Electricity Providers’ Requirement for a Security Deposit
The Ontario Energy Board Distribution System Code (the “OEB Code”) provides that all local electricity distributors’ Conditions of Service must fall within the framework of the OEB Code when requiring electricity security deposits from their customers. Given the above, when a condominium is presented with the requirement from an electricity distributor (ex. local municipal hydro corporation) to pay a security deposit, the Conditions of Service of the electricity distributor should be reviewed to ensure the request complies with the OEB Code. In short, the OEB Code does not always require new residential condominiums (as residential customers) to provide security deposits to electricity distributors. Section 2.4.10 of the OEB Code provides residential customers are deemed to have a “good payment history” (the absence of which allows for requiring a security deposit), unless one of the enumerated default events in section 2.4.9 has occurred. Being a new customer is not one of the listed events. More specifically, a condominium should be aware of some of the following provisions under the OEB Code:
1. Residential Condominiums are residential customers: under section 2.4.30A of the OEB Code condominiums with units predominantly used for residential purposes are “deemed a residential customer for the purposes of section 2.4.9” which provides the basis for the electricity distributor’s requirement of a security deposit.
2. Requirement for Security Deposit: section 2.4.9 of the OEB states in part (see below) that a security deposit can be required by the electricity distributor unless a residential customer has a good payment history of one (1) year subject to restrictions regarding calculating the good payment history period and reasons requiring the security deposit form the customer:
2.4.9 A distributor may require a security deposit from a customer who is not billed by a competitive retailer under retailer-consolidated billing unless the customer has a good payment history of 1 year in the case of a residential customer, 5 years in the case of a non-residential customer in a <50 kW demand rate class or 7 years in the case of a non-residential customer in any other rate class. The time period that makes up the good payment history must be the most recent period of time and some of the time period must have occurred in the previous 24 months. A distributor shall provide a customer with the specific reasons for requiring a security deposit from the customer.
*Note: recent amendments to section 2.4.9 that came into effect March 1, 2020, provide that before requiring a security deposit from a residential customer that has not been serviced by the electricity distributor in the previous twenty-four (24) months, the customer shall have the option to enroll in an equal payment plan, pre-authorized payment plan, or both. If one of such enrollment options is chosen no security deposit can be required unless there is default by the customer.
2.4.9A Before requiring a security deposit under section 2.4.9 from a residential customer who has not been served by the distributor in the previous 24 months, a distributor shall offer the customer the option of enrolling in an equal monthly payment plan in accordance with the Standard Supply System Code, a preauthorized payment plan, or both, and where the customer elects to enroll, no security deposit shall be required.
2.4.10 For the purposes of section 2.4.9, a customer is deemed to have a good payment history unless, during the relevant time period set out in section 2.4.9, the customer has received more than one disconnection notice from the distributor, more than one cheque given to the distributor by the customer has been returned for insufficient funds, more than one pre-authorized payment to the distributor has been returned for insufficient funds, a disconnect / collect trip has occurred or the distributor had to apply a security deposit in accordance with section 2.4.26A and required the customer to repay the security deposit in accordance with section 2.4.26B. If any of the preceding events occur due to an error by the distributor, the customer’s good payment history shall not be affected.
A plain reading of this section suggests condominiums should push back against electricity distributors requiring payment of a security deposit on the grounds they are already deemed to have a good payment history and have not committed any of the events of default listed in 2.4.10. This argument could be resisted by the fact the new customer is deemed to have a good payment history but 2.4.10 does not say the good payment history is deemed to be for the time period required by 2.4.9. However, 2.4.10 does note that the deeming of a good payment history is “for the purposes of 2.49”. As noted, not having a payment history is not one of the listed items that contradicts the deeming of a good payment history. This provision can also be especially important when electricity distributors try and require developers or condominium corporations to pay a security deposit for each subsequent phase after the initial registration of a standard condominium plan. It is possible the above position will be considered overruled by the amendment to the OEB set out in 2.4.9A and a new condominium may be forced to elect to enrol in one of the payment methods set out in that subsection. If this argument is resisted because of there being no payment history, the condominium should choose to enroll in an equal payment plan, pre-authorized payment plan, or both in light of the provisions in 2.4.9 that provide if one of such enrollment options is chosen no security deposit can be required.
3. Deemed Good Payment History: section 2.4.10 (see below) provides that in the absence of certain default events a customer shall be deemed to have a good payment history for the purposes of requiring a security deposit:
4. Amount of Security Deposit: Effective March 1, 2020 section 2.4.12 which sets out the formula for the maximum security deposit an electricity distributor can require reads:
The maximum amount of a security deposit which a distributor may require a customer to pay shall be calculated by multiplying the distributor’s billing cycle factor and the customer’s estimated bill (which shall be based on the customer’s average monthly load with the distributor during the most recent 12 consecutive months within the past two years). Where relevant usage information is not available for the customer for 12 consecutive months within the past two years or where the distributor does not have systems capable of making the above calculation, the customer’s average monthly load shall be based on a reasonable estimate made by the distributor.
Also, important to note is section 2.4.16 which establishes the billing cycle factor used in the formula:
2.4.16 For the purposes of sections 2.4.12, the billing cycle factor is 2.5 if the customer is billed monthly, 1.75 if the customer is billed bi-monthly and 1.5 if the customer is billed quarterly.
5. Payment of Security Deposit:If the condominium for some reason agrees to pay the electricity distributor’s security deposit, the condominium should be aware that sections 2.4.20 and 2.4.20A permit condominiums to pay the deposit in equal installments over at least 6 months rather than as a single lump-sum payment.
6. Review/Return of Security Deposit: sections 2.4.22-23 of the OEB Code provide that a customer’s security deposit must be reviewed by the electricity distributor at least once in a calendar year to confirm if the customer should be returned the deposit as it is now exempt in accordance with section 2.4.9. If payment of the deposit was made via equal installments the distributor’s review shall occur on the anniversary of the calendar year in which the customer made their first payment. Note: Section 2.4.28 contains provisions for returning the deposit to a 3rd party in situations where a 3rd party (ex. developer) paid the security deposit on behalf of a customer (ex. condominium) The electricity distributor also should have Conditions of Service that may provide further arguments against a requirement for a security deposit depending on how the Conditions of Service are written. If the local Conditions of Service contradict the OEB Code, the OEB Code overrides the local Conditions of Service according to Sections 1.4 and 1.5 of the OEB Code. It is therefore important for condominiums and developers to confirm if their electricity distributor’s Conditions of Service comply with the OEB Code’s standards when requiring a security deposit. If an electricity distributor continues to insist on a security deposit from a residential condominium or proposed residential condominium, the Consumer Complaint Response Process set out in Section 10 of the Code should be implemented. This process sets out some relatively short time periods for the electricity distributor to respond to the complaint. Condominiums must also ensure no default in payment occurs to their electricity distributor as default in payments opens the condominium up to having to pay a security deposit.