HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Landlord On The Hook For $14,000 Hydro Bill
Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jun 2002
Source: Oakville Beaver (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002, Oakville Beaver
Author: Howard Mozel
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Oakville Hydro Won't Turn On Power Unless Bill Is Paid For Stolen Electricity

Ilija Herceg's dream of transforming his 100-year old house into a 
restaurant and winery is now a nightmare thanks to the marijuana growers 
who destroyed his property and left him a mammoth unpaid electricity bill.

"You have to be proven guilty before you're called a thief," said Herceg. 
"The criminals have more rights than the honest citizens."

Oakville Hydro has billed Herceg for $14,682.96 for 366 days worth of 
electricity theft and told him that power will not be reconnected until he 
settles up.

"I tried to talk reasonably, but they say 'you pay then we turn the power 
on,'" said Herceg. "Where am I going to find $15,000?"

According to Bob Myers, Oakville Hydro's Director of Energy, Herceg has no 
option but to pay and that the utility is obligated as a business to 
recover these costs.

"If a landlord decides to operate a business and generate revenue they're 
also exposed to the risks of doing that," said Myers. "They can't expect 
third parties to be exposed to the risks of their business."

Myers said Oakville Hydro has a firm cost recovery policy in place and that 
Herceg -- who Myers agrees is "obviously frustrated and upset" -- is "not 
being picked on."

"These grow houses have become a very extensive problem in our community 
here in Oakville and Oakville Hydro is losing significant amounts of 
revenue here at the cost of all our customers," said Myers. "In other 
words, it comes through in our rates and service, so we're trying to pursue 
this and recover all this revenue through theft of power and the 
adjustments ... are being applied against the homes."

Herceg, 56, wants Oakville Hydro to take him to court, where an impartial 
third party judge can decide if he has to pay -- a decision he will abide 
by. Only in court, he explained, will he have a venue in which to shine a 
bright public light on his situation.

Herceg believes a ruling in his favour would set an important precedent for 
all those other landlords who have been victimized. Herceg believes 
Oakville Hydro's position sends a message to all tenants -- not just those 
operating grow houses -- that they can stick landlords with their bills.

"I did nothing wrong," said Herceg, who in the past has suffered two heart 
attacks and endured related surgeries. "Now I'm a candidate for Trafalgar 
Lawn Cemetery."

The Ontario Energy Board Distribution Code says in part that "a distributor 
may recover from the parties responsible for the unauthorized energy use 
all costs incurred by the distributor arising from unauthorized energy use, 
including inspection and repair costs."

Herceg flatly denies he is responsible in any way and therefore should not 
have to pay.

Herceg, who fled Communist Croatia when he was 18, says during his 36 years 
in Canada he has not shamed his name nor his new country and has tried to 
be a better citizen than anyone.

"Now they're making me into a criminal," said Herceg, who would face 
prohibitive legal fees to wage what he calls a David versus Goliath fight 
against the utility.

Herceg's ordeal started on May 1, 2001 when he rented his house at Bronte 
Road and Dundas Street West to a man who told Herceg that he and his family 
would take occupation in July 2001. Hydro billing was transferred to the 
man on May 15, 2001.

At first, Herceg -- who has owned the property since 1994 and spent $50,000 
renovating -- had no inkling of the trouble to come. Although Herceg was 
never allowed past the kitchen when he picked up the rent, everything 
seemed normal down to the children playing in the yard.

In November 2001, a realtor friend of Herceg's found himself faced with a 
marijuana-growing operation that was busted by police in a north Oakville 

Suspicious of his own renters, Herceg visited Oakville Hydro and asked 
whether his lodgers were paying their electrical bill. He said he was told 
usage was high, but payments were up to date.

Just before Christmas 2001, Halton Regional Police raided five grow houses 
in one day, prompting Herceg to return to Oakville Hydro. Again, he said he 
was told consumption was high, but that the bills were paid. This time, 
though, Herceg said he was warned that he was "interfering" with the lives 
of his tenants.

Herceg stopped by his rental house in early January 2002 where he says the 
electrical meter was spinning "like crazy." After visiting his ailing 
mother down south until April, Herceg returned to his rental home to cut 
the long grass. Again, he saw that the meter was still rotating quickly.

Later that month, Herceg stopped an Oakville Hydro meter reader passing by 
and asked him to check his meter. He was told plenty of power was being 
drawn and that the equipment appeared to be working perfectly.

On May 16, Herceg received a call from Halton police Det. Larry Burns who 
asked him to come by his rental house. Upon arriving, he found the place 
surrounded by police officers who had discovered a sophisticated marijuana 
growing operation. They seized 467 plants with a potential street value of 
$467,000 plus $26,000 worth of growing equipment.

"My house was in shambles," said Herceg.

Damage included knotted webs of wiring throughout the house fished through 
holes drilled in the floors, apertures cut through ceilings and the roof to 
vent odours, a pile of dirt on the master bedroom floor and soil-filled 
pots everywhere. Even today you can smell chemicals that were mixed in an 
upstairs bathroom and see black mould growing on the floor.

"I didn't see any of it," said Herceg. "No one saw anything going in, no 
one saw anything coming out, but they had a full-blown operation."

Conspicuously absent, however, was the usual hydro meter bypass dug through 
the foundation under the breaker panel that is found in most grow houses.

Today, Herceg said he wants to see a month-by-month accounting of his 
tenant's power consumption, to be told when the bypass was done and how 
Oakville Hydro calculated the electricity theft -- especially since he said 
his tenants did not move in until two months after Oakville Hydro said the 
theft began.

"I have no meter, no power and no one to explain to me what's going on," 
said Herceg.

Unable to discuss the specifics of Herceg's case, Myers said the bypass was 
performed in the exterior meter. As for Herceg's bill, Myers said all 
account information is private, but he did allow that the figures were 
"calculated accurately."

Myers explained that the grow house phenomenon is so widespread in so many 
communities that the combined lost revenues are "staggering." Even so, he 
said Oakville Hydro is trying to work with landlords to make paying back 
their bills easier.

"We're between a rock and a hard place but we don't want to look like we're 
playing hardball," said Myers, who added that a balance must be struck 
between a handful of victims and the rest of Oakville Hydro's thousands of 
other customers.

Herceg, who can be reached at 905-465-0247, is seeking legal assistance and 
he would also like to hear from other landlords facing similar situations.

"I'm looking for help," said Herceg. "People with the same problem in 
southern Ontario and Oakville can call so we can have an attorney and take 
a class action. I'll take this to the Supreme Court if I have to.

"Right now, I'm in limbo. I have no electricity so my insurance company 
can't get to work and I can't get new tenants," Herceg continues. "This is 
going to put me in the cemetery or make me insane."
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