Family Fights Huge DWP Bill On Vacant Property

The Shamalian family's home had sat vacant since a 2013 fire destroyed most of the property, but they still managed to accrue an $8,000 bill, according to LA's water and power agency.

It’s not every day you receive an electricity bill for over $8,000 — especially if you aren’t using the electricity, let alone living in the house.

Welcome to Nora Shamalian’s financial nightmare.

The Shamalian family received a bill from LADWP totaling to $8,151.59. The problem, aside from the steep amount, was that it was impossible for them to use any electricity since a fire forced them out of their home in December 2013.

"I saw smoke coming out from the front of the house," said Shamalian. "We pretty much lost everything in the fire; we were left with the clothes on our backs."

For weeks, the family lived out of hotels, rented a home in Sylmar, and even resorted to other living alternatives.

"We decided to buy a trailer and move back home, so we can actually be here trying to get construction going on the house," Shamalian said.

The Shamalian’s home has not had any electrical wiring since the fire in 2013 and Shamalian only moved the trailer into the driveway last May, but her June bill showed electricity usage for an entire year and a half.

"How do you come up with this number? I want some type of justification," she said. "Where did you come up with this number?"

Shamalian said she tried to get an answer from LADWP, to no avail.

"This is not related to the billing system," said David Wright, chief administrative officer for LADWP, referring to another common problem as the agency moves from estimated bills to exact readings.

He said that in Shamalian’s case, the billings were still estimated because of the lack of access to the property, not because the agency had incorrectly assessed the amount due.

Wright said LADWP workers couldn’t access Shamalian’s meter after the fire because the property was secured by a locked gate. As a result, their bills were estimated based on the prior year’s usage.

The I-Team was there when LADWP finally read Shamalian’s electrical meter, and according to Wright, their bill has gone down to just under $5,000.

That total is largely due to water usage, as water — likely sprinklers — continued to be used at the property during the time it was vacant.

LADWP advises anyone displaced from their home due to an unforeseen event to call and halt service to stop the billing process.

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