Neighbor tied into panel?


Old 05-13-10, 08:51 PM
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Neighbor tied into panel?

I live on the third floor of an older building and share a central wall with a neighbor. My panel and meter are located in an addition to the building right next to this central wall.

A few days ago I was cleaning in the area and glanced at the meter. It was hardly moving -- makes sense, as I was alone in the apartment, was not using any appliances and had not recently used any hot water. Suddenly I hear a noise like some kind of tool or appliance in my neighbor's apartment, glance at the meter again and see it spinning rather fast.

To me this information indicates that my neighbor might be tied into my panel somehow (at any point during construction or renovations someone could have mistakenly -- or lazily -- connected one of his circuits (sounds like it is on his side of the common wall) to my box. I don't know what it is but if it's the case that he's tied into my panel, I don't want to pay for it.

I called the property manager (who had previously lived in my apartment for several years) who said she thought it was highly unlikely that anything was connected to my panel. She suggested that it was my water heater doing this. I doubt it since the meter went from barely moving to spinning rapidly without any activity, but I suppose it might be possible. I'm left with a number of choices now:

1) I can wait until I hear the noise again, check my meter and see the result (not very reliable, especially if I'm using appliances myself at the time)
2) I can try to map out everything in my panel, shut off anything I don't recognize, and see if my neighbor complains
3) I can wait until the meter spins quickly or I hear the noise, shut off the water heater and see the result (not very reliable either)

The problem with both 2 and 3 is that I don't know how to remove the fuse holder. It's an older panel; there's a number of screw-in fuses for the smaller circuits (receptacles, lights, etc.) and large fuse holders for the others (range, dryer, water heater, etc.). Some of them have a sort of metal handle that can be used, I assume, to pull out the holder, but the water heater's fuse holder doesn't have anything like that. I can't find a picture of the fuse holder online (but I'll try to take a picture of the box ASAP) but it's a CEB PS-230; it's black and takes up the space used by two screw-in fuses and has a hole on the bottom side.

Is there another way to determine whether my neighbor is using a circuit tied into my box? How can I remove the fuse holders?

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Old 05-13-10, 09:57 PM
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When you here the noise and see the meter dance turn off the main breaker. If the noise stops that is a pretty good indication. In fact I'd quickly flip the main breaker back on if the noise starts up that is strike two.
Old 05-14-10, 05:02 AM
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Since it is an apartment there might not be a main you can pull to disconnect the panel. To remove the fuse holders grasp the handle and give it a good pull. The whole thing should come out, disconnect the power, and you will be able to access the fuses inside the part in your hand.

It is very possible that over the years that circuits got mixed together. This might not be an issue if you do not pay directly the electric bill on that meter like what is done with many commercial buildings. You pay a flat rental fee.
Old 05-14-10, 06:59 AM
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Yes, post a photo of the problematic fuse.

I've dealt with a few of these situations in Wisconsin, and here's how it works here, although it may be different where you are.

Landlord or tenant has a suspicion of a problem. Somebody contacts the utility. The utility contacts the landlord, advises them of the complaint, requests an appointment time, and asks management to let tenants know there will be some electrical work done. The meter audit crew, escorted by the landlord or designee, shuts off the meters one by one and checks each unit's lights and receps to see what is and is not powered by each meter. They have a list of all customers, apartment numbers, and meters at the address.

If a customer complains and the landlord (or another tenant) will not cooperate, state law requires the utility to bill the landlord for all disputed meter(s) unless the utility can verify proper operation. The rationale for this should be obvious.

The law also requires that if there is tenant metering, the tenant shall have access to circuit breakers controlling all electricity powering their unit. (Note that this may include just branch circuit breakers and fuses, and not necessarily a place outside the unit where a meter and main breaker or switch for each unit is located)

If you are not getting a reasonable response from your landlord (I love hearing stories about dolt landlords who just want to assume whatever makes less work for them), you should contact either the power utility or the public utility commission that regulates your area.

As far as getting credit for back billing, if a problem is found, you will want to get as much info as you can get, including photos of the improper connections, testimony from the other tenant and landlord, auditors, and so on. Sometimes it's not worth the trouble if it's just one receptacle with a clock radio plugged in, but if it's a water heater or an air conditioner, you may consider making a claim. If this is found to be the case, again, your public utilities commission is the appropriate agency to advise you how to deal with the utility.

Good luck.

Edit: One more thing, before telling anyone about suspicions, I put a seal on a panel screw head or an inconspicuous spot so I could see if somebody opened up a panel to undo their dirty work in the interim.
Old 05-14-10, 03:00 PM
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Quite some time back I lived in an apartment complex with 2 up and 2 down and a common staircase/lobby type set up. I noticed one day there were only 4 meters. How were the receptacles and lights operated in the stairwell and lobby, as well as the common washing machine? You guessed it, off my panel. Luckily dryer was on someone elses panel, I guess. Everytime someone came in to work or clean the lobby, I began shutting off that particular breaker to prevent them from doing their thing on my dime. It turned out to be a circuit controlling a dining room light and closet light, right next to the hallway. I guess when they wired the place they just kept going with the cable to the lobby.
Old 05-14-10, 03:40 PM
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My youngest son used to have a MH in a park. The county got on the park owner about not having any street lights so he installed some half a$$ ones - 12' 4x4 sunk in the ground wired up to the nearest box. Every time they moved a MH out of the next door lot, the light went out, when a new MH got put in and the lights hooked up - the street light came back on. I'm sure all the lights were wired in this manner.

I was happy when my son sold his MH and bought a house. The park owner did a lot of things that bordered on illegal and even more that showed just what kind of guy he was
Old 05-17-10, 08:38 AM
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I used to live in a four-unit townhouse. One day, I was snooping around, and noticed that the 1/2 HP submersible well pump which provided water for the underground sprinkling system was tied into my A/C disconnect box. I was paying for the usage of the well pump supplying the common areas irrigation water. I complained to the landlord, and his only response was to compare my bill to the neighbor's electric bill, and he'd refund the difference. Since I lived alone and did not cook or do laundry, my bill was always lower than the neighbors, who did laundry and cooked. I worked for the local utility company at the time, and they said since the problem was on the customer's side of the electric meter, there was nothing they could do.
Old 05-17-10, 09:03 AM
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Beachboy I can tell you what would have happened to that connection if it had been on my meter.

I worked for an apartment complex that had a fountain in the common area on a tenant meter and they discounted the rent but you have to wonder what happened after the complex was sold. I bet the new oweners didn't continue the discount to the next tenant.
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