Public Utilities

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General information about your rights when dealing with public utilities. #0700EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Starting July 23, 2023, residential electric or water services cannot be shut off for non-payment or overdue bills during National Weather Service heat related alert days for the area that you live in. You may also be able to have service turned back on for heat alert days if it was already disconnected for overdue bills.

These new protections will stop shut off at your residence no matter which type of utility service provider you use including:

  • Utilities and Transportation Commission regulated privately owned utilities

  • Power and light Cooperatives,

  • Community water associations,

  • Any private or community owned sewer and water districts or services,

  • City or town owned utilities,

  • Privately owned  utility companies

  • Any Public Utility District

These new protections will stop shut off at your residence for all types of homes including:

  • Apartments on metered utilities

  • Mobile homes and trailers in a mobile home park

  • Rental houses and apartments

  • Homes you own that you also live in

These new protections also stop your landlord from shutting off your electric or water for non-payment or overdue bills during National Weather Service heat related alert days for the area that you live in. You may also be able to have your landlord have the service turned back on for heat alert days if it was already disconnected for overdue bills.

This is how the new protections work. On any day that the National Weather Service:

  1. Issues (announces) or says it plans to issue a heat related alert such as:

    • An excessive heat warning

    • A heat advisory

    • An excessive heat watch

    • Or any similar alert

  1. For the area in which your residence is located

  2. Then you can ask for your electric or water services to be kept on even if you are overdue on bills or already have a shut off due to non-payment.

Your utility company or landlord must provide you with information about how to ask for your services to not be shut off or to be turned back on during heat alert days. Your bill, overdue notice or shut off notice should have this information on it somewhere.

If your services were already shut off for non-payment and you are going to ask for them to be turned on for heat alert days, your landlord or utility provider might require that you start a payment plan to have the service turned back on.

  • The payments for the plan can't be more than 6% of your monthly income unless you want the payments to be higher

  • Even if you choose higher payments, you can only go back into default on the payments if you fail to pay only the amount that is 6% of your monthly income. Your landlord or utility company can't say you defaulted on the plan for failure to make payments for anything above 6% of your monthly income.

Yes, you should read the rest of this resource if you live in Washington State, and a public utility provides any services to the place where you live. This information is for both homeowners and renters.

You will learn the difference between a public and a private utility, what problems you might have with a public utility, what you can do to avoid or solve those problems, and where you can learn more and get more help. 

Do not read this if you get your service from a private provider, such as a community well of a homeowners' association, a cooperative such as Inland Power and Light, or a privately owned utility company, such as Puget Power, Pacific Power and Light, Washington Water Power, Cascade Natural Gas, Northwest Natural Gas or Washington Natural Gas.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) regulates privately owned utilities. You may have other rights if you get services from a private utility. Contact UTC at 1-800-562-6150 or to find out more.

It is a public utility district (PUD) or local government agency, such as a city or county, which provides water, electricity, or gas. When we say "provider" here, we are referring to whichever of those provides your services. 

You can call the company, or you can contact UTC.

No. But you may have to take some steps before you can get service in your name. Examples:  

  • Pay or enter into a repayment plan for past due bills, even it is from an old address

  • Pay a connect fee or a re-connect fee

  • Pay a security deposit - you can ask to not have to do this if you have proof of a good payment record

  • Give basic information and/or sign documents that you will pay for services

Maybe. A provider of service to heat your home, or cities providing water, must offer you "budget billing" or "equal payment" if you have a low income. You can read the state rule about this at Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 480-90-138.

Maybe. Your county- or city- run provider may offer some protections from this. Even if they don't, ask them if you can work something out. They may work with you if you have an emergency and you have a history of good payment and willingness to pay back bills.

Maybe not. If you have a low income, and you get a past due notice, you may be able to avoid having your service off between November 15 and March 15.

The past due notice should tell you what your rights are and what you can do to avoid shutoff. The utility must help you with all the steps to avoid shutoff. You can read the law about this at RCW 54.16.285 (P.U.D's) and RCW 35.21.300 (cities).

Usually, no. You are probably responsible for at least some of the past bills in someone else's name if, for example, you lived at the address during the time billed, or you agreed with the landlord or last tenant to pay the bill for that period.

If the provider tries to make you pay bills that the landlord or last tenant didn't pay, and you are clearly not responsible, you can send the provider a letter like the sample letter below. You might still have to pay a reconnect fee. 

The provider must give you written advance notice of the shut-off. After you get this notice, you can ask in writing for an administrative hearing to fight the shut-off. The notice should say your deadline for asking for a hearing or you can ask the provider what your deadline is.

Even if you are trying to work things out with the provider, you should still ask for a hearing. If the informal process does not work, you will not have missed the deadline.

Date your written hearing request. Make and save a copy of it for yourself.

You can try to work out a solution with the provider so you don't need to go to the hearing. For example, the provider should give you a chance to put the utility in your name.

You can also try to get the landlord to pay the bill by letting the landlord know that you can sue them. A judge who finds the landlord intentionally shut off your service by not paying the bill could award you money damages, attorney's fees and court costs. You can read the state law about this at RCW 59.18.300.

*If needed, you can read How do I Sue in Small Claims Court and Tenants' Rights to learn more about how to collect from the landlord for intentionally failing to pay the bill.

You should bring any papers or people who can support your claim. You should also bring extra copies of those papers with you for the provider and for the judge (called a hearing officer).

A city utility must try to give written notice to your address at least 7 days before shutting off service in any of these situations:

  • You live in a multi-family rental that gets service through a single account.

  • The address you have your bills sent to is different from the address where you get the service.

  • The city knows that a tenant lives at the address.

If they shut off your service without giving you proper notice, call the utility immediately. Talk to the person in charge. They should turn your service back on right away and keep it on until you get proper notice and a chance to respond. If they will not turn your service back on, ask to speak to the utility's lawyer.

Send the provider a dated letter stating you will no longer be responsible. Include names and account number. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself. If charges for those accounts show up on your bill anyway, see "What if I think my bill is wrong," below.

If the bill is too high because of a water leak or other emergency that is not your fault, the provider may work with you to make a payment plan and/or cancel part of the charge. Call the provider. Explain what happened. They do not have to work with you. The more polite you are, the better your chances.

Any time you think the bill amount is wrong, call the provider right away. Explain why you disagree. If you cannot fix the problem this way, ask for an administrative hearing. 

Maybe. Some providers discount electrical service to senior citizens and income families with a low income. Ask your provider.

Most PUDs have funds to help households with low incomes with utility bills they cannot pay, especially in winter. Each PUD has its own eligibility requirements.

You can also try your local CAP office and DSHS office. DSHS has programs for families with children that can help with facing shut off. This help is only available once a year. Read Additional Requirements to learn more.

You can ask the provider for written information about their services, policies, and procedures about your rights as a utility customer. The full list of information you are entitled to is in the state rule at WAC 480-90-103.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Dec 22, 2023
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