12 ON YOUR SIDE: Check your propane gas contracts

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Hot as it is this summer, you probably don't want to think about heating your home this winter, but if you use propane gas or have appliances that need it to work, now is the time to check your contract.

The terms could give you ownership power, or put you at the mercy of the supplier.

When you own the tank, there are no tank fees. The customer is free to check prices and call any company they want to deliver.

If you're leasing, you're locked into one company, unless you can change the contract, or end the business relationship.

"[My tank has] been sitting there since December '02," said Barbara Upshaw.

The propane tank has sat on the other side of Barbara Upshaw's window for ten years without notice from any company until now, discussing a tank rental fee.

Barbara said she bought the tank from Surburban Propane, her original supplier years ago.

"My husband said, 'I don't want any trouble down the road.' They said, 'There will not be any trouble down the road. It belongs to you.' That was in December of '02," said Upshaw.

Trouble arrived in a letter from Revere Gas. Customers like Barbara will be charged $78 a year — a rental fee for not using more propane.

Use more, and Revere Gas will provide you a tank at no cost. It's become standard in the industry, but no less frustrating for customers.

A company-owned tank means it's illegal for another business to deliver gas and the customer is locked into paying that one supplier's price.

"I would check around every year, and I plan to do it this year to see who's more reasonable. I hadn't been buying my propane from Revere, and I didn't have any reason to think I was obligated to them."

Revere Gas said if the customer has a contract to prove tank ownership, they'll honor it. Revere bought Suburban in 2004. It produced a copy of Barbara's contract under Suburban Propane that shows a 'Y' — presumably indicating 'Yes' the tank is company-owned.

Barbara is upset after believing she owned the tank the past 10 years, why is she just now hearing from Revere?

"I think they're trying to get every nickel they can get from anybody on the face of this earth. This is not my bill. I own this."

Neither side is budging.

Revere Gas said it 'realigned' its service areas and is addressing under-utilized tanks. The company has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

If you have an issue with any business, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, and the State Division of Consumer Affairs.

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