By Roberta Russell
On June 30th the New York State Supreme Court decided that the Good Cause Eviction bill that would allow free market tenants in New York State to stay in their apartments after their leases were up, at a rent raise determined by the government, not the landlord, was declared “null and void as they are in direct conflict with state law and thereby preempted.”
This decision was a boon for landlords and a disappointment for
tenants. As for me, a long-term West 9th Street townhouse owner, I had stopped renting and decided to get out of the landlord business in what was—with the perils of COVID, rising interest rates and taxes, and the scarcity of help—an increasingly inhospitable environment for landlords.
My last tenant told me that she would be relocating by March, at the end of her lease. Since the Good Cause Eviction Law was pending then, I did not try to re-rent her apartment because I feared that I would lose the freedom to run my building as I saw fit. I had planned to wait it out in peace and not rent until the law was decided on.
Nevertheless, my real estate woes re-surfaced when Con Ed started billing me erroneously calculated amounts for estimated service to the now-empty apartment. Although they had made appointments to change the meter to function automatically without on-site readings or estimates, they did not show up on schedule, either for readings or meter changes. No notice or apologies were proffered.
Adding to my frustration and feelings of powerlessness, an ominous postcard-sized folded note recently arrived in the mail from Con Ed. I slit the sealing tab to find this alarming missive: “If we do not hear from you by July 11, 2022, we may be required to apply to the court for an Order of Seizure to permit the city marshal to enter the area.”
This draconian threat was activated because the vacated tenant’s meter was now being monitored by actual up-to-the-minute photographs of her meter, taken by both my building superintendent and me. We sent the photos in the service of replacing the inaccurate estimates that caused Con Ed to determine wildly fluctuating charges.
I had been getting bills for the unused empty apartment, with only the refrigerator running, ranging from $257.05 as of June 21st to $1,265.32 a week later!
My attempts to correct the bill proved to be a formidable undertaking, ending today, months after I started, when I paid an updated bill that just arrived in the mail. The saga took endless hours of waiting on the phone, spread over many weeks, while listening to repetitions of “Thank you for your patience…” Ms. Clara Kaufman, a very human, intelligent, and refreshingly unscripted Con Ed representative, finally explained that workmen can inadvertently miss appointments without notifying the tenant or landlord in advance because not all representatives have work phones. Installations of new meters are often outsourced. Really! Couldn’t this debilitating and costly misuse of customer time and well-being be fixed?
Con Ed is a monopoly, not subject to the same economic forces that govern competitive businesses. Can you imagine Amazon with its current $135 billion net worth and 1,298,000 employees (2020), the largest internet company by revenue of our time, not informing the customer if a delivery date was changed?
Trust is vital, particularly in the case of Con Ed, an investor-owned energy company providing service for 10 million people in New York City and Westchester County, with $13.8 billion in annual revenue and $63.1 billion in assets in 2021. Accountability is vital, particularly for a monopoly. Consumers’ costs are rising because Con Ed’s profits are. According to New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, “It’s completely unacceptable that New Yorkers are paying significantly more for power while Con Edison brings in surplus profits.”
Speaking up to preserve trust, responsibility, and order is more important than ever. Go on the internet. Let your voice be heard.
Roberta Russell is the author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing (Hillgarth Press, 1992), Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony (Hillgarth Press, 1981, 1994), and Report on Permanent Weight Loss (Columbia Academic Commons, 2017). She has also been a contributor to various international magazines and journals including: Psychologie Heute (Germany), Japan Times (Japan), The Psychologist (U.K.), Human Potential Magazine (U.K.), Changes (U.K.), Clinical Psychology Forum (U.K.), Psychoanalytic Studies (U.K.), and Bottom Line (USA).