"Free" Home Energy Audit Costs Lots of Aggravation

Property liens threatened when DC doesn't pay $40,000

By Tom Sherwood
|  Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010  |  Updated 7:30 AM EDT
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A company that performed

A company that performed "free" energy audits wants D.C. to pay.

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It's enough to make you steaming mad.

About 100 homeowners in the District signed up for "free" energy audits offered by the D.C. government last winter. Inspectors went to homes to check for energy loss around windows, doors and basements. 

Joan and Richard Zorza of Cleveland Park, were happy to have the audit. The homeowners were given some advice on the spot, but a promised full report never showed up. What did show up was a letter saying the energy company that performed the audits, PEG of Fairfax, was putting property liens on all the homes audited because the city hadn't paid its bill.

The blunt letter was "pretty scary," said Joan Zorza, who said it "came out of the blue."

It turns out the city's energy office and PEG dispute how the foulup occurred.

City officials said PEG performed similar audits for two years and did a good job, but the company was not authorized to keep doing them because energy funds had run out. PEG disputes that, saying it had the city's go-ahead.

When homeowners began receiving the lien letters, they complained to Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who asked the company to apologize to the homeowners and stop any property lien efforts.

"There's no legal basis for this company to put liens on anybody's houses," Cheh said.

"The tiff is between them and us," said Christophe Tulou, of the D.C. Energy Office. "Sending the letter to homeowners was just bad judgement."

PEG will send a followup letter to the homeowners, saying no liens are being pursued, a PEG spokesman said.

"We understand regrettably that [the letter] caught a lot of people by surprise," PEG said.

The company insists it did its work properly and should be paid.

Cheh said she would hold a hearing in September to straighten out the dispute. In the meantime, she's glad homeowners won't be harrassed.

"I'm not surprised it scared them," she said. "If you got such a letter, you'd probably be anxious as well." 


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