PETALING JAYA, MALAYSIA: It is a case of "electric shocks" of a different kind for houseowners.
They are residential landlords left to foot large amounts of power bills, amounting to tens of thousands of ringgit in some cases, not settled by tenants who have moved out.
The landlords are helpless as they are held responsible by Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB), and cannot re-connect supply for new tenants or sell their homes without paying the bills.
Many are blaming TNB for their predicament, saying the bills would not have surged to such high figures if the utility company had been strict and cut off supply to errant consumers at the early stages.
The largest unpaid power bill reported to the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department was RM47,483.93!
"And this case concerned a residential property. We have not even touched commercial premises yet," said department head Datuk Michael Chong.
He said his officers had received 29 reports of such cases since 2008, with unpaid bills amounting to RM216,348.48.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many cases could have gone unreported. I am just as curious to know why TNB allowed the power bills to reach such extravagant sums," he told The Star.
Several online forums confirmed that the problem was widespread, with many residential property owners expressing frustration with their tenants' unpaid electricity bills.
"It can be years that tenants did not pay, and it's unusual that TNB did not cut off the power supply even though the outstanding amount hit four figures. Many (owners) just pay up and forget the whole issue," commented a consumer who lives in USJ.
Businessman Stanley Sien, 50, said he had to deal with "a recalcitrant" tenant who did not pay rent for a house in Puchong for almost a year and accumulated utility bills totalling RM6,640.34 (S$2,840.10). The power bill alone came up to RM5,774.38.
"What's worse, the tenant was a TNB employee. When I asked a TNB customer service officer why they had allowed the outstanding amount to balloon, she said the employee could have reconnected the supply on his own.
"She said there was nothing TNB could do to help me,'' he added, showing the bill that he finally had to settle with TNB.
"There was no progress despite me waiting for many months. I spent RM16,000 repairing the damaged house to rent it out again. I had to pay up in order to get TNB to reconnect the supply,'' he added.
Lawyer C.V. Devan advised landlords to pursue legal action against defaulting tenants.
"Just sue them. The landlord will most definitely have a strong case because there is a tenancy agreement that the case can fall back on. For cases amounting to less than RM5,000, there is the Small Claims Court where one does not need to hire a lawyer,'' he added. -The Star/ANN