Ex-café owners stuck with huge BC Hydro bill

Two former café owners have been hit with a huge electricity bill, racked up two years after they closed their Vancouver restaurant, CBC News has uncovered.
Two former café owners have been hit with a big bill after they had closed their doors 3:00

Two former café owners have been hit with a huge electricity bill, racked up two years after they closed their Vancouver restaurant, CBC News has uncovered.

BC Hydro is standing by the bill, despite signs suggesting someone else was running a mysterious business at the supposedly unoccupied address.

Doug Thoms and Kirsten Hogan say they always dreamed of opening The Mermaid Café, a quaint daytime eatery in East Vancouver.

But shortly after opening the café on Knight Street near Kingsway, the couple learned the landlord was planning to demolish and rebuild.

Rather than invest in more renovations, Thoms and Hogan closed the café after just five months and cancelled all utilities, including, they say, their BC Hydro account.

Kirsten Hogan and Doug Thoms opened The Mermaid Café in 2010 (CBC)

"We've all had a dream in our life, kind of, die. We all remember that day. I remember being on the phone calling Shaw, and calling BC Hydro and calling the alarm people, to kill my own dream," said Thoms.

"I remember that day very, very clearly."

Since then, it appears someone else moved in to their shuttered café and was consuming power, racking up charges at almost double the rate the café had used.

This seems to have continued for almost two years until the landlord finally demolished the building, seven months ago.

CBC News tried to speak with Thoms and Hogan's former landlord Hai Thanh Nguyen, currently operator of Floating World tattoo parlour in Richmond, which was the scene of a shooting in January.

Nguyen refused to go on camera, but told CBC News he couldn't really say who was there after the tenants left.

Mysterious payments

While there's no proof Nguyen is responsible, whoever was behind the curtains at the shuttered address tried to cover up his or her power usage.

The BC Hydro account shows mysterious electricity charges, peaking at almost $700 every two months.

Equally mysterious payments were also made to the hydro account from various banks to keep the power flowing.

This continued until five months before the demolition.

BC Hydro then transferred the outstanding bill of more than $1500 to Thoms and Hogan's home account.

"We didn't see one single bill and so, how on earth are they sending us a bill for two years of service of other people's business, to our home address?," said Hogan.

"It makes no sense, it makes no sense. It's so completely shocking."

BC Hydro is threatening to cut off the couple's home electricity if payment is not made.

"It all adds up that something inappropriate was going on in the space after we left," said Hogan.

"And we're stuck with it according to BC Hydro."

CBC News contacted BC Hydro and a spokesperson admitted it does have a record of a phone call from the couple in October 2010, inquiring about cancelling their power.

But according to Director of Customer Care Jim Nicholson, the couple never actually cancelled.

"A search of our system indicated that no request was made by the customer to discontinue his service," he said.

"We understand the situation the customer is in, but we can't speak to the arrangement that was made between him and his landlord for the payment of the bill."

BC Hydro has no plans to forgive the outstanding bill.