Jessica Castro, a restaurant server who moved to the District last June, has always thought of her Shaw neighborhood apartment as a residence. Pepco doesn’t seem to think so.

Castro’s place sits above two floors of offices, so the electric company says it is classified as “non-residential.”

This might be a minor technicality if that status didn’t also translate into higher electric bills.

After calling for months, Castro finally went down to Pepco’s headquarters, determined to see someone in person. Once in the lobby, they presented her with another “courtesy” phone, and told her to call customer relations.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” she says. “I wanted to talk to a person, but you just use a courtesy phone in the lobby.”

Being classified a “non-resident” has cost Catro approximately an extra $50 on December’s bill, an extra $100 on January’s, and an extra $120 this month. She’s been trying to get the status changed since June.

“On our first bill we were classified as a non-residential account,” she says. “I called them to get that changed and our account was put under investigation.”

But that “investigation” didn’t change anything.

“After a month or so we were told that our building was zoned as non-residential,” she says. Pepco told Castro “there was nothing they could do.”

Castro’s landlord, who argues that unit has always been residential, started contacting Pepco as well. Finally, Castro’s bills started getting lower, so she figured someone at Pepco had fixed the glitch.

Then November’s bill arrived.

Castro is from California, and she figured her summer bills (averaging around from $200 a month) had been mainly because of air conditioning. Once the winter arrived, she and her roommate hadn’t planned on using electric heat much at all.

Castro says the two offices below her use plenty of heat, saving her and her roommate from having to turn on the electric heater themselves.

“We are fortunate because we are on the third floor,” she says. “The heat rises up… generally our apartment stays between 65 and 72 degrees.”

“We don’t need to use the heater,” she explains. “We’re conscientious people… when it gets colder than that [i.e., the heat from the offices], we just bundle up.”

So, when Castro received her bill in December, she figured it would be pretty affordable. It wasn’t.

“It was $272,” she says. “I was dumbfounded—I figured it would be lower… it was more expensive than whatever we had paid before.”

According to the D.C. Public Service Commission’s price calculator, her bill had been hiked $51 due to being a “non-residence.” But the rest of the tab, Castro surmised, was a result of a bad meter or faulty wiring.

Cue more phone calls, and more run-around from the folks at Pepco.

The bill she got in January was even worse—$575. Pepco said their usage had tripled. Also, they were still a “non-residential unit.” (Added price: $99.)

That’s when Castro marched down to Pepco headquarters, determined to finally talk to someone, in person and was presented with yet another phone.

She called someone, got transferred around, and finally lodged her complaint with an official.

He thought she was lying.

“The guy didn’t believe me,” she says. “He said ‘it’s 30 degrees’… he didn’t believe that we weren’t using our heater.”

When Castro finally convinced him, Pepco’s representative said they’d re-read her meter.

“He said Pepco would get back to us in about a week,” she says. “That was Jan. 14, and I have yet to hear anything from him.”

But Pepco did send along her next bill—for $671. (She’s still living in a “non-residential unit,” by the way, raising her price $119.)

“I called Pepco again,” she says. “They said ‘we re-ran your meter and we’re right.’”

“Pepco pretty much said ‘it’s on you—we didn’t do anything wrong,” Castro continues. “I have no idea what to do.”

Castro says there was some electrical work done on her apartment recently, so there’s a chance some wiring has gone seriously wrong and the problem is on her end.

“But, either way—Pepco’s handled this so poorly,” she says. “I am so fed up with them.”

City Desk contacted Pepco about Castro’s problem. They said they’d look into it, but (“because of the President’s Day holiday,” their spokesman explained) they wouldn’t be able to come back with an answer before March 1.

When City Desk pressed on why Castro’s apartment is still classified as “non-residential”, Clay Anderson, Pepco’s senior media representative, sent along this response:

“Due to privacy considerations, Pepco can not discuss individual customer’s account information,” he wrote. “It would be in the customer’s best interest to continue to reach out us to resolve this matter.”

Castro’s not sure how else she’s supposed to “continue to reach out.”

“I mean, I talked to them yesterday, and they said there’s no problem on their end,” she says. “But when you have a two-bedroom apartment and a $600 a month bill, there’s a problem.”

She sighs.

“I just don’t know how else to reach out to them.”

Photo by Flickr user Daquella manera using an Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license