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View Full Version : Are there any laws against electric companies turning off your power?


diggleblop
12-19-2006, 12:54 PM
I mean in certain situations, are there laws against them turning you off if you don't pay or are late?

A friend of mine got a nasty letter from his power company stating he has until the 21st to pay $87.00 or else...

I know, I know, we told him to just pay the damn bill. But it brought up my question.

My question is, in the U.S., is it against the law to shut off utilities once the average daytime temperature dropped below 50 degrees or so? What if there is someone living on a life support machine in your home?

MrFloppy
12-19-2006, 01:22 PM
Anecdotally, a while back in Baltimore, some people perished in a row-house fire caused by them trying to keep warm with candles. Their power had been disconnected, a fact which the local media kept mentioning ad nauseum.

MrFloppy
12-19-2006, 01:25 PM
And this (http://www.otpco.com/NewsInformation/PDF/NDcustomerInformation.pdf) North Dakota utility will disconnect you. In fact they tell you so in the document. (pdf)

Telemark
12-19-2006, 01:26 PM
It depends. There are Public Utilities Commissions in most states that regulate such things. But there are always ways for the utilities to shut off your service eventually.

http://wellsboroelectric.com/weco/customerRights2.asp#consent

Swallowed My Cellphone
12-19-2006, 01:28 PM
What if there is someone living on a life support machine in your home?
There was a case involving someone died on life support. However, in that case, the family was negligent in both informing the electric company that their was a patient in their home, AND they did not have the emergency back-up battery for the life support machine in working ready status.

I will look up the news story. What I remember is that the electric company did know that about the patient at his own residence, but he was staying with adult children who had not paid their bill, and had not informed the electric company that the man was now staying there. If they had, the electric company would NOT have cut off the power supply.

BJMoose
12-19-2006, 01:36 PM
The local utility (Westar in Kansas) can't shut off your power in the middle of winter (though you probably have to show a willingness to work with them for that to happen). Whether it's a statute or just a rule of the state utility commission, I don't know. Doubtless there are variations of this around the country.

Course, some spring you'd better be catching up or else. . . .

Swallowed My Cellphone
12-19-2006, 01:48 PM
Ah, here's the news story I remember (http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/florida/news-article.aspx?storyid=39577). I noticed Googling that a lot of the shorter stories seem much more sympathetic t the family. But IIRC, the more detailed stories when it initially was reported in the news stated that the utility company was aware of the equipment in Howerton's home, but were not advized about the medical equipment being in his son's home.

hekk
12-19-2006, 02:04 PM
No cite, but from common knowledge in Milwaukee and personal experience, We-Energies(SE Wisconsin's gas and electricity utility) will not shut off power between November and March or something like that. Thus, the rash of bills being paid before March 1st, the first available disconnect date after winter, when it's still damn cold outside.

RealityChuck
12-19-2006, 02:23 PM
In New York, utilities can't shut off your power in the winter. Once the heating season is over, they will, however, and you do owe them for the entire winter.

I would assume there are rules if someone is on life support. No utility needs the bad press of someone dying due to their cutting the power.

Swallowed My Cellphone
12-19-2006, 03:51 PM
Quick correction/retraction: I mis-remembered part of the story I linked to above. The family did have a back up oxygen machine ready for use, unfortunately it is not a machine that could force air into the patients lungs. As he could not inhale on his own, the machine was not enough to keep him alive. The family was not negligent in that respect.

(And WOW, was my first post ever error-ridden! Wish we could edit sometimes.)

Harmonious Discord
12-19-2006, 04:01 PM
In Wisconsin they can't cut power to somebody on life support. The couldn't cut power to somebody between two dates for winter. Now they can by giving notice and the person ignoring them and not talking to the company as to why they haven't paid. By responding with t a valid reson the utility has to keep them on until spring. They don't however have to ever sell you power again, and the laws only prevent disconect not for ever getting power again in the future. They are as of 2006 allowed to charge interest and penelties that but them into legalized racketeering. I think the amount owed may be as much as three time the original amount for being late. It doesn't specify extremely late either. They could get this from somebody for being a week late or so. I don't think they currently are doing that, but all companies see the huge easy profit on a late fee like this and impliment it as soon as they think they can get away with it.

Polycarp
12-19-2006, 04:11 PM
To answer the OP: Utility companies can terminate power for failure to pay. But: (1) they must give advance notice of intent to do so, (2) they must be willing to grant a reasonable extension on request, and (3) there may be statute or regulation bans on doing so during certain periods (winter, for example) or where there are children or people with health problems in residence.

Each state has its own standards in this regard, and I'd venture to guess that almost any combination of statute and utility-commission regulation is valid for one of them.

People on very low or fixed income are nearly always entitled to have some or all of their utility bills paid by state aid; contact your local Social Services office for further information regarding procedures in your own area.

Many utility companies have specific funds set aside to apply to similar unique-circumstances situations.

Nearly all utility companies will work out terms for payment with their clients who find themelves in binds.

Ferret Herder
12-19-2006, 04:28 PM
Not a legal thing but yes, some companies will hold off on cutoffs for cases where there is medical need. I used to work for a cardiologist and wrote up many letters requesting extensions. Since I know I wrote up multiple letters for a few patients, it must have worked the first time for them to try again later. I also was told by the companies where to fax the request, and never told that they don't do that.

Gfactor
12-19-2006, 04:36 PM
The rules on winter utility shutoffs are often called winter shut off orders or moratoriums. Here are some illustrative rules: http://nuwnotes1.nu.com/apps/yankee/ygcorpcomm.nsf/0/39A37DC13F1766B885257209005158D4?OpenDocument

http://www.fsconline.com/downloads/news2002/novdec02.pdf

http://www.puc.state.pa.us/general/consumer_ed/pdf/Act201.pdf

http://www.psc.mo.gov/press/consumer_issues/Winter_Service_Disconnections.pdf

http://www.larcc.org/pamphlets/utility_energy/how_to_keep_year_round_service.htm

http://www.consumersenergy.com/welcome.htm?/products/index.asp?ss2id=120

And here is a collection of summaries of these policies by state: http://www.liheap.ncat.org/Disconnect/disconnect.htm

Gfactor
12-19-2006, 04:38 PM
And here is a collection of summaries of these policies by state: http://www.liheap.ncat.org/Disconnect/disconnect.htm

This table, from the same site, summarizes just the seasonal disconnect rules for every state: http://www.liheap.ncat.org/Disconnect/SeasonalDisconnect.htm

ouryL
12-19-2006, 04:39 PM
Our power company is lenient. There is a medical acceptance but you have to apply for it. Or if you have lose employment and have attended an approved program on what to do to conserve expenses, they may waive two months bill and/or defer further payments. They programs often have grants and are tied into other aid organizations. Since heating and cooling is not a life or death situation in Hawaii, totally ignoring the utility companies will result in them literally cutting you off.

ouryL
12-19-2006, 04:41 PM
Our power company is lenient. There is a medical acceptance but you have to apply for it. Or if you have lose employment and have attended an approved program on what to do to conserve expenses, they may waive two months bill and/or defer further payments. They programs often have grants and are tied into other aid organizations. Since heating and cooling is not a life or death situation in Hawaii, totally ignoring the utility companies will result in them literally cutting you off.

Also, during they latest military call up, military households have been virtually preapproved.

Harmonious Discord
12-19-2006, 06:32 PM
They may also come and put in a limiton the line so only the required services can run. The furnace will run but to bad for the lights, lights and refridgerator if you just lost your job and you don't have a medical condition exasperated or deadly with out electricity.

11811
12-19-2006, 07:23 PM
Part of the problem is that, if they don't turn off your utilities, they end up passing the costs on to their honest, bill-paying customers. So I end up subsidizing people who can't or don't pay their bills. The former I can understand, although I'm not crazy about it. The second should be permitted to freeze.

t-bonham@scc.net
12-19-2006, 07:52 PM
They may also come and put in a limiton the line so only the required services can run. The furnace will run but to bad for the lights, lights and refridgerator if you just lost your job and you don't have a medical condition exasperated or deadly with out electricity.Can we have a cite here, please?

Because I can't see how that could be done without bringing in an electrician to rewire parts of the house. I suppose they could turn off all the breakers except the one to the furnace, but as soon as they left I could turn them back on. Unless the electrician replaced them with lockable breakers or something.

Also, why would the electric company go to the expense to do this? Sending a crew out to do this (and then eventually sending them again to remove it) would be quite expensive -- probably as much as 2-3 months of normal use. Why spend the money when you can easily just cut off the electricity? Doesn't sound sensible.

Harmonious Discord
12-19-2006, 09:31 PM
They do it to limit usage when they can't disconect some high power user. It's worth it if they have to power the place for 5 to 6 months when the power can't be disconected due to laws. Someone with a crappy house can spend at least $1000 a month in the winter. I've known people that rented a house in the country, and had bills like that. There are houses out there like that yet. I think a rewire to limit the heat to a couple rooms is going to be worth it. They don't normaly go out and limit it on a house were it was a $80 for the month. I haven't seen that particular article for over 15 years, so your out of luck on that. You'll have to check out printed archives to find the article, Likely on micrfiche by now.

crazyjoe
12-20-2006, 08:16 AM
Yes, some people (I actually know someone like this) invariably fall behind on their gas AND electric during the winter, and so use electric space heaters throughout the house, electric stove to heat water for bath, etc etc. I can easily see how this would result in an electric bill going through the roof.

DSYoungEsq
12-20-2006, 12:02 PM
I love it. A question asking for facts, and only one doper bothers to post actual facts. You know, like a link to an actual statute or regulation on the subject? :rolleyes:

Thank-you, Gfactor!

For the rest, when will you learn that the plural of anecdote is not data? :p

Harmonious Discord
12-20-2006, 01:56 PM
They asked if laws exited, not where is a page with the laws. There's a difference.

Gfactor
12-20-2006, 02:05 PM
Thank-you, Gfactor!



Any time. I learned all about HEAP and winter shut off orders during my time at Legal Aid. It's always nice when that stuff comes in handy.

DSYoungEsq
12-20-2006, 04:02 PM
They asked if laws exited, not where is a page with the laws. There's a difference.
No there is not. He's asking for something other than recollections, which are notoriously poor as barometers of fact. Gfactor didn't have to provide citations, but asserting that there is or is not a law without providing a citation makes the assertion essentially useless.

Harmonious Discord
12-20-2006, 05:46 PM
All I have to say is you get what you ask for, so think through what you really want, and ask the correct question.

DesertDog
12-21-2006, 12:01 AM
Can we have a cite here, please?

Because I can't see how that could be done without bringing in an electrician to rewire parts of the house. I suppose they could turn off all the breakers except the one to the furnace, but as soon as they left I could turn them back on. Unless the electrician replaced them with lockable breakers or something.

Also, why would the electric company go to the expense to do this? Sending a crew out to do this (and then eventually sending them again to remove it) would be quite expensive -- probably as much as 2-3 months of normal use. Why spend the money when you can easily just cut off the electricity? Doesn't sound sensible.I don't know if our utility companies here are prohibited during winter from suspending service -- the weather is relatively mild compared to other parts of the country -- but at least SRP, one of the two biggies, does put a limiter on rather than cut the power completely.

It doesn't take a crew, just one person, who pulls the meter off, plugs the limiter, a one-inch thick meter-diameter disk, into the mains, then plugs the meter back in on top of the limiter. You get to draw about 800 watts, enough for the refrigerator and a handful of lights, but no electric cooking, air conditioning, or heating. If you exceed the draw, the limiter kicks the power off, but you can restore it by pushing in a button. I'm guessing it's just a fancy circuit breaker.

After ten days, if you still haven't made good on your bill, your power is cut dead at the pole, and the restoration fee jumps from about $50 to a couple hundred.

No anecdote; personal experience (except the last part).