The Discourse has learned that the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) has now launched a formal investigation into Wyse Meter Solutions, a private company that charges Nanaimo renters directly for water, following a series of complaints related to its services starting in late 2021. The findings build on an investigation released by The Discourse in March.
“I believe your story had more than a small part to play in [the investigation],” says Leigha Worth, who is providing legal representation for residential energy rate-payers as intervenors in the investigation, in her capacity as the executive director and general counsel for the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre (BCPIAC).
In some rental buildings in B.C., like Bluestone Apartments we reported on, landlords have installed meters in each unit so that tenants can be charged individually for the water or energy they use by a private third-party contractor. Though touted as an opportunity to incentivize lower consumption, for industry proponents, it’s an opportunity for landlords to offload the rising cost of utilities onto renters.
The Discourse’s reporting revealed that Wyse’s water sub-metering operations are unregulated and not covered by rules related to electricity set out by the utilities commission, leaving many renters confused and frustrated.
Though the BCUC doesn’t deal with water, its investigation reveals that Wyse also sub-meters electricity in the province.
“I live alone, I leave for work at 9 a.m. and don’t come home till at least 9 p.m. I also work seven days a week, yet my bills are ridiculous, over $120 to 175 per month,” writes Vernon, B.C. resident Chhotubhai Patel in a letter of comment submitted to the BCUC.
“I compared the bills to my bakery business, where I have a high-speed oven microwave (uses a dryer plug), have a total of nine freezers and coolers… two hot beverage machines, plus all the lighting in and outside the store and an AC unit. My BC hydro bill every two months is on average $400- 600.”
Because Wyse is not regulated like other utilities, the only way customers can deal with disagreements over the company’s billing or service is to take them to court, lawyer Leigha Worth explains. If the tenants can’t afford litigation and refuse to pay, they could face eviction or having their water or electricity cut off.
“Once a building owner enters into an agreement with Wyse, building tenants have no recourse to an independent third party to resolve disputes regarding electricity supply issues,” writes North Vancouver resident Gregory Staple in a comment letter. “Wyse operates as a monopoly once its equipment is installed in a building.”
Intervenors like BCPIAC argue the company should have to play by the same rules as other utilities.
“We think [it] could show Wyse is operating as a public utility and should therefore be subject to Commission regulation,” says Worth, via email.
The organizations they represent include the BC Old Age Pensioners’ Organization, Disability Alliance BC, the Tenants Resource Advisory Centre and others “whose interests are strongly affected by the outcome of this investigation,” according to BCPIAC’s Aug. 25 request to intervene in the investigation.
“We intend to examine the manner in which Wyse is operating in B.C. since it began operation here… in 2016, requesting evidence necessary to inform a determination of whether it is a public utility or not,” the letter states.
Other intervenors include the Residential Consumer Intervener Association (RCIA).
“RCIA has received complaints regarding Wyse’s submetering practices and has been asked to ensure that Wyse follows a fair, transparent and accurate billing process for its residential customers,” states their Aug. 24 request to intervene.
The key concerns from ratepayers echo those revealed by The Discourse’s own investigation and relate to service costs, additional costs, transparency and accuracy in billing and services provided.
In a response to the utility commission’s information request, Wyse states that it has been delivering water services in Ontario since 2008 and that its electricity rates and tariffs align with those published by BC Hydro.
When it comes to the electricity charges, Wyse states the company’s service fees are “negotiated with the building owner to meet (but not exceed) BC Hydro’s residential rate tariff.”
The struggle at Bluestone Apartments — as featured in The Discourse’s reporting — is still ongoing. Jenai Brown says she has sought the advice of a lawyer, and Richard Pullano and his wife made the decision to move out of the building.
Following threats from Wyse and his corporate landlord Starlight Investments to cut off his water, resident Jon Galliazzo says he has now come to an agreement with Wyse to pay a set amount for his water bill each month, and credits the ongoing BCUC investigation (which he says he’s “very eagerly” following) for the company’s willingness to come to an amicable solution with him.
BCUC encourages individuals, organizations, and groups to participate in their investigations by sending in letters of comment, which can be filed electronically. The deadline for this proceeding is Sept. 29.
Though the status of Wyse’s water sub-metering operations remains unclear, B.C.’s private water utility regulator also accepts letters of complaint from residents with concerns about their water service or rates.