Utility services, such as natural gas, electricity, water, and telecommunications services, are typically authorized to terminate a customer’s service(s) for failure to pay a bill, provide a security deposit, or violate a company rule tampering with a meter.
Nevertheless, if a past-due bill is diminutive and it has not been long since the last payment, it is less likely that the service will be shut off.
What Laws Protect Me Against Termination of Service?
Laws that shield you against termination of service are dependent on the entity that owns the service. Utilities may be:
- Privately owned: Governed by state public utility statutes, regulations, and rules.
- Municipally owned: No constitutional limits on the utility.
- Rural Electric Cooperative (REC): The REC has its own specific set of rules and constitutional limits.
Utility services must use reasonable discretion and practices to determine a service termination. Federal consumer protection statutes safeguard citizens from having their civil rights violated in the process of a utility shutdown.
Typically, if the state regulates a utility, the following minimum protections apply:
- Notice: The consumer must be given notice before termination of service.
- Limit on when a utility can turn off a service: Small balances and those lasting less than a few months. Also, bill disputes and termination before a holiday or a specific time of day are usually forbidden.
- Right to appeal: The consumer can appeal the termination to both the company and the state utility commission.
- Right to a deferred payment plan: Some states direct the utility to inform the consumer of a reasonable installment payment plan before termination.
What Does the Constitution Have to Do with Termination of My Service?
Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, citizens are afforded due process. These companies must give customers fair notice before cessation concerning utility services. If notice was not provided, the person was not afforded due process of law.
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What Protections Do I Have Against Termination of My Service?
There are certain protections for consumers in most states that encounter cold weather. Nevertheless, date-based termination suspensions during the winter months may be restricted to households with the elderly and those with young kids.
Other requirements may also need to be met to avoid termination during the winter months, such as undergoing economic difficulty or entering into a payment plan. If you have a severe illness, you may need a note from your physician to be included in these particular protections.
Utility companies may not end your service if you are disputing your bill. If you were undercharged, they cannot require a lump sum payment and threaten to end service.
What Duties Does the Water Company Have?
Because water is important to everyone, a water company must deliver service to all individuals who want it and pay the required rates. A water company must supply all of its customers with an acceptable supply of water that can be used without damaging their health. The water company must also provide the water at an appropriate pressure level.
Suppose a customer has faithfully paid their water bill over the years. In that case, it is implied that the water company will continue to provide that person with water service so long as the bill continues to be paid. A water company’s failure to give a paying customer water is a breach of contract.
The water company is liable for all damages which result from failing to supply its client with water as pledged. However, according to the water shut-off regulations, there may be legitimate bases for cutting off a customer’s water service. Water disconnection rules may allow a water company to cut off service if a customer does not pay their bill or deliberately wastes water.
What Can I Do If My Water Service is Stopped?
The water company is not allowed to engage in discontinuation of water service because an individual is questioning a charge that is:
- Excessive; or
If an individual thinks the water company has stopped their service in error, they should contact the company immediately. The water company is not required to inform an individual in advance of the temporary cessation of water service.
Nevertheless, if the water company has unjustly ended an individual’s service and refuses to fix it, they can take the company to court. In court, the person may obtain an injunction to force the water company to perform its public duty by continuing service.
How Does the Termination of the Water Service Process Work?
A water shut-off policy is a policy that is provided by a water service company that informs customers of the procedure for termination of services due to non-payment. In many circumstances, these policies can be located on the company’s website.
A water service termination agreement is an agreement that is made between a water service provider and a property owner or a Homeowner’s Association (HOA). These contracts include provisions regarding water services to the property or properties and rules regarding terminations.
What Laws Protect Me Against Termination of Water Service?
According to the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, citizens are afforded due process. Utility companies must provide consumers fair notice before termination related to utility services. If notice was not provided, an individual was not afforded due process of law.
Some laws protect people against termination of service. They are dependent upon the entity which owns the service.
A utility may be:
- Privately owned and governed by state public utility statutes, regulations, and practices;
Municipally owned with no constitutional limits on the utility; and
- A Rural Electric Cooperative (REC), which has its own specific set of rules, in addition to constitutional limits.
Utility services must use fair practices when considering and implementing termination of service. Federal consumer protection statutes protect people from having their civil rights infringed in the process of a utility shut down.
In general, if a utility is regulated, certain minimum protections apply, including:
- Notice: The consumer must be given notice before termination of their service;
- Limits on when a utility is permitted to turn off services, such as small balances and those lasting less than a few months: In addition, bill disputes and termination before a holiday or at a certain time of day are typically prohibited;
- The right to appeal: The consumer has the privilege to appeal the termination to both the company and the state utility commission; and
- The right to a deferred payment plan: Some states require the utility to inform the consumer of a reasonable installment payment plan before termination.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Utility Service Problem?
Suppose you believe that your service was wrongfully terminated or that you have a right to dispute your utility charges. In that case, it is in your best interest to consult with a consumer attorney. Your attorney may help you avoid an unnecessary termination of service and help you bypass any further problems with having a utility service shut down.
Nevertheless, it is essential to keep in mind that utility companies tend to have strict arrangements with the public. It takes a severe violation for them to be held responsible. So long as you have taken the right steps to maintain your services, you will be better positioned to argue against the company.