How the ‘Smart Meter’ made us homeless

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Up until last week, I was relatively unconcerned with the whole smart-meter thing. Not that I didn’t believe the smart meters were worth protesting against, just that it wasn’t high on the list of things that the government has me outraged about.

An article that appeared in last weeks Monday Magazine (Smart Meters are Faulty), about widespread reports of over-billing, has shed some light on a problem we’d been having with our landlord.

I live in a nice little house in Saanich with a friend and her two young children. She moved in around December, and I moved in a few months later. Utilities, such as electricity, are included in the rent, and the bills go to the landlord.

Just after my roommate moved into the unit, a smart meter was installed.

When the first bill came in, it was double what the landlord was used to paying, and she confronted my roommate about her use of the laundry machines. (She uses cloth diapers and does a lot of laundry, but I calculated the costs of this. 7-8 loads a week, always in cold water, at the maximum rate of 10c cents per kWh should only come to $18/month.)

My roommate immediately challenged the idea that the amount of laundry she did would cause the hydro bill to double. The landlord countered that 3 of the 4 people in the unit upstairs had moved out, so it could not have been the upper unit sucking up all that power.

The landlord then started making accusations that we were running a flophouse, and that there were more people living in the unit than she had agreed to. This was false, but due to the lack of any other possibilities, the landlord not only became convinced we have a bunch of people here, but that we are lying to her. Either that or we are doing something illegal.

This distrust has led the landlord to threaten that she was going to have to do monthly inspections, which raised the level of tension and led to more arguments and accusations.

We are on a six month lease which expires at the end of this month, although the lease does not say that we need to leave at the end, only that we become month-to-month. A couple days ago the landlord dropped off a new lease for us to sign, this one requiring us to vacate in two months.

Seeing as we have not done anything to warrant eviction (we have read the BC Residential Tenancy Act, and as long-time anti-poverty activists are well aware of our rights), and the original lease does not specify that we are to vacate at the end of the term, we are not obligated to leave.

At this point, the landlord has only a few options left to get us out of the unit. She can do a ‘renoviction’, but is obligated to do substantial improvements to the unit or be liable to be sued by us. She can move in by herself or she can move family members in.

If she evicts us for any of these reasons, and does not follow through, as in, doesn’t do renovations or the people who move in are not her relatives, we can take our case to the Residential Tenancy Board. But we’d need to someone know that either the renovations didn’t happen or that the people moving in are not her close family.

At this point I’ll clarify the use of the word ‘homeless’ in the title of this blog.
The word homelessness is a broad term and can be understood on a continuum of types of shelter. On one end there is absolute homelessness, which includes only those living on the street or in emergency shelters. Hidden or concealed homelessness is in the middle of the continuum. These include people without a place of their own who live in a car, with family or friends, or in a long-term institution. At the other end of the continuum is relative homelessness, which includes those who are housed but who reside in substandard shelter and/or who may be at risk of losing their homes. (My use of the word for this situation is slightly hyperbolic, but I am a propagandist, as all writers are, and the headline draws in the reader…)

We ARE at risk of losing our home. Not because we have been bad tenants, damaged anything or interfered with other tenants use of the property, but because a faulty smart meter has caused our landlord to become insane with suspicion of us to the point that heated arguments have ensued and a declaration that she intends to get us out of the unit had been stated.

We have just today forwarded the many articles that have been posted online about the many cases of overbilling that have been reported by people with smart meters. There is still hope that this can help heal the damaged relationship between us and our landlord, who insists that we have been ‘very difficult’ to deal with. It isn’t even about the hydro bill anymore. Looking for reasons to back up her suspicion that we are pot-growers operating an underground bed and breakfast, she has criticized everything from how the furniture on the porch was arranged to the placement of a tea towel on the stove that she saw one day while on one of her spying missions.

We live in fear of this woman, who is always in a state of agitation and accusation, and has asked the upstairs neighbours to keep tabs on the comings and goings at our home.

We have the law on our side but do not wish to live in a state of battle with the owner of the house, and will most likely be moving soon, despite really liking this house and neighbourhood. We don’t have the time or energy to fight this, and we suspect she will do whatever she needs to do to remove us, and if it requires lying about renovations or her family moving in, we likely won’t be able to find out whether she’s lied or afford to sue if we did find out.

As I read about these smart meters I am finding there are a lot of suspicious things happening, the over-billing being just one of them.

Home-owners have the option to opt-out, but as renters, we have no choice. We take what we get. Even when we don’t have to pay for utilities, we end up paying somehow for these things. And that’s not even getting into the health effects, which admittedly I don’t know much about.

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3 responses »

  1. Bad landlords are never fun; but don’t let her bully you:

    -> Start asking for everything in writing. She can’t come around any time and threaten you. Document all visits and mail them to her so she knows that you know your rights.

    -> You don’t have to “sue”. The RTB holds hearing that are relatively painless.

    -> If she does do a family move-in, she needs to serve you notice 2 months beforehand. AND they are only good for herself or her parents or child. Showing the RTB documentation that she is making empty threats would be enough to cast serious doubt on her claim.

    -> Family move-in requires her to pay you 1 month’s rent.

    -> DON’T sign a new lease!!

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