Can a Utility Company Deny You Service? (Know Your Rights)
We depend on utility companies to provide us with electricity, water, and gas. However, sometimes the administrative details might be frustrating, especially if you have bad credit. So, can a utility company really deny you a service?
If the utility company has a proper cause, they can deny you service. A proper cause would be a previous unpaid bill, refusal to pay a deposit, or refusal to comply with the company rules. Most other reasons would not be sufficient to deny services.
If a utility company does deny you a service, they would send you a formal notice which states the reason for denial and what you can do. This article will look at the laws and regulations regarding utility companies.
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Here’s a Quick Pro Tip!
Since the only way that a utility company can deny you service is with an unpaid bill, let’s look at some products that you can use to reduce your energy consumption. Using all three could cause a significant decrease in your bill.
The best products to reduce your energy consumption
1. LED lights – Conserves up to 75% of energy
2. Airfryer – Uses less energy than a traditional oven
3. Dishwasher – Surprisingly, a dishwasher uses less water than washing your dishes by hand.
Terminating Utility Services
Utility companies cannot shut off services on a whim. There are prescribed procedures and regulations that they need to follow. Let’s have a look at the procedures you can expect according to the law.
Can You Be Denied Electricity Service?
A utility company can deny you services under certain specific circumstances, however, in most cases, it can be disputed with the help of a lawyer. If an electric company tries to deny any services to you, you should request formal documentation.
This document should state why the company is denying you a service, and how you can obtain said service. The most common reason for denying service is if you owe the company money for previous services.
How to Fight the Utility Company?
The first step would be to lodge a complaint with the utility company and gather all the necessary documents related to your complaint, whether it be bills or any written correspondence.
If you feel that you have sufficient evidence to sue a utility company or fight back a case, you should contact a local government lawyer. These lawyers have the expertise that would help you to further your case.
You might also enjoy our post on If You Can Share Electricity
Can My Utilities Be Shut Off Immediately?
Your utility bill cannot legally be shut off immediately or on very short notice. The company has to send you a termination notice at least 15 days before the scheduled termination date.
Some states have a minimum of 30 days’ notice before termination, while the company must wait until you are at least 20 days late in your bill before they can send you a termination notice.
The exact number of days differs per state.
How Quickly Will a Company Shut Off Services for Non-payment?
A utility company can only be shut off 15 days after you’ve received a termination notice. The company cannot threaten to turn off your services immediately since that would violate your consumer rights.
The company also can only send a termination notice at least 20 days after you miss a bill payment. So, if you did not pay your bill, you can expect to still have access to your services for at least 45 days.
Getting Help With Your Bills
Utility bills can be quite overwhelming if you already don’t have enough money to cover your basis. Luckily there are organizations and payment plans to help you out of a pickle before the utility company mentions the T word (termination).
How Can I Get Help With My Electric Bill?
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides help when you’re struggling to pay your electric bill. Their focus is to reduce the cost of your electricity by assisting you in being more energy efficient.
LIHEAP mainly focuses on assisting with cooling and heating bills. If you’re having any other more immediate troubles, you can search local nonprofits in your area which could assist you in funds for your bill.
You might also enjoy our post on If a Utility Bill Pole Can Be Moved
How Late Can You Be On Your Electric Bill Before They Shut It Off?
The utility company can shut off your electric bill 15 days after sending you the termination notice. This formal notice indicates the exact date when your utilities will be shut off and the steps to prevent termination.
A termination notice can only be sent at least 20 days after your overdue bill, meaning 20 days after you were supposed to pay your bill.
So, in reality, your electricity will only be shut off after 45 days.
How Can I Get My Electricity Turned Back on With No Money?
Three organizations can assist with unpaid electricity bills. Local non-profit charities, the government, and utility companies. All three of these options have various programs that you could utilize.
Contact your utility company and ask them if they have any programs that assist with paying your electric bill. If not, search for a local charity that helps with utility bills. You can also reach out to the federally funded LIHEAP organization.
Can I Get My Electric Debt Written Off?
The only way for utility debt to be written off or discharged is through bankruptcy. To declare bankruptcy, you should be able to prove that your debts are more than you would be able to cover.
When you recover from bankruptcy, you can contact the utility company to reinstate their services. They might require a 25% deposit based on the debt that was discharged.
However, every utility company has different regulations.
Shut-Offs Laws and Regulations
There are a few conditions that prohibit a utility company from shutting off its services. These are not easy to meet, but if you do, your unpaid bills will be overlooked for a while. Let’s discuss these conditions and regulations.
When Can Utilities Not Be Shut Off?
The exact specifications differ per state, but in most cases, your power can not be shut off if you have an infant under one-year-old living in the house. Your power, gas, and water services should continue even if you can’t afford to pay the bill.
The child’s age would need to be proven, and you would need to submit a financial hardship form. Another reason your utilities cannot be shut off is that all the household members are over 65 years old.
What Are the Water Shut-off Laws?
Under certain circumstances, the utility company can shut off your water. However, this is not something that can be decided and done within a day. A water company needs to give you at least 15 days’ notice before termination.
Your water cannot be shut off due to tampering with your meter or stealing water. The water company can only shut off your water if you fail to pay a bill/deposit or block the company from accessing its equipment.
What Are the Electricity Shut-off Laws?
The electricity provider cannot shut off the power without any prior warning. The company has to send a formal notice of termination 15 days before, and the notice should state how the owner could avoid termination.
Even if you owe a large amount to the company, they cannot require you to pay the whole amount upfront to avoid termination.
The company should work with you to create a payment plan and keep the power on.
Can My Electricity Be Shut Off in Winter?
Every state has different policies, and most agree that utility companies should not shut off services (water, gas, or electricity) if the weather is life-threatening. These policies are not season-based but weather-based.
This means that the utility companies have a minimum temperature, usually 32ºF, below which they are not allowed to terminate services for an unpaid bill.
Once the temperature rises over 32ºF, the company has the right to shut off their services due to unpaid bills.
What Months Can Your Electricity Not Be Shut Off?
Electric companies cannot and will not shut off your power during months with life-threatening temperatures. This could be either extremely cold states in the north or extremely hot states in the south.
The exact temperatures differ per state, but most have the minimum limit of 32ºF and 95ºF. If the temperature falls within this bracket, the company can shut off your power for an unpaid bill.
However, if the temperature falls outside this bracket, the company may not shut off your power.
Can the Water Company Cut You Off?
The water company can cut you off if you fail to pay your bills. However, it may not be an immediate termination. The company would need to send a termination notice stating exactly why they are terminating the services and how you can prevent it.
The client would also get a grace period of at least 15 days after the termination notice has been served to find a solution. If the temperature is life-threatening, the company will not cut off your water.
In this section, we’ll look at utility companies’ rights when it comes to your private property. It might surprise you that these companies are allowed access to your property (if they have an easement).
Can a Water Company Come On My Property?
Utility companies have easements, which is a legal document that permits them to access a small section of your property. This would be the section that houses their equipment.
You can check whether your house has a utility easement at the local County Clerk’s office.
Most easements will also be attached to the property’s deed, although you could also ask your utility company to provide any easements they have for your property.
You might also enjoy our post on Whether a Utility Company Can Come On Your Property
What Are Utility Rights?
If your utility has a utility easement for your property, it means they have the right-of-way on a certain section of the property. This will be the section where equipment is under/above ground.
The utility company has the right to enter your property without asking your permission to perform maintenance or repairs on their equipment.
A utility company does not have the right to enter your house without permission, though.
Can a Utility Company Force Entry?
Utility companies can not force entry into your house, no matter the reason. The only time that utility workers can enter your house is when you give them permission to perform maintenance or repair a meter.
If your utility company has an easement, they are allowed on your property without your permission. This easement permits them to perform maintenance or repair their equipment outside of your house.
Will an Energy Company Take Me to Court?
It’s highly unlikely that your energy company would take you to court, no matter if you have unpaid bills with them. The cost of fighting in court would outweigh the debt that you owe them.
The company would only shut off your electricity until you can pay the outstanding bill. In most cases, the company would also be open to discussing payment plans and paying your debt back over time.
How Long Can a Utility Company Chase You for Debts?
The exact period differs from state to state, but in most cases, the statute of limitations for utility debt is three to six years. After this time, a utility company is not allowed to chase an unpaid bill.
Some states have a 10-year statute of limitation, so it would be best to research your state laws or contact a lawyer to double-check.
If your debt falls over the limit, a utility company can still deny you a service due to the unpaid bill.
What Are the Medical Reasons to Keep Your Electricity On?
Any medical condition that is regarded as a ‘serious illness by a licensed medical doctor should be enough to keep your electricity on. If someone in your household has a serious illness, it could persuade the utility company to keep it on.
This would need to be proven with medical records and a declaration by the doctor, although it could assist someone who is struggling to pay their electric bills.
Programs like LIHEAP would also be able to assist in cases like these.
Can I Claim Power Lines Over the Property?
If the power lines were installed using an easement, it is completely legal. It is also the property of the utility company, so you cannot try to steal electricity or tamper with the lines in any way.
You can contact the electric company to ask if they have an easement for your property. If they do not, you can take the company to court and demand compensation for the power lines over your property.
Utility companies can deny you services if you have previous unpaid bills with them. They would need to prove this with formal documentation.
If they cannot prove this, then they cannot deny you a service.