Saturday, December 14, 2013

Consider it all joy when you encounter difficulties

I arrived in Budapest from the US Wednesday night just in time for a quiet Thanksgiving with family. After a nice Thanksgiving dinner things got interesting. Here is the story of that first week home.

We tried to get the heat working upstairs. We noticed that the water pressure in the floor heating was almost zero, so we connected a hose and added more water, this brought the pressure to 1.5 bars. About 9pm I noticed the radiator spraying a stream of water in my office. Help! We frantically tried to figure out how to turn off the flow, turn off the heating system, mop up the floor. The water was filthy. What a mess!

We then invested a few days trying to replace the radiator, flush the system, and figure out what valves work which rooms so we could heat all the rooms upstairs. The previous owners had apparently not flushed the system or done much to adjust it and had even gotten a portable electric heater for one room. After a week we have it working pretty well, if you don't count the bucket under the radiator that fills up every few days.

On our way home from church on Sunday a police car pulled us over. Actually there was no where to pull over, it was a 4 lane highway with no shoulder so we had to stop in the lane of traffic. The car had no special markings, but they held a paddle out the window and when they got out, sure enough they had police uniforms. Fortunately Luiza was driving. :)

Our vehicle inspection was out of date. When they finished ticketing us and drove off, we were eager to get out of the road, but our car was not. It would not start. I had just charged up the battery and was considering replacing it, but it started fine at home and at church. Now here we were in nice clothes, with 3 boys in the backseat, in the middle of a highway, in trouble.

I got out and held up jumper cables. Finally a nice woman with kids in the backseat stopped. When she saw I didn't understand a word of Hungarian she apologized and switched to English. She tried to maneuver her car onto the curb and beside us, but her battery was too small to help. Then I ran across the highway to a gas station to buy a tow cable because in my panic I forgot to check under the spare tire where I already had one. The lady towed us across 3 lanes of traffic to safety and later that day we returned with our diesel car and got the car started. The car stayed in our garage for over a week because we had to first change our address cards, then get a new battery, then have a vehicle inspection. Finally, it is finished.

We arrived home from work at 16:00 on Wednesday December 4, 2013 to discover that our electricity was off. We checked the electric panel but no circuit breakers were off. We consulted with neighbors but they had not lost electricity. We called Elmu customer service but there was no answer. Then we called a problem report number and waited 15 minutes for a response. We asked for an English speaking employee and reached Ildiko. She explained that we had an unpaid bill of $40 from September and that our power had been turned off. We were shocked! They shut off power in the winter without any warning?! Don't they call?! We pointed out that we had paid all of our recent bills in full and did not see any unpaid balance.  (Later we discovered that we had paid 3 invoices from Elmu that were not in their system.)

We asked what we could do to resolve the problem quickly. Ildiko explained that based on our Diosd location that we could visit the Erd office the next day after 12:00. There were also Elmu offices in Dunakezi and Szentendre that could help us today until 18:00, but there was no way power could be restored within 24 hours because the workers who turn on the power don’t work after 15:00. It was hard to believe that Elmu offered no recourse no solution is this type of emergency, which they had created. Our lives had been thrown into chaos.

I called someone and asked them to send out an email for people to pray about our situation. Our immediate concern was protecting our house from frozen pipes and radiators with a temperature of -3C. Our gas furnace depends on electricity. We also have 3 small children and food stored in the freezer. We started driving to Dunakeszi, then realized that we might not reach this office across the city by 18:00. (According to elmu.hu the office would have been closed anyway.) We asked a neighbor for help. Our neighbor called Elmu for us and tried to reason with customer service. He drove us to the Csepel Plaza office. We arrived at 5:59pm and they refused to let us in. We survived the night thanks to help from neighbors and others but our review of the Elmu invoices left us convinced that we had actually overpaid. A Hungarian accountant also looked at our records and agreed.

Thursday we collected all our invoices and payments and presented them in the Erd office. No one in the office spoke English so another customer helped us. The entire visit took 2 hours.  Our main goal was to pay whatever money was necessary to get the power on. The Elmu representative was not interested in how much we had paid over the last 6 months or how many kilowatt hours we had used, but only that there was one invoice from September that had not been paid. The fact that we had paid other duplicate invoices of similar amounts that were not in her system made no difference. She said that our original contract had been set to not pay based on meter readings but a standard monthly amount. This was another surprise and did not match our experience. Our invoices each month were not identical in amount. We had entered meter readings online and they were accepted and reflected in the next invoice. It became clear we could not get an explanation of why our power was turned off in this office, but needed to speak with someone in English at the main Elmu office at Vaci utca. So we filled out new forms to switch our contract to actual amounts, hoping this would avoid confusion in the future.

We were not given any copies of this new contract, but were required to pay a 17.000HUF ($75) reconnect fee. We were told that workers could come as late as 20:00 to turn on our electricity, or possibly the next day until 20:00, and that we were required to be home to let them in and sign the papers. If we are not there when the workers come they will leave a paper and we must return to the Erd office to issue a new reconnection order. Incredible! We are supposed to sit home in a cold dark house, perhaps for 24 hours. They didn’t need us home to turn off the power.

Workers did arrive within 5 hours and turned on the power. So they do work after 15:00, unlike what one employee had told us. The next day we were free to go to the main Elmu office. There we learned that three of the invoices we had paid by bank transfer were not in their system. Fortunately we had brought all the transaction details from the bank. Some of their responses were humorous: “We don’t have those invoices in our system." "How could you have paid this bill mailed July 22nd on July 7th?” Luiza responded, “You tell me. Elmu sent these invoices, I just pay them.” Hopefully we will learn how Elmu missed these invoices and payments, but until now we have been unable to communicate with anyone at the company who can tell us what went wrong. We also have no apology. My main concern is fixing their systems so this doesn't continue to happen to many other people. Luiza called Elmu again on Dec. 16th and was told that we should have a reply to her email within 2 weeks.