Consumer Law

What Happens If You Cant Pay a Utility Bill

Having your electricity, gas, or other utility service shut off can affect your ability to live in your home. Generally, state law gives utility providers the right to shut off your services for non-payment, as long as the provider gives you notice in advance. However, there are special circumstances that can prevent a utility provider from shutting off your service, or extend the amount of time you have to pay your bill.

Cutoffs in Cold Weather

Most states prevent gas and electricity providers from shutting off service during cold weather. Some states prevent cutoffs at any time from November through April, while other states prevent cutoffs whenever the temperature goes below a certain level. You must still pay your bill, but the utility company is required to set up a payment arrangement that will allow you to pay your overdue charges over the course of time.

States Protect Vulnerable Residents

Most states give the elderly, disabled, and anyone suffering from a severe illness the right to request extra time to pay a utility bill. Typically, the resident will have to submit a doctor's note within a week of receiving a cutoff notice that proves the resident qualifies for this extension. Depending on the state, the extension can last from 30 to 120 days.

Payment Agreements Are Binding

Low-income families often have the right to request a payment plan to get caught up on an overdue utility bill. Many states allow all consumers to request a payment plan for gas and electricity service at least once a year. However, if you fail to make a payment under the agreement, the utility provider often has the right to disconnect your service with only a three-day notice.

Tenants Must Be Notified

Landlords sometimes control the utility services for an entire building. The tenants do not have separate accounts. If the landlord fails to pay the bills, most states prevent utility providers from cutting off service without giving tenants a 14-day notice, as well as giving them the option to put service in their own names.

Landlords Cannot Force Evictions

Most states make it illegal for landlords to cut off utility services to force tenants to leave a rental unit. Illegal forced evictions based on cutting off utilities can serve as the basis of a civil suit by the tenant against the landlord to recover damages.

A Consumer Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding utility bills and cutoffs is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a consumer lawyer.

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