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A Tenant's Guide to Getting and Keeping Gas and Electricity Service

TenantNet note: This booklet was published by Brooklyn Legal Services in 1995. Some information contained may be out-of-date, particularly listed telephone numbers. As far as we know, there have been no updates to this publication. While much of the information may still be valid, the reader should exercise caution.

II. How To Apply For Service

A. The application process

You may apply for utility service in person, by phone or in writing. To make an oral application you must give the utility company your name, address, telephone number and prior account address or prior account number.

A written application may be required if there are arrears at the address where you want service; if there is evidence of meter tampering or theft of service; or if someone else submits the application for you.

When a written application is required, you will usually have to provide identification (a driver's license or credit card, for example) and proof that you will be responsible for the service provided (a copy of a lease or a letter from your landlord, for example). See sample Service Application Form, at page 46-A-B.

Once you have provided the required information, the utility company must start your service within five business days unless (1) the utility company is physically or legally prevented from doing so because the company cannot get into the building or the wiring is dangerous, or (2) you fail to pay the authorized costs (a security deposit, for example). See pages 4-5 of this booklet, which describe when a security deposit is required.

Failure to provide service within five days -- except for the specific reasons listed above - may subject the utility company to a penalty, payable to you, of $25.00 per day.

If you move to a new address within the service area of the same utility company, you are automatically eligible to receive service at the new address, as long as you request service within 60 days of moving and your prior service was not terminated for nonpayment, meter-tampering or theft of service. The new account is considered a continuation of the service provided at your old address.

B. When the utility company can deny you service

The utility may deny you service if you owe money from a previous residential account unless

  1. You pay the full amount owed; or

  2. You negotiate a deferred payment plan for the amount owed (See pages 12-14 of this booklet, which describe deferred payment agreements); or

  3. You pay the undisputed portion of the bill while you dispute the balance; or

  4. You currently receive or have applied for some form of public assistance (including SSI) and the company receives notice from the Human Resources Administration ("HRA") that it will pay the bill on the old account and guarantee future payments; or

  5. The Public Service Commission ("PSC") directs the utility company to provide you service.

If your request for service is denied, the utility company must send you written notice of the denial within three business days of receipt of the application. The notice must state the reason for the denial; any action you must take to get service; your right to review of the denial by the PSC; and the PSC address and telephone number (including the hotline number).

Utility companies often try to deny service when the utility bill was not paid and where the account was under the name of someone else. You are not responsible for utility service unless the account is in your name. If the account for the apartment you were living in is in another person's name and that person moves out without paying, you do not have to pay the balance on that account to keep your service. You do have to open a new account in your own name.

For example: Mr. and Mrs. Blue moved to an apartment on January 1, 1994. Mr. Blue was the only one listed on the Con Edison bill. The Blues had financial problems and were unable to pay their Con Edison bills beginning in July, 1994. In September 1994, Mr. Blue moved out without paying any of the bills due. Mrs. Blue went to the Con Edison office in December 1994. She changed the account to her name and became responsible for the bills from December 1994 on. She did not have to pay for any of the arrears due from July through November 1994.

C. When a security deposit is required

If you receive public assistance, Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), Food Stamps, or other State payments, the utility company cannot require you to pay a security deposit as a condition for getting or maintaining service. If you are 62 years of age or older, the utility cannot require you to pay a security deposit unless you had service terminated for nonpayment within the last six months.

Other new customers do not have to pay a security deposit as a condition of getting service unless: (1) the customer will be a short-term (less than one year) customer; (2) the PSC requires such a deposit; or (3) the customer has a delinquent utility bill on a prior account.

If you are a current customer, the utility company may require you to pay a security deposit if: (1) you had service terminated for nonpayment during the last six months; or (2) you had two straight months of arrears without making a reasonable payment.

If the utility company requires you to pay a security deposit, they must notify you in writing that the deposit will be charged unless payment of the arrears is made. You can arrange to pay the deposit over a period of 12 months.

The amount of the deposit may not exceed twice the average monthly bill for a calendar year. If you pay your bills on time for a year from the payment of the deposit, the deposit will be refunded to you with interest at a rate determined by the PSC.

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