Have you recently received a Sacramento Municipal Utility District (“SMUD”) bill for substantially more than you usually owe? If SMUD is alleging that you owe them many thousands of dollars out of the blue, this may be the beginning of a serious legal matter.
I have seen clients with SMUD bills in excess of $100,000 without any explanation. In these cases, we ultimately discovered that SMUD was alleging that the customer was stealing power from SMUD. Not only does this result in a massive electricity bill, but criminal charges can be brought against the customer as well.
Believe it or not, power theft is a prevalent issue nation-wide. According to industry research, it is estimated that up to $6 billion of electricity is pirated in the US every year.
What to do if you receive a massive SMUD bill
If SMUD is alleging you are guilty of power theft, they will send you a bill for the amount of power they believe was misappropriated. Many times this is the first notice that a SMUD customer receives that they are under investigation for power theft.
You need to keep this in mind: the initial bill that SMUD provides is just an estimate. SMUD doesn’t actually know how much power is used by a particular location unless the electricity meter tells them.
Instead, SMUD assesses what was plugged in, how long service was on, and other factors that are difficult to measure. Again, these numbers are just estimates.
Because of this, the estimates are often materially incorrect. Another problem is that SMUD does not differentiate between actual power theft and technical problems with power service. SMUD leaves it up to the customer to prove their innocence.
The Problem with SMUD Power Theft Allegations
SMUD will often target people who are not actually responsible for power theft. SMUD will go after anyone they can, including folkds that are merely associated with the SMUD account or the property.
In all cases we’ve seen, the individual who is being targeted is completely unaware of any wrongdoing on their property, nor were they responsible for the power theft.
However, there are laws and court cases that hold that account holders and property owners can still be on the hook for power theft even if they weren’t personally responsible.
If you believe that SMUD is accusing you of illegally accessing power, contact an attorney immediately. These allegations are serious, and may be grounds to commence a criminal investigation. SMUD also has the ability to seek treble damages for power theft, meaning that SMUD will file a lawsuit seeking triple the amount of the alleged power theft.