Consumer rights for utility disconnections.
Many states have some form of protections in place for consumers that are faced with a disconnection of their service. As all too many people know, having your natural gas, electricity, or power turned off can prevent someone from living in a home and in some cases it may even lead to homelessness. So states do what they can to ensure that this shut off process is regulated and adhered too.
States will give utility companies the right to shut off a customers account for non-payment. They will always need to provide some form of notice, which will vary by state. It can be as short as a few days to as long as 30 days. Some individuals do have additional rights though, as expanded on below. They may be provided additional time or maybe a special circumstance will just flat out prevent the disconnection of your power.
Disconnections in Cold Weather - Many states, in particular those in the northern portion of the country, will prevent electricity and natural gas companies from shutting off your power or heat during cold weather or maybe anytime during the winter. For example, some states will even prevent cutoffs of your utilities at any time from November through April. Some states will limit disconnections when cold weather is forecast and if the temperate is scheduled to drop below a certain point.
For these parts of the country the household will still need to eventually pay the bill. So it is not as if they are receiving free power or heat. However the resident will have more time to pay off their account and to bring it current. The utility company is generally required to set up a payment arrangement with the customer that will allow them to pay the arrearage on their account over several weeks or months.
Protections for the disabled, elderly, sick - While many utility and water companies have their own programs to assist these groups, many states also provide extra protection for these consumers. They will often give the sick, seniors, and disabled more time to pay any utility bill. They may also offer them discounts on their regular service or access to additional payment plans. However, the customer will need to provide that they would be at risk without power.
In most cases, individuals will need to give their utility company a note from their doctor or medical provider. They will need to do this before they fall behind on their account and absolutely within a week of receiving a cutoff notice. This note will need to provide the need for any extension or payment plan that may be needed as a result of the condition.
Renters legal rights - For people that are renting a home or an apartment, the tenants need to be notified of any upcoming disconnection. This is your right and is required in those cases in which the landlord controls the utility services for the entire property and if the tenant does not have a separate account. If you have such living arrangements, and if your landlord fails to pay the utility bills, states will generally prevent utility providers from cutting off your service without notice. Renters may need to be notified anywhere from 10 to 30 days in advance of any disconnection, depending on the state and their regulations. Tenants will also have the option to put the utility service into their own name.
Payment agreements or plans - The vast majority of electric, gas, and water companies will offer some type of program for their low income and struggling customers. Everyone has the right to at least inquire and request one. If your company and state supports this, consumers can usually only request a plan at most once per year. They are always binding though. For example, if you fail to make an agreed upon payment, on time, that may be due under the agreement, then your utility provider can proceed with the disconnection. This can usually occur with a very short notice. They are under no obligation or they won’t be required to continue to work with that customer.
Landlords can’t cut your power - It is illegal for your landlord to shut off your utilities in an effort to force a renter to leave the home or apartment. This is known as an Illegal forced eviction. If this were to occur it can serve as the basis of a civil lawsuit by the tenant and they can sue the landlord to recover any damages.
Consumer laws - The bottom line is that the various state laws and regulations regarding utility cut offs can be complicated and also vary by state and even company. Oftentimes the facts of each case are unique. If you have questions or need help, there are free legal aid programs that consumers can look into. Click legal assistance for free.