Chris Brown and Markus Dietz say they felt cheated after learning their utility company, Wyse Meter Solutions, was charging them for gas and electricity without having installed gas or electricity meters.
The pair says energy costs also doubled after Wyse took over billing at their property.
What’s more, many of the bills they received had no breakdown of how these costs were calculated — something the federal government said the law requires.
And as Global News discovered, the students were also being billed by Wyse even though the company had no role to play in the delivery of the electricity and gas they were paying for.
“There’s no good reason that our utility bills should be increasing just because a different company takes over,” said Brown, a fourth-year engineering student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Brown and Dietz live in separate townhouses at Foundry Simcoe, a privately-owned student housing complex in Oshawa, Ont. run by Castle Student Housing.
Before Castle started managing the building in late 2017, Brown received monthly emails from his old property manager, which included copies of the gas and electricity bills for his apartment sent by Enbridge and Oshawa Power, as well as a breakdown of how the charges were to be divided between roommates.
But last May, after Wyse became the building’s exclusive submetering provider, Foundry sent residents an email saying Wyse had installed submeters at the property to measure the “consumption of gas, hydro and water in all units.”
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The email also said Wyse would be “collecting and processing” usage for gas and electricity and sending individual bills to residents based on their share of utilities.
But a review of several bills and emails sent to Brown from Wyse shows the company never installed gas and electricity submeters at the property.
Instead, unbeknownst to them, said Brown and Dietz, each townhouse continued to be serviced by Oshawa Power and Enbridge, with Foundry forwarding the monthly bills to Wyse.
And according to emails from Wyse customer service, the utility then used information on these bills to generate individual bills for each tenant — splitting the total utility costs, including delivery and taxes, between roommates, while adding its own administration and service fees in the process.
“It definitely feels like a scam,” Dietz said.
Wyse chose not to answer detailed questions about its billing procedures at Foundry Simcoe, including whether it installed gas or electricity submeters.
But the company did acknowledge issues with its billing practices, adding that it has lowered administration fees at the property.
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“We apologize for any previous confusion – we are working on clearer presentation of billing information, hiring an outside billing presentment consultant and making enhancements to our billing and customer service departments,” Wyse said in a written statement.
Wyse also said drawing any comparison between its billing services and the billing services of the previous property manager is “inappropriate and misleading at best.”
Castle did not answer questions about the May 2018 email. The company did, however, say it is developing changes to utility billing practices at the property that will start next month.
Bill to bill comparison
Wyse is a licensed submetering company. Submetering companies allow landlords to shift the cost of utilities from one large bill for the entire building to individual bills for tenants by installing submeters for each apartment.
According to a report commissioned by the Sub-Metering Council of Ontario, customers of submeterers save an average of $117 a year in administration fees compared to customers of local distribution companies, such as Oshawa Power.
But for residents of student housing complexes serviced by Wyse, individual bills also means individual fees, which could increase costs.
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According to a Global News analysis, if Wyse had divided the Oshawa Power bills for Brown’s apartment by the number of roommates in his unit (five) without adding additional service fees, Brown’s share of the electricity charges since August would have been roughly $99.
Instead, Wyse charged him $238 for electricity and related fees — an increase of 140 per cent.
Meanwhile, Brown’s share of the Enbridge bills since August would have been roughly $69. But Wyse charged him $105 for gas and related fees — an increase of 52 per cent.
In total, Brown paid Wyse $344 for gas, electricity and related service fees over the past eight months — roughly double his share of the Oshawa Power and Enbridge bills without any additional fees.
Comparison of Brown’s Wyse bills to Oshawa Power/Enbridge bills for his unit
Global News also reviewed bills for Brown’s apartment sent by Oshawa Power and Enbridge for similar billing periods between 2016 and 2017. The bills show the charges he paid for energy roughly doubled when Wyse took over.
Wyse did not answer questions specific to Brown’s bills. But the company did say it is lowering its combined administration fee for water, gas and electricity at Foundry Simcoe to $11 per bill — a decrease of roughly 70 per cent compared to when Wyse first started billing residents.
The company also said individual billing is intended to help students manage their finances and deal with the challenges of splitting communal utility bills, a service Wyse says local distribution companies do not provide.
Measurement Canada reviewing practices
In March, Global News revealed details of Wyse’s “by the bed” billing services for residents of student housing.
At the time, the company said its billing practices complied with all provincial and federal rules and that residents with individual leases should be allowed to receive individual utility bills.
But the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) told Global News it is investigating individual billing at student housing complexes, adding there are no regulations that “specifically allow” this practice.
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The OEB would not comment on utility billing at Foundry Simcoe.
Asked if Wyse’s billing procedures at the property violate existing rules, OEB spokesperson Mary Ellen Beninger said the regulator could not provide answers.
“To do otherwise in the absence of a clear understanding of the facts would not be responsible and would risk jeopardizing the integrity of compliance-related activities,” she said.
Beninger did, however, say certain rules about billing do apply to submetering companies. This includes a regulation that says invoices must “indicate clearly and separately” the amount and price of electricity sold.
But a review of Wyse’s bills showed Foundry Simcoe residents were sent invoices with no consumption data for gas and electricity.
Meanwhile, Measurement Canada, the federal body that oversees energy companies, told Global News it is reviewing Wyse’s billing practices at Foundry Simcoe to “determine if any violations have occurred.”
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A spokesperson for the agency also said the Electricity and Gas Inspection Act requires utility bills “accurately reflect the amount of energy consumed for the billing period.”
And while some of Wyse’s recent bills do include usage information, this data, according to an email from a Wyse customer service rep, was only shared with residents after the utility gained permission from Foundry Simcoe.
Wyse did not say if its billing practices at at the property comply with federal and provincial rules. The company also declined to answer questions about whether it’s appropriate to issue bills to residents whose apartments are serviced by another utility.
Wyse’s co-CEO Ian Stewart did, however, say the company is working with the OEB on issues related to student housing and that it remains “committed to full compliance with all appropriate standards and regulations as determined by the OEB.”
Bills had ‘inaccurate utility charges’
Brown and Dietz aren’t alone in their frustration.
Gisille Di Mascio, whose daughter Amanda lives at Foundry Simcoe, says she’s unhappy with Wyse’s “ridiculous billing scheme,” adding she’s paid about $90 a month for utilities since her daughter moved in.
“What we were told upfront, before we signed the lease, is that utility bills would be around $40 per month, per student,” she said.
The lease Di Mascio and Amanda signed also says natural gas is supposed to be included in rent — yet Wyse has been charging them for it.
“There is no transparency to why these students are being charged these astronomical fees,” she said.
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Still, Wyse insists it only charges residents based on the conditions of their lease, adding that questions about lease agreements should be sent to Foundry Simcoe.
“We charge residents only for the utilities they use, per the terms of their lease, with no mark-up,” the company said.
Castle declined to answer questions about Di Mascio’s concerns.
Foundry Simcoe staff did, however, send residents an email after Castle was contacted by Global News, saying they were aware of “inaccurate utility charges” on students’ bills that did not align with their leases.
The note did not mention gas charges specifically, but said credits will be sent to anyone who was incorrectly billed.
Castle also said it is reviewing its relationship with Wyse at Foundry Simcoe and the company’s billing practices at all of its Ontario properties. This includes speaking with the OEB to clarify the rules around utility billing at student housing.
Brown, meanwhile, says he was told he’ll receive a $289 credit from Wyse.
And while he’s happy to get the money back, he still thinks utility billing at the property should return to the way it used to be, before Castle and Wyse took over.
“That would be ideal,” he said.