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Update: I'm good, thanks for the suggestions, I'll just overpay. I'm not a fan of auto ACH to a (lazy) company that has "forgotten" things in the past... I consider that pretty reasonable... . I'm overpaying by $50 one month, then paying the average every month. Thus any extra or under payment will be absorbed by the credit each month.

Original Post:
I'm having some trouble with my water/sewage company's billing process. I'm currently renting a condo and they have a company that handles the water and sewage billing. Here are the problems:

1. They send out the bill at some undetermined time around the middle to later part of the month. Say, the 20th through the 25th. That means I may not receive the paper bill up to 3 days after that.
2. They have a 14 day (including weekends and holidays) grace period starting from when the bill is sent (!). So around the 3rd to the 8th of the next month is the "due date."
3. The bill is dated the day the utility ended for that period--which is around the 4th through the 6th of the month (thus it's backdated).
4. There is a $10 late fee.

The greatest part is, I have yet to receive a paper bill for this month. Yet the bill is due 1/7/2010 (I can view the bill online luckily). Also, they released the bill on line on the 24th of December (yeesh, thanks).

They do have Auto ACH, but... I don't trust these guys to actually process it on time. There is no free "last minute" payment system (they charge a $5 fee for using a CC). Instead, I check the site often, and send out a paper check as soon as I see the online bill has been posted.

Why I don't trust them: in August I never received a paper bill, and the online service did not show a bill either. I called them up and asked them about it and they told me, "Oh, we must have forgot to send that out for the whole building--sorry about that," as if this is some manual process...

Finally, my questions (I am in Georgia):
1. Is there anything I can tell the utility company legally? Perhaps, "you are required to have XX grace period on bills before charging a late fee"?
2. I'll probably start doing this after this recent month, but should I just go ahead and overpay my account each month? This would solve my problems, but might be a slight accounting hassle.
3. Are other utility (billing) companies this negligent?

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Is the amount of the bills just about the same every month?

If so, just push the amounts from your checking account to them by ACH every month, and allow time for the transaction to be processed.

It sounds like they are just a re-biller (not an actual utility company) that is selected by the condo association/board. Contact the city/county/state and see if they are at all regulated like a utility. There is no federal law that says there is a minimum grace period, but it's possible there could be a state/local regulation.

Since you are having this problem, I'd imagine that others in your condo complex have experienced the same. Talk to your neighbors and find out. Talk to your landlord and see what there experience has been (if they occupied or paid the bill before). You might try to rally the neighbors and your landlord to get the condo board to deal with the incompetence of the billing company. Typically, here's the way the billing company works: the condo/HOA pays the large water/sewer bill for the entire complex and sends a copy to the billing company. The billing company divies up the bill and sends individual bills. They collect the money and pass on the funds back to the HOA (holding their cut).

So while you are a customer of the billing company, the HOA is REALLY the customer and has the ability to fire/renegotiate the contract with the billing company (upon the end of the contract or whatever their current contract allows). If the HOA membership is unhappy with the vendor, the board should act accordingly and deal with it.

Edited to add: besides the city/county/state regulations on their billing practices (which I doubt exist), there may also be regulations in their contract with the HOA that they are supposed to follow (billing dates, grace period, etc). Again, in that situation the HOA would likely have to intervene for enforcement.

Cheapoking said: Is the amount of the bills just about the same every month?

If so, just push the amounts from your checking account to them by ACH every month, and allow time for the transaction to be processed.


They're relatively close, so I could pay, say $60 each month and be 99% guaranteed it would cover the amount.

However, is is possible to "push" ACH? I know that they can "pull" ACH via a check I send them, but I didn't know "push" was possible (I'll call them on Monday to see if so). They're a relatively small company (it seems a "re-biller" as the previous poster stated).

Regardless, I may just start sending a $60 check early in the month and adjust the amount higher or lower depending on the previous month's billing--it wouldn't require ACH push in that case.

civ2k1 said: It sounds like they are just a re-biller (not an actual utility company) that is selected by the condo association/board. Contact the city/county/state and see if they are at all regulated like a utility. There is no federal law that says there is a minimum grace period, but it's possible there could be a state/local regulation.


I'll have to check it out... seems a bit ridiculous that no grace period would be required--unlimited amounts of late fees could be applied if so! I'll look into it.

civ2k1 said:
Since you are having this problem, I'd imagine that others in your condo complex have experienced the same. Talk to your neighbors and find out.


I'll start asking around, however, I'll only be here a year or two more since I'm renting. I probably won't spend too much time on the problem, I was more just curious if this was legal for future reference, and to see if I could scare the company into trying a bit harder.

civ2k1 said:
Edited to add: besides the city/county/state regulations on their billing practices (which I doubt exist), there may also be regulations in their contract with the HOA that they are supposed to follow (billing dates, grace period, etc). Again, in that situation the HOA would likely have to intervene for enforcement.


That's a good idea, I'll go check the front office Monday to see if they have a copy of the contract, or know where to find it. This would at least give me some leverage if I wrote a letter or talked over the phone to the "higher up" at the re-billing agency.

Thanks!

Floydian said: Cheapoking said: Is the amount of the bills just about the same every month?

If so, just push the amounts from your checking account to them by ACH every month, and allow time for the transaction to be processed.


They're relatively close, so I could pay, say $60 each month and be 99% guaranteed it would cover the amount.

However, is is possible to "push" ACH? I know that they can "pull" ACH via a check I send them, but I didn't know "push" was possible (I'll call them on Monday to see if so). They're a relatively small company (it seems a "re-biller" as the previous poster stated).

Regardless, I may just start sending a $60 check early in the month and adjust the amount higher or lower depending on the previous month's billing--it wouldn't require ACH push in that case.


I do the same for both; water and sewer bills; usually I prepay the amount with a few dollars to spare over the due amount and adjust the next push from there. Have never miss a due date or amount due, and the push has always worked.

Floydian said:

However, is is possible to "push" ACH? I know that they can "pull" ACH via a check I send them, but I didn't know "push" was possible (I'll call them on Monday to see if so). They're a relatively small company (it seems a "re-biller" as the previous poster stated).

Regardless, I may just start sending a $60 check early in the month and adjust the amount higher or lower depending on the previous month's billing--it wouldn't require ACH push in that case.


All information needed is an address and account number for the ACH push from your bank to work.

Floydian said:
They do have Auto ACH, but... I don't trust these guys to actually process it on time.


If you use their collection system, I doubt they will/can hold you responsible any delay.

Since the bills are approximately the same simply make an extra payment and run a credit all the time. If they're late, no harm done.

ACH Pull: They basically deposit a phanton check for the amount at their bank with your account info. They do the work. Think of a pull as a check, but instead of you writing it, they do.

ACH Push: You initiate a transaction with your bank for them to put money into their account. You do the work. Think of this like a wire. You contact the bank and they send the money out. Only difference is ACHs take longer.

Thanks for the suggestions (and yes, I'm already aware of ACH push/pull definitions, I realize it was ambiguous, thanks though). I went ahead and called them today, and they do not have an incoming ACH account for ACH push (push from me). This may be because they are a re-billing service and not an actual utility company.

Here's my strategy--
1. Pay extra one month, say, $100 and my average bill is $50. Then I'll have (roughly) a $50 credit in my account each month.
2. Pay $50 each month before the bill comes.

Then I'll always have a $50 credit for the subsequent months, and it only "costs" me the $50 from my savings-equivalent account.

Thanks for the help guys!



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