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Can a Utility Company Shut Off My Water Without Notice?

In certain situations, a utility company can legally shut off your water without warning. Most state laws require companies to provide at least a 10-day notice before ending a utility service. They must also make multiple attempts to contact you.

Each year, millions of Americans lose access to household water due to unpaid water bills. If you face utility loss, it's vital to be proactive.

Laws treat water utilities differently from other resources like natural gas and electric services. Learn about your rights and options after getting a disconnection notice.

When Water Can Be Shut Off Without Notice

Many states let water companies shut off your water without warning in rare situations, including if you are:

  • Stealing water service
  • Getting water service through fraudulent means
  • Tampering with your water meter
  • Using a bad check to avoid water shutoff

Each state has its own utility disconnection policy. Utility companies must follow the policy's process before disconnecting service.

Utility Company Shutoff Violations

Companies sometimes cut off water without written notice when none of the situations apply. Calling the company can sometimes solve the problem as soon as possible, but even a temporary disconnection might create problems for customers.

You can file a complaint with your state's Public Service Commission or public utilities commission. This commission's rules regulate the public utility rates and services.

You may also find it helpful to contact a local attorney. They can advocate for your consumer rights, especially if you find yourself in a dispute with the utility company.

Landlord Utility Violations

Sometimes, landlords fail to pay the utility company, even when the tenants have paid their rent bills. As a tenant, you have unique legal protections for water access and other utilities. Learn more about your options for repairs and safety.

When Special Protections Prevent Water Shutoff

Many states have special protections for people who would be in danger if they lose water access. In these cases, you can avoid water shutoff, at least temporarily, if you cannot afford to pay your bill.

Remember that you must take active steps to qualify for special protection. You will have to file the necessary paperwork and may need proof from a doctor.

Some utility providers, such as municipalities, may be exempt from state disconnection policies. This distinction might matter if you can only afford to pay one utility bill for a given month.

Household Members With Serious Illnesses

Illness and disabilities may qualify you for water disconnection protection. For example, Connecticut law protects the home of a person who has a life-threatening illness from shutoff year-round.

In Virginia, public water services must let residential customers with severe medical conditions delay shutoff for at least 30 days. Customers can only delay termination of service twice within 12 months.

Infants and Elders in the Home

Age can also put a resident at risk of a medical threat from lack of water. States may have utility laws to protect both very young and elderly residents.

In Massachusetts, private water companies cannot shut off your service if an infant under the age of one lives in your home, even if you cannot afford the monthly payments. It is also very difficult and rare for a company to shut off water when all the adult household members are 65 or older.

Seasonal Water Shutoff Protections

Some states also prohibit utility shutoffs at a particular time of year or in specific temperatures. Often, these states have freezing weather during winter or high temperatures in summer. For example, Arizona law bans utility shutoffs when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.

Low-Income Families

If you don't qualify for protection due to a medical need, you may have another option for financial hardship. Some utility companies have programs to help people who cannot afford to pay their utility bills.

These programs may offer flexible options for utility customers, such as:

  • Lenient payment schedules
  • Deferred payment plans
  • Income-based payment plans
  • Installments for past-due bills

Usually, a company will require you to pay all or most of what you owe. They may also charge a reconnect fee.

The extra time to earn money or lower monthly bills could help you keep water access. A payment plan may also help prevent credit score penalties, though most utility companies don't report your status to credit bureaus.

Once you make a payment agreement with the company, you must follow it. Nonpayment under the new plan can cause the company to shut off your water instead. They may be less willing to form another payment arrangement with you in the future.

What To Do if You Can't Afford To Pay Your Water Bill

Most states have strict rules that utility companies must follow before they can shut off utilities. Make sure to research the utility disconnection policies in your state.

If you're about to lose water access or have lost it already, you may benefit from speaking with a local consumer rights lawyer. They can explain the state law and help you decide what to do next.

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