• Report: #480481

Complaint Review: American Utility Management

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  • Submitted: Sat, August 15, 2009
  • Updated: Mon, August 17, 2009

  • Reported By: Douglas — Santa Clara California USA
American Utility Management
P.O. Box 4957 Oak Brook, Illinois United States of America

American Utility Management, AUM - Why I Don't Trust American Utility Management Santa Clara, California

* : Update by author

* : Summary and Conclusions

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Part 1. Text of my original complaint to BBB, submitted months after getting nowhere with AUM


The Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois
330 North Wabash Ave., Suite 2006
Chicago, IL 60649

31 March 2009

Dear BBB,

     I am bringing to your attention a list of complaints against the following company:
                             American Utility Management
                             P.O. Box 4957
                             Oak Brook, IL 60522-4957.
I have been striving since last Autumn to get answers to a number of questions, the most serious of which concerns the integrity of the bookkeeping at AUMs bill payment center in Los Angeles, CA. For your reference, copies of four letters are included as attachments:

Letter dated December 19, 2008 from Mr. Jeff Peterson to Douglas Krajnovich
Letter dated December 24, 2008 from Douglas and Virginia Krajnovich to AUM
Letter dated January 1, 2009 from Douglas Krajnovich to Mr. Peterson
Letter dated February 7, 2009 from Douglas and Virginia Krajnovich to AUM

NOTE: Mr. Peterson is Senior Vice President and General Counsel of AUM.
According to Ms. Parnella Williams, head of Customer Service of AUM, all of my complaints were referred to Mr. Jeff Peterson. I left phone messages for Mr. Peterson on three separate occasions (Jan. 29, Feb. 27, and Mar. 20). He never returned my calls.

Complaint #1
Mr. Petersons letter of Dec. 19, 2008 states you may manage your account online at no cost. To a simple-minded person being like me, managing my account involves 3 simple steps: reviewing my bill, deciding what to pay, and paying. There is, in fact, no way to pay ones monthly bill online at no cost. The only on-line bill pay option involves what AUM euphemistically refers to as a Convenience Fee. This so-called Convenience Fee would make Shylock blush. At $7.50, it is even larger that the so-called Late Payment charge if you pay by mail to the Los Angeles address and someone there (or in Oakbrook?) decides to mark it late. Mr. Peterson has refused to acknowledge or correct this misrepresentation of fact. As to why AUM calls this a Convenience Fee, I can only guess. Perhaps they are fans of George Orwells Nineteen Eighty Four where the Ministry of Love was where prisoners got taken to be tortured. Or perhaps they call it a Convenience Fee because it is very convenient for them, not for the unwilling captives of Third Party Billing.



Complaint #2
I have mailed all of my AUM bills on or before the due date. Yet I have been charged numerous late fees by AUM. Unlike the Internal Revenue Service, or my telephone company (AT&T), or my electric provider (City of Santa Clara), AUM Customer Service informed me by telephone that they neither record nor respect the postmark date as evidence of on-time payment. Further, they do not have a grace period. Further, mail delays are entirely my responsibility. Finally, there is no local address where I can pay my bill in person. Someone (or something) in Los Angeles evidently decides when my bill is received, but that someone or something is a closely guarded secret. Despite repeated requests, AUM has refused to give me the name, address, and phone number of any person working at their Los Angeles bill payment center. One Customer Service rep from the Oakbrook office told me on Jan. 2, 2009 that no human beings work at the Los Angeles office and then hung up on me. Another told me that human beings work there but they are not AUM employees. She would not give me a name or a phone number.



Experiment #1
As follow-up to Complaint #2, I performed an experiment. I mailed one of my payments by signature-guaranteed Express Mail to see if anyone would sign for it. I now have the name and handwritten signature of one person who works at the Los Angeles bill payment center. I also have proof that my AUM ledger entry for that month was post-dated by 2 days from the Express mail delivery date.



Experiment #2
Since I happen to be a scientist, I know the value of repeating an experiment to make sure the data is valid and not just a fluke. Therefore, I mailed another payment by Express mail. I now have the name of a second person who works at the Los Angeles bill payment center. My AUM ledger entry was again post-dated by 2 days.



Complaint #3
Without letting on that I had performed Experiments #1 and #2, I wrote to Mr. Peterson again on Feb. 7. The final sentence of that letter is the most important: I expect my ledger to be vouched for and signed by your President, Chief Financial Officer, or independent auditor since I have serious concerns about the bookkeeping at 4 REGULUS 90060. In one of my voicemails to the unresponsive Mr. Peterson, I read this sentence over the phone and demanded a written response. Seven weeks have elapsed. No response. Evidently no one at AUM is willing to stand by their ledger if it means signing their name to it.



Complaint #4
Since Mr. Peterson is missing in action, I pressed Ms. Parnella Williams on Mar. 12 for the name and telephone number of AUMs Chief Financial Officer. She refused to give it to me and referred me once again to you know who. I have more complaints besides these but these are the most significant. What I expect from AUM and the BBB: 1. An independent auditor should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the Los Angeles bill payment center and the results of the audit should be made public. 2. AUM should explain to me in writing how the records of the Los Angeles bill payment center are converted into the AUM ledger. 3. AUM should correct past wrongs by revising the ledgers of all AUM customers paying their bills through the Los Angeles bill payment center. Late fees already paid should be refunded (and late fees not paid should be erased) if the number of days late according to the current ledgers is than or equal to four. 4. All AUM customers should be allowed to pay their bill with their rent, and with the same due date and late date as their rent, without incurring any late fee or convenience fee. 5. Upon request, AUM and the apartment managers should agree to provide actual copies of the primary utility bills from each of the primary utility providers to any resident, along with the actual formulas used to calculate their share of each bill, including any fees or overhead that are in addition to their share of the primary utility bills, and who collects such fees and overhead, if any.


Sincerely,


Douglas K


_________________________________________________________________


TO BE CONTINUED...


 


This report was posted on Ripoff Report on 08/15/2009 04:05 PM and is a permanent record located here: http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/American-Utility-Management/Oak-Brook-Illinois-60522/American-Utility-Management-AUM-Why-I-Dont-Trust-American-Utility-Management-Santa-Cla-480481. The posting time indicated is Arizona local time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings so the post time may be Mountain or Pacific depending on the time of year.

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REBUTTALS & REPLIES:
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Updates & Rebuttals

#1

Update by author

AUTHOR: Douglas - (USA)

Part 2. Summary and Conclusions
(I tried posting this follow-up material yesterday but it didn't stick.  I'm trying again on 8/16/09 with slightly more detail. Sorry if this is too long.) 

1. AUM Customer Service repeatedly told me that payments are processed the same day that they are received, but no one would put this in writing or sign their name to it.  I was very doubtful that this was the case, which led me to perform my "experiments."
2. My experiments proved that even when payments are received by the due date at the Los Angeles address, and they are holding my payment in their hand, AUM and its unnamed subsidiary consider it fair and reasonable to let them ripen before processing them. If the ripening triggers a late fee, as it did in my case, so be it.
3. In my BBB complaint, I caught AUM red handed. Rather than accept responsibility and take corrective actions, the company spokesperson, Ms. Smurzynski, now changed the definition of the word "received." She wrote that ledger entries are not based on when payments are received, but on when payments are received and processed. Ms. Smurzynskis boss, Mr. Jeff Peterson, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, did not sign the AUM response to my BBB complaint (even though, according to Ms. Parnella Williams, head of Customer Service, all of my complaints had been referred solely to him). His paralegal, Ms. Smurzynski, was given this exclusive honor.
4. In parallel, I shared my BBB complaint with Ms. Rachel Hammond of Essex Property Trust. My understanding is that Essex Proprty Trust uses AUM for Third Party Utility Billing at all of their properties. Someone from Essex called AUM and ordered them to reverse all of my late fees.  AUM did so under duress, but never admitted any mistake or wrongdoing.
5. On 5/7/09 I called AUM and insisted on speaking to Ms. Smurzynski. She refused to come to the phone. I was routed for the 4th time to Mr. Petersons voicemail box. Since Mr. Peterson never once returned my phone calls, I hung up and dialed again. When I again insisted on speaking to Ms. Smurzynski, Mr. Peterson finally came to the phone for our one and only conversation (as of 5/30/09). Mr. Peterson said that he agreed with everything that Ms. Smurzynski had written even though he hadnt signed his name to it. He emphasized again that late fees are based on when a payment is processed, not when it is received. When I pointed out that my Unit Account Ledger Report uses the word "received," not "processed," he insisted that everything was proper and that no correction or apology would be forthcoming. He said that in the best case, if a payment is received at 7 a.m., it would be processed the next day. Since the Post Office does not deliver mail at 7 a.m., this means that if a payment is received yesterday, in the best case it will be processed tomorrow. A minimum two day delay. This is contrary to what AUM Customer Service told me, contrary to common sense, contrary to decency, and I would hope, contrary to the law. 
6. Mr. Peterson's semantic contortions reminded me of Bill Clinton explaining that whether he had lied about having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky depended on what the meaning of is is. (I forgive Ms. Smurszynski and will not besmirch her honor since she is subordinate to Mr. Peterson. I believe that Mr. Peterson is the architect of AUM's polices.)
7. For the record, I also asked Mr. Peterson point blank for the name and phone # of AUMs Chief Financial Officer and their independent auditor. He refused to provide either. He also refused to provide the name of the company that runs their bill payment center in Los Angeles.
8. My rebuttal to AUM's fantastic response included the following:
   "It should be obvious to any person of average intelligence that the only reason I resorted to Express mail was to get proof that there was some funny business going on at the lock box company or between the lock box company and AUM. I cannot prove that the falsification of my ledger was done on purpose (i.e., to generate more late fees) but that was the net result. The way I was raised (in the great state of Illinois) such a flexible attitude about what constitutes on time payment would land someone in real trouble.
   "I continue to claim that my AUM ledger is incorrect. I want it corrected. Alternatively, I want the President, Chief Financial Officer, or independent auditor of AUM to vouch for it in writing. I want all of my late fees dropped after my ledger is corrected. I do not want my late fees waived. I want them rescinded, with an explanation of why the irregularities at 4 REGULUS 90060 will never happen again."
9. In AUMs final response to my BBB complaint, again signed by Ms. Smurzynski alone, AUM provided no new information or corrective actions. They basically took the 5th amendment. My BBB case was administratively closed as unresolved.
10. On May 21, 2009, perhaps in response to my BBB complaint, my apartment complex agreed to let residents pay their AUM bills with their rent. I thought this was a small victory, but it is not going well.  My Mom was charged late fees the first two months this policy went into effect. I have not been charged a let fee yet, but the dates on my AUM ledger differ from the dates on my Marina Cove receipt in 2 out of 3 months.  (For one month, the AUM ledger date actually precedes the date I paid, proving that AUM is also capable ot time travel.)

NET RESULT: Of the 5 requests made in my BBB complaint, none were satisfactorily addressed by AUM. One was supposedly addressed by Marina Cove, but it has backfired and made matters even worse.

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#2

Summary and Conclusions

AUTHOR: Douglas - (USA)

Summary and Conclusions
1. AUM does not respect postmark date as proof of on-time payment. The customer is solely responsible for mail delays both to and from AUM.
2. Until May 20, 2009, we did not have an option to make on-site payments. My apartment complex, Marina Cove Apartments (owned by Essex Property Trust) notified all residents on May 21, 2009 that they would start accepting on-site payments, due in part to the evidence presented in my BBB complaint. We thought this was a small victory. But my Mom has already been charged two late fees even though her payments were made in plenty of time. It is a full-time job correcting AUM's "mistakes."
3. Perhaps aggrieved that their late fees have gone down (this is just a guess on my part), AUM has moved up their due date to the day before the rent is due!  Never before since we lived here was the AUM due date before the 1st of the month. Now it is the last day of the preceding month. Marina Cove tells residents that they can pay their AUM bills with our rent and "save a stamp" -- and now they have the nerve to tell us it is late anyway.
4. AUM Customer Service repeatedly told me that payments are "processed the same day that they are received," but no one would put this in writing or sign their name to it. My experiments prove that even when payments are received by the due date, AUM considers it fair and reasonable to let them ripen before processing them. If the ripening triggers a late fee, how convenient.
5. In my BBB complaint, I caught AUM red handed. Rather than accept responsibility and take corrective actions, the company spokesperson, Ms. Smurzynski, now changes the story. She writes that ledger entries are not based on when payments are received, but on when payments are received and processed. Ms. Smurzynskis boss, Mr. Jeff Peterson, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, did not sign either of the AUM responses to my BBB complaint (even though, according to Ms. Parnella Williams, head of Customer Service, all of my complaints had been referred solely to him). His paralegal, Ms. Smurzynski, was given this honor.
6. When I called AUM on May 7 and insisted on speaking to Ms. Smurzynski, she refused to come to the phone. I was routed for the 4th time to Mr. Petersons voicemail box. Since Mr. Peterson never once returned my letters or phone calls, I hung up and dialed again. When I again insisted on speaking to Ms. Smurzynski, Mr. Peterson finally came to the phone for our one and only conversation. Mr. Peterson said that he agreed with everything that Ms. Smurzynski had written even though he hadnt signed his name to it. He emphasized again that late fees are based on when a payment is processed, not when it is received. When I pointed out that my Unit Account Ledger Report does not say "processed" it says "received, he repeated that everything was proper and that no correction or apology would be forthcoming. He reminded me of Bill Clinton explaining that whether he had lied about having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky depended on what the meaning of is is. (I forgive Ms. Smurszynski and will not besmirch her honor since she is subordinate to Mr. Peterson.)
7. For the record, I asked Mr. Peterson point blank for the name and phone # of AUMs Chief Financial Officer and their independent auditor. He refused to provide either. He also refused to provide the name of the company that runs their bill payment center in Los Angeles.
8.  In AUMs final response to my BBB complaint, again signed by Ms. Smurzynski alone, AUM provided no new information or corrective actions. They basically took the 5th amendment. The BBB closed the case as unresolved.

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