by Brendan Sample
A number of residents of the Cherokee Apartments, 7715 McCallum Street, are speaking out after seeing their gas bills unexpectedly skyrocket since the beginning of the year.
After years of being billed monthly installments that typically never exceeded $75, tenants are now left wondering why some of their gas bills from earlier in the year eclipsed several hundred dollars a month.
“None of us has any expectation of what our next utility bill might look like,” said Maureen “Mo” Fogarty, a Cherokee resident since 2013. “Those who are refusing to pay these astronomical bills will likely have their deposit withheld when they leave the complex and/or risk damage to their credit. It’s unconscionable.”
Eagle Rock Management, the company that owns Cherokee, switched its utility billing service late last year to NWP Services, which in turn is owned by RealPage Utility Management. In a statement to the Local, RealPage Senior Vice President Jason Lindwall said the high charges are likely the result of a missed billing period due to transition to the new system and the fact that many residents were being underbilled.
“We can all acknowledge it was not an ideal situation and have been working to alleviate resident concerns,” Lindwall said. “The previous provider may have been underbilling, or the overall property expense may have been lower. In any case, the current billing is now in line with our expected gas expense recovery.”
In other words, future bills should reflect an accurate gas fee residents can expect to remain consistent.
Residents, however, remain unconvinced that their gas bills will return to “normal.”
“I spoke to other neighbors who also had the same kind of billing issues, and some people are paying while others aren’t,” said one resident who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s a very screwy system … There doesn’t seem to be any good explanation for allocation.”
At this point, residents have not received any answers from the Cherokee management that they have considered satisfying. Notices to the tenants in response to these bill increases have claimed that they are “not a mistake” and are “not going to change.”
One thing that is evident is that residents are no longer being charged simply for the amount of gas that they use every month. Instead, the monthly bills appear to be based on the space of each apartment.
“I was told that I’d be getting charged by the square unit space of my apartment,” said another unnamed tenant. “This is a great place to live, as I recently signed a 15-month lease through next October, but I feel that what they’re doing is wrong … People who have lived here for 20 or 30 years are now moving out because of this … It just seems like they [Cherokee and NWP] can do whatever they want now.”
The new bills are also coming into direct contrast with the initial lease agreements that some of the tenants signed when they originally moved into Cherokee. Fogarty confirmed that her original agreement specified a gas bill of $50 each month as part of the overall utilities cost, which remained consistent until the recent change.
Though it is a process that would likely take months, some residents have begun discussing a possible class action lawsuit if management is unable to provide a different solution. Those who do not feel that they can afford the new bills at all, however, are finding themselves looking for a new living space altogether.
“I would very much prefer to stay, as vacating is a hardship for me in terms of time and finances,” Fogarty said. “I enjoy the community very much and would like to stay, but like many people in my community, I am reluctantly being pushed toward the exit.”
Brendan Sample can be reached at email@example.com