to provide me with ALL the information I wanted. She informed me that the amount was for a delinquent bill from August 2007, a whole four and a half years after I had moved and taken the utilities out of my name. Of course, their system still showed me as the primary account holder. They never made the name change on the account, and no tenant after me had EVER changed the utilities out of my name. That’s college kids for you.

After explaining the situation, and pointing out that I had documentation of leases and employment records to show I hadn’t lived in Tallahassee for five years, she offered to put the case to her supervisor (Mike), who could make the decision to, in effect, cancel my responsibility to pay the bill. I thank her, take the supervisor’s name and number, and she puts me through to his voicemail (since he is, of course, out of the office).

I let two days go by, and contact the supervisor again. One more voicemail, and I wait one more day for a call back. Finally, I get a voicemail from my initial CSR (Angela, not the supervisor) saying that although they believed me and understood that a mistake had been made, they could do nothing unless I produced a copy of the form I filled out five years ago requesting a transfer on the utilities. Of course, I call back immediately only to get her voicemail, and Mike’s as well. Getting frustrated, I navigate back through their system to another CSR, who I relay my entire story to. She then wants to send me to her supervisor, who I speak to. I then relay the entire story to her, and she says that there is nothing they can do without a copy of that form. Now, I don’t know about any of you, but I don’t keep a utilities transfer form that’s five years old. After offering up infinite amounts of hard copy data that proves I had moved from the residence, the only thing the supervisor tells me is that I have no recourse, other than having my old landlord possibly call them and tell them I moved out five years ago. She even says that it’s a long shot, but possible. I take her contact information, and leave it at that.

So here I am, two days later. I’ve exhausted my search for my old landlord. I looked through all my old files, called my old roommates, etc. He didn’t even live in Tallahassee, he was up in South Bend, IN, and I am unable to find him. It’s possible he may no longer own the house, in which case I have no leg to stand on with a new landlord. I’m stuck with a collection for $696.51 on my credit report, on a bill that was fraudulently run up in my name. Any advice on what to do would be appreciated. Thanks Consumerist!

Matt

We’re going to toss this one out to the comments because, sadly, our experience with Florida public utilities companies is pretty limited. However, we think you should formally dispute the debt with the collection agency. Then you might want to contact the Florida Public Service Commission to see if they can be of any assistance.

(Photo:johpan)