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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 Some information contained may be out-of-date, particularly listed telephone numbers.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.

X. How to Make a Complaint

A. Complaints to the utility company

If you have a complaint about your utility bill or other service problems, you should first complain to the utility company. A complaint may be made by phone or in writing. The utility company will investigate the complaint and report the results to you. You should always request a written response. The utility company may not terminate service while the complaint is pending and for 15 days after a decision is made provided that you pay the undisputed portion of any bill and current charges.

B. Complaints to the Public Service Commission

If you are not satisfied with the utility company's decision, complain to the New York State Public Service Commission ("PSC"). A complaint may be made by phone or in writing. To be sure that PSC follows up, always ask that a complaint number be assigned and refer to it when you call back.

If your complaint is made within 15 days of the utility company's decision, and if you pay the undisputed portions of any bill and current charges, the utility company may not terminate service while the complaint at PSC is pending. The PSC response to your complaint may be written or oral. You may request a written decision. The utility company may not terminate service for 15 days after the PSC decision.

If your complaint is denied over the phone, you should ask to speak to a supervisor who will listen to the complaint a second time.

If you think the PSC decision is wrong, you have 15 days to request an informal hearing or informal review of the initial decision. Your request may be made by phone or in writing. If you request a hearing, you will receive a letter stating when and where the hearing will take place, asking you to bring or send certain documents; and informing you of your right to be represented by a person of your choice, or by a PSC consumer advocate, if available. You should always try to attend an informal hearing, but you do not have to be present. Whether you appear or not, a hearing officer will review your complaint and notify you in writing of the decision.

If you believe that the determination of the hearing officer is wrong, you may appeal it to the PSC. If your appeal is filed within 15 days of the decision's mailing date, termination will be stopped temporarily. Your appeal must be in writing. It must claim that the hearing officer made an error, or that new evidence, unavailable at the hearing, would affect the decision. You will be notified in writing of the PSC's decision. The utility company cannot terminate service for 15 days after the Commissioners' decision.

While your complaint is at the PSC either for investigation or for an appeal, you must pay any amount of money not in dispute. If you do not pay undisputed amounts the utility company may terminate service. The utility company may not terminate service for nonpayment of disputed amounts.

1. Consumer Appeals

When you first contact the PSC, you may be referred back to the utility company's consumer appeals department. If this happens, it means the PSC representative thinks you have a good complaint. The referral to consumer appeals gives the utility company a second chance to resolve a dispute before the matter is decided by the PSC. The utility company employees who answer consumer appeals are experienced, helpful and often able to find solutions to difficult problems. If the PSC refers you to them, do not hesitate to call.

If you want to do anything complicated, such as pay your landlord's current charges, or set up a deferred payment agreement, you may find it easier to negotiate with the appropriate consumer appeals office than with the regular utility company representative.

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