Personal Finance

5 Sticky Utility Bill Problems & What to Do About Them

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The first year I lived in Florida, I was amused by the temperatures that Floridians considered “cold” in winter. But I wasn’t laughing when I got my first January electric bill and discovered just how much it costs to heat a Florida home in the winter. More recently, a leak in the pump of our in-ground pool left me with a water bill three times the normal amount. While that bill put a dent in our budget, I was fortunate that I was able to handle it. But I know that’s not always easy if you’re on limited income, or on a fixed income due to retirement or disability.

What happens if you run into problems with a utility bill? What are your rights?

To get answers to some of the most common problems facing customers, I spent time talking with Charlie Harak, managing attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.  He’s also the coauthor of The National Consumer Law Center Guide to The Right of Utility Consumers.

Harak says the first thing to understand is that most consumer protections apply only to gas and electric services. “Water is usually provided by a government provider (municipal and rural electric co-op) which is far less regulated,” he said. Similarly, propane or heating oil that is delivered is typically not regulated.  Furthermore, he says there are no federal laws that specifically address the rights of utility customers. Those rights fall under state laws.

As the NCLC guide explains, gas and electric service is typically regulated by state Public Utility Commissions (PUCs). Services may be provided by Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), government-owned entities (munis), or rural electric cooperatives (co-ops). Among the three, IOUs are often the most highly regulated.

With that background in mind, here are five common utility bill problems, and what you can do about them.

I just heard from a debt collector about a very old utility bill. Isn’t there a statute of limitations for these debts?

Yes, the statute of limitations may prevent a utility company, or debt collector who purchased one of these old debts, from successfully suing you to collect. That time period is based on state law, and will typically be “the same as the statute of limitations for contract actions,” says Harak. However, it’s not a good idea to ignore calls or letters about an old debt. If the company or collector takes you to court and you don’t show up to raise the statute of limitations as a defense, they may get a default judgment against you.

Third-party debt collectors who collect consumer debts (including utility bills) are regulated under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Anytime a debt collector contacts you about a debt you have the right to receive a debt collection notice by mail (if they called you first), and then to request written validation of that debt. That gives you time to research the debt to figure out whether you owe it and what you can do about it.

If you confirm the debt is outside the statute of limitations, you can write the debt collector explaining that you know the debt is too old, and ask them not to contact you again. (The FDCPA applies only to outside collection agencies, not to companies collecting their own debts.)

At the same time, you may not be able to get service again if you have an outstanding unpaid bill. If you continue to live in that utility company’s service area, you may need to find a way to pay the bill to avoid future problems.

 Old utility bills, Co-signing, Skyrocketing charges »

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  • Dave Miller

    Cable TV Ripoff: “Direct TV” Bought a used house for myself. Wanted internet service only until the house was livable. Installer showed up with satelite dish and modem for tv. I showed him my tv which was a 13 inch unit. “No internet service now, it will come later” so I was told. After the installer left I turned the tv on for 5 minutes. I said to myself “This is crazy and not what I want.” Immediately I turned everything off and disconnected the modem. What do I do now?? The next day I called “Direct TV” office, after several “sorry wrong number, I can not help you.” I made connections with someone who said.”We have a 24 hour limit on cancelations and you are 7 hours late. It will cost $450.00 for early disconnect. This 35% of my monthly income. OUCH!!!! They had my credit card number and when I objected, They left know there was nothing I could do.

    • T DEATON

      CANCEL THE TRANSACTION AND GET THE MONEY RETURNED TO YOU CREDIT CARD UNDER DISPUTE.

    • teebaby

      Your first mistake was ordering Direct TV. Any services associated with AT&T will be over priced, over billed and substandard. They constantly rip off their customers and lie when they’re called out on it. I am not speaking as a customer. I’m speaking as a former employee who refused to lie and cheat customers out of their hard earned money. I quit/was let go, whatever you want to call it, because I did not think it was right to play games with people. As a former customer, I now understand why I had so many problems with my service. My bills never made any sense either. If you decide to stay with any of AT&T services you will see what I mean very soon. They have all kinds of sneaky little tricks to inflate your bill. Of course, your service will be down at least 10 – 20% of the time but they won’t reimburse you for your lost service or the frustration and time spent trying to correct the problem. Good luck getting a qualified technician on the phone. You’ll get transferred and disconnected a hundred times before that happens.

  • Carrie Dammstad

    That is why I do not use cable tv. I only have over the air channIels. I find enough interesting programs to keep me entertained. I do buy dvd’s with the money that I save from the cable companies. I would consider cable tv if they did not force me into a 2 yr contract. I do not have a guaranteed income so I choose not to give them a guaranteed income. When they offer me a reasonable pay as you go I will consider cable. It offends me to see a family using food stamps on one hand and on the other paying a cable company for a service they no longer can afford. Isn’t this a back door way of getting free money from our taxes? And isn’t it a cheap shot to use the poor. Shouldn’t these families be using that money for their children – not making some rich cable tv owner richer?

  • http://www.p2proofreading.com John Albers

    I too own a home in Florida. We don’t bother heating it in the winter and don’t need to worry about water bills because we’re living off a well. But that means our electrical bill is high. This month, after having my old meter replaced by FPL by their new digital meters, my electrical bill was 500 kwh higher than it’s ever been in summer. There is nothing in our household any different than their was last year, but they say our usage has skyrocketed. Is there a way to see if their meter is not operating correctly, has been designed to not operate correctly, or to diagnose the source of the power drain in the house?

  • teria lynn

    Okay so why is it okay for the company to allow someelse to use your name i have a bill from when i was 12 ! Why cant i press charges on the company for just allowing someone to use my social shouldnt they know my age by that?

  • Julie eaton

    Hi I have a comment to make I was supossed to get an apartment that thre landlord was.supposef to give me I gave him the money the whole nine yards and he gave me the lease telling me the apartment was mine that I can have itt and.he seen my husband who heppened to be black with our birachial duater who.wad 2 at the time now she is 6, well to make a long stoty short I had turned the electric on under my name thinkng I got the apt and then I had to go throygh a hassle with shutting off the electric under my name cuase he denied me after he said the apt was.mine so here I am thinking they turned off the servive cuase they told me they did know there saying I owe over 300 dolleres for a bill I never usef I went to file out a disput packet sennt it.in with a letter from the landlord that I never lived there they are still giving me a hard time telling mee.reguardless im still responsible to pay the wgole bill to get it turned on under my name I told thrm im on a dissability I dont have all the money up front to payy for this all at once they said they dont care know my landlord I havre right know wants me to switch the electric to my name and know I dont know what to do what can I do have any addvice I cant be sitting in the dark wiyh no electric and.i have a kid and the fact that I might be pregnant at the age of 32and a half going on 33 in a couple months I jyst dont kneed.dss involved and my kkid is going to be going to elementry school in sept any suggetions help I greatley apprchiate ifif u get backk to me

    • http://www.Credit.com Gerri

      Julie,

      It sounds like a real mess and I don’t have a simple solution for you. Is the electric service a public utility? If so then you need to contact your state public utility commission to see if they can help. You’ll find a listing of state utility commissioners here: http://www.naruc.org/Commissions/?

      I hope they are able to help you get this straightened out.

  • becky boot

    We purchased property from someone who recently passed away/ now we want to move to the property/ the elec comp. sayes we have to pay a total of 1000.00 before we can hv electric!!! this is outragiest!!! we shouldn’t be responable for the previous owners bills! what can we do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Becky – I agree. That does sound outrageous and it doesn’t sound right to me either. I would suggest you contact your state utility commission and ask for advice/assistance. Let me know what happens OK?

  • k a w

    So I recently found out that somehow ComEd electric (excelon company) has moved my parents account over to my name without my knowledge or consent. And to make things worse the account has a past due balance of $3500. 2 days ago they shut off my electric to my current residence because of this. I called them and told them that this other account is not mine and I never agreed to pay it. However they say that there is nothing they can do. Somehow the account got under my name/ SSN and until it is current $ they will not turn my power back on. They said that they will forward it to the investigation dept and if they find out that in fact that is not my account and I do not live there than they will remove it (takes 30-45 days). However it is my parents home and thru their investigation in public records they probably will find some kind of bill/ creditor that has that address as my place of residence. The last time I actually lived there was years ago.

    What do I do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I’d suggest you contact your state public utility commission and ask them how to get help with this problem. Have you talked with your parents to make sure they didn’t use your information to get service? (It does happen, unfortunately.)

  • kathleen greene

    I was living in New York with my husband and working for a 3rd party gas company. I left my husband, who was also employed by the same company, and reloated to NJ, obviously my employer was well aware I was no longer living in the household. I called and left a message with them that I was no longer living there and my name should be removed from the bill. 2 years later I received a collection notice for over $1,000.00. 8 months later they have not provided the verification of the debt which i have asked for repeatedly. I recently copied the actual gas company on a certified letter sent to the collection agency and they are providing the verification (supposedly) for the debt. Can I be held responsible for this debt? and is the verification provided by the gas company valid given they are not the ones collecting the debt?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Kathleen,

      This is a tough situation. Because you notified them by phone that you wanted to be removed from the account, it sounds like it’s become an issue of your word against theirs. Though who would think that they would have to send a certified letter to close the utility account right?

      As for the collection agency, it is required by law to validate the debt if you request it in a timely fashion. It sounds like you did that, and the collection agency did not respond is required by law. So it may make sense for you to talk with a consumer law attorney. While it’s a bit convoluted, if the collection agency did break the law, then you will be entitled to $1000 in statutory damages. Worst case, you can use that to pay this debt off and get rid of it! (If you do work with a consumer law attorney, make sure you talk with them about getting the item removed from your credit reports.)

  • nathan smith

    aps shut off my power because i went to switch it into my name parents have passed away aps wont turn us on untill we pay parents past due balance of 1,360.00 its that high because the equilaer program was taken off i ended up in the ER because the heat in my house got me sick my wifes meds were melted my insulan is bad and they shut us odd on the 20th then 2 days after that we get a notice saying it will be disconnected on the 24th with the heat here in arizona i feel like i will die soon.

    • http://www.Credit.com Gerri

      Nathan,

      I am sorry to hear about your parents death and about the struggle you had to keep your utility services on. You have a couple of issues going on here. The first is whether the utility company can require you to pay your parents bill. The second is whether you are protected due to your medical issues.

      That is a matter of state regulation. I am not an attorney and can’t give you legal advice. However, looking at the Arizona Administrative Code, I did see the following section:

      R14-2-211. Termination of Service
      A. Nonpermissible reasons to disconnect service. A utility may not disconnect service for any of the reasons stated below:
      1. Delinquency in payment for services rendered to a prior customer at the premises where service is being provided, except in the instance where the prior customer continues to reside on the premises.
      2. Failure of the customer to pay for services or equipment which are not regulated by the Commission.
      3. Nonpayment of a bill related to another class of service.
      4. Failure to pay for a bill to correct a previous underbilling due to an inaccurate meter or meter failure if the customer agrees to pay over a reasonable period of time.
      5. A utility shall not terminate residential service where the customer has an inability to pay and:
      a. The customer can establish through medical documentation that, in the opinion of a licensed medical physician, termination would be especially dangerous to the health of a customer or a permanent resident residing on the customer’s premises, or
      b. Life supporting equipment used in the home that is dependent on utility service for operation of such apparatus, or
      c. Where weather will be especially dangerous to health

      It is possible your service should not have been terminated. I would suggest you contact the Arizona Corporation Commission for help.

  • Dana

    My subletter over the summer (whom didnt sign a lease or anything acknowledging his presence there) signed up for services with a company and then disappeared. He never disabled the company’s services, and so the bills are coming to my house but in his name. I have no way of getting a hold of him and now the bill is over $1000! Am I liable?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Are you talking about utility services? You may or may not be liable, but even if you aren’t, you may not be able to get those services at your address until the bill is paid.

  • destiny

    I have an outstanding light and gas bill in my name from my mom who used my name without me knowing ..and now I’m getting approved for section 8 housing. N they said that i would be dis approved unless the gas company give me a statement saying dis was fraud … do you think they give me the statement? My mom is even willing to say she did use my name.n.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I have moved this discussion over to the Credit.com forums. You’ll find my answer posted there.

  • Tonya

    We live in NJ and teh gas Company ElizabethTown gas is refusing to turn service on in my fiance’s name because they called the landlord and told the landlord that he MUST provided all the indivduals taht reside in the apt. The gas company states that because i live with him that he will be responsible for paying my debt and now that we got the Baord of Utilities involved they called and said he can not have service turned on in his name until he pays my debt and his sister’s debt because she owed money when he lived with her over $2,000. Then they say he only has to pay my bill and 5 months of his sister’s to get service turned on . We have been without gas since we moved in JULY and we have 4 children. The Board states that they have tried but the gas company insists he must pay for others debt and he has 3 brothers and sisters that have lived in the state. we have a fear that they will add on their debt too. WHAT CAN WE DO. We need the gas on ASAP!! is this even legal???

  • Jennifer Hanke

    Is it illegal for an electric company in FL to REFUSE setting up a payment? I transferred service to a new residence, had two accounts open, was paying new account in full and making small payments on the old. We moved because I could not afford the electric at old location.. anyway, they have now transferred the balance from the old account to the new one, and have given me 4 weeks to pay it! I have called and advised that I can pay 500 now, with the rest 255 in 7 days on my next payday, yet they refused to work with me. Took the its not my problem attitude. I have been reading over that statues for FL, and I almost think they are breaking the law, or just plain out lying to me on this. I a combination billing clause that says one customer cant be billed on one account for two services, and also that I only have to pay the regulated charges to stay connected, then it also seems that most states require that the companys work with you. This is the second time I have had trouble with Progress Energy of Florida in a year. The last one was because they decided to add an additional 150 to the deposit on the old account, I then called and they split it over 3 monthes. I just cant see how a utility company can REFUSE to set up a payment plan. I work for a telcom myself and we work with our customers, this is just down right nasty and manipulative.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am sorry, Jennifer, I don’t know the answer to your question. But if they are a regulated utility then I would recommend you contact the Florida Public Service Commission, and if they won’t help, your state elected official.

  • holloway

    Is it legal for a utility company (electric) to make a spouse liable for a bill that was in the other spouse’s name, just becaused they lived there together at that time?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Yes, my guess is probably though it depends on the laws in your state. You can contact your state public utility commission for more information.

  • Jennifer

    Can a utility bill under someone else social be transferred to the lught bill under my social in Florida? The light bill was under my father in law’s social security. My family and I moved and I opened a light bill under my social, but my father in law would give me the cash and I would pay it with my bank account, which it is the one I used for my new light account. Now an investigator put the debt that was in my father in laws social under my new light bill which is under my social and wants me to pay it. Also she is telling me that nothing is going to happen to my father in la’s credit.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Jennifer – I am not sure that they can put his bill under your name like this, but in some states that is permissible if the person who didn’t pay the bill previously is living there. I’d suggest you contact the Florida Public Service Commission to find out what your rights are: http://www.psc.state.fl.us/

  • Lisa

    6 years ago I moved to another state and left the electric on in the home that I sold with the understand with the other people that they would get it turned on in their name within 10 days. They never changed the name on the account. Now I am stuck with a $789.00 bill. I have to get electric turned on in my name now but I am stuck with this bill. I have contacted the people and they refuse to pay it. What can I do. I am on SSI and I can’t afford to pay this. Are they any agencys that could help me get this paid? I am so worried I’ll be homeless because I can’t pay for this electric bill and I have a 6 year old. I have to live in public housing because of my income, and the power has to be in my name. Help please!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Lisa,

      That is just awful. Try to be nice and this is what happens! The short answer is that you should have disconnected it or at least should have checked in 10 days to make sure it was switched over. As long as the account remained open and in your name it was your account. However, you may be able to get the utility company to work with you to resolve it for less than the full balance or let you pay it off over time. Ask to speak to their financial assistance office. If they won’t help you, find your state public utility commission (they should have a website) and find out what options are available. If necessary, contact your state representative (the elected official who represents you) and ask them for help. Hope you are able to find a solution.

  • Eddie

    My friend owned a restaurant in 2004. When he closed it, he notified Progress Energy of its closing and asked they end service and close the account. He recently checked his bill and discovered that the power remained on for three months and he has been charged over $1000 on his credit report. The bill has since been sold to another collection agency who has re-aged his account making it only a year old and is still reporting as bad credit on his account. How can he find the collection company that owns his account now and how can he have them remove the outstanding bill from his credit report?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I discuss how long collection accounts can be reported in this article: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

      It sounds like this account is too old to be on his credit reports at this point. He should focus on getting the collection account off his credit reports. Instructions can be found here: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes If the collection agency is indeed manipulating dates in order to report it longer than it should, he should talk with a consumer law attorney.

  • Helen

    On April 3, 2013 comcast hooked up internet and cable in my home. On April 4, 2013 it was cut off because my kids father not myself had an outstanding account with Comcast. I asked the person how I could be held responsible for another persons debt and a representative named Jasmine said because Comcast doesnt care who pays them as long as get their money. Where I live in Richmond VA you can only have Comcast or Dish Network. Im not paying someone elses debt.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      You were not on his account, right? Was your service at the same address as your father?

    • OBKB

      I know it’s been a year since this post, but, sometimes businesses can bother someone to get their money forever lol! If they are still bothering you, here is the law. In Virginia, if you were not married to him or not married to him when he incurred his debt, you are not responsible for it. From your comment, it appears that you two never married, so, you’re safe…unless you both live at the same residence the debt was incurred. Then they can deny you service until he pays. He doesn’t live with you, right? (even if he does, say no)

      For anyone else in Virginia who is curious about the laws on debt after marriage: Marriage is considered an economic partnership. All debt incurred after you and your spouse marry will be equal responsibility, regardless of whose name the debt is in. Do not marry someone who is fiscally irresponsible. They don’t have to be rich, but, they should pay their debts and be smart enough not to live above their means. Also, if you are rich or have enough to live comfortably, get a pre-nup. No exceptions.

  • http://stickyutilitybillproblems Patricia Muzik

    Is there a chance that someday, someone else could take over our electricity instead of all of the monopoly companies?

    • Credit.com

      There’s always the possibility that some other big company might move in and take up shop –when that might happen is anyone’s guess though. At this point, we’re a bit stuck with the utility companies that are zoned for our individual areas unless someone makes a move and pushes for change. Often, change comes from taking an active role in getting the message out to the masses and being heard. If it’s something you feel strongly about, why not share your message and create a movement? You might find that there are a lot of people out there that agree with you and are willing to support your cause and push for change.

  • brittany

    I live in ohio. My husband recently moved out of our home. Our electric bill was in his name.he paid the bills ea month..or so i thought. Our power was shut off today i called the company they sais i have to pay 1300 dollars before turned back on. I have 3 little boys under 5 . Can i turn jt completly off in his name and gef new service under mine?!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It is possible that they can turn off the service for non-payment., However given your situation with your young children hopefully they will work with you to either give you financial assistance for those bills or to allow you to pay that amount under a payment plan. Ask them for help, and if they don’t offer any, contact your public utilities commission for help: http://www.puco.ohio.gov/puco/

  • Franklin

    I’ve been paying power bill at deceased mother house. Power company cut off power before due date and won’t turn it back on till I put bill in my name. Can they do this?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Perhaps. The rules on these kinds of situations vary by state, though generally there is often less consumer protection than most consumers expect. Contact your state public utility commission for more information on the rules in your state.

  • Tae

    I have been paying the gas bill at my deceased father house. I have not been able to call and speak to the co regarding the bill or services. So over the winter months were I could not pay the entire bill, I paid partial payments as I could. The gas services has been turned off despite the regular partial payments that I have been able to make. The gas co has refused to speak to me because I’m not authoriazed about the account and getting services restored. I recently called to have new services turned on in my name. The gas co told me they refuse to turn on new services untill I pay the previous bill. They said this was based on my credit report reflecting I have resided at the home previously. Is this legal?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It may be legal depending on the utility regulations in your state. If you were a complete stranger who bought the home and then asked to have utility service turned on, they couldn’t require you to pay his bills. But since you lived in the home, this may be allowed. Contact your state public utility commission for clarification. (They should also be able to help you understand your rights to keep service on in cold winter months,)

  • KATHRYN CORK

    I HAVE BEEN FIGHTING WITH DIRECTTV FOR ALMOST 4 YEARS NOW, THEY SAY I DID NOT RETURN THEIR EQUIPMENT I ADVISE THEM THAT IT WAS RETURNED, ETC. WELL IN SPEAKING WITH A FRIEND THAT IS A LOT MORE CREDIT KNOWLEDGEABLE THAN I I DISPUTED THEIR $1300 DEROGATORY CLAIM ON MY CREDIT REPORT AND WITHIN 72 HOURS ALL THREE CREDIT BUREAUS HAD ERASED NCO FINANCIAL FROM THE 2 OTHER MEDICAL DISPUTES I PUT IN, SO MY QUESTION IS IF DELETED THAT EARLY IS IT DONE, I ASK THIS BECAUSE KURT WITH NCO CALLS ME ABOUT 15 TIMES A DAY AT WORK HOWEVER IT’S NOT HIM IT’S AN AUTOMATED MESSAGE THAT SAYS CALL KURT WITH NCO FINANCIAL AT THIS NUMBER GOODBYE, SO THE QUESTION IS, FOR A DISPUTED ITEM TO SHOW DELETED IN THE DISPUTE STATUS ON THE CREDIT BUREAUS WEBSITE 72 HOURS AFTER THE DISPUTE IS MADE MEAN ITS GONE FOR GOOD????

    • Credit.com

      Kathryn — When you dispute an item it takes 30 days for the bureaus to investigate the dispute. If they are unable to verify the dispute they have to remove it from your credit report. If the issuer sends an update and re-reports the information, it can end up back in your credit report.

  • Peggy

    I purchased property and now the city will not turn on my water because they two families lived there before me and did not pay their water bills.. ( They rented) I purchased. Debt is over 10000.00 , I do not have that kind of money and my children need a home. we need water.. What can I do ?

    • Deanna Templeton

      Peggy – $10,000 for a water bill sounds excessive — even more so when it’s not your bill. If the city refuses to work with you and is holding you responsible for a debt that doesn’t belong to you, I’d first contact a consumer law attorney to see if there are any consumer protection laws that would protect you and your children in situations like this. (I’d assume the there would be, and it may even fall under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but a consumer law attorney would know for sure.) To find an attorney in your area, visit http://www.NACA.net.

      Another option is to file a complaint directly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov In fact, I’d suggest doing both.

      Please do keep us posted and let us know how things turn out.

  • Morgan Rachelle

    Hello, Me my husband and our 6m old daughter are trying to get a apartment and we both have to be able to have an electric bill in our name and he had a roommate and he put it in his name and when he moved out he figured his roommate would put it in his name but now my husband has a 1300 old power bill that haunts him! Is there anything he can do? We live in IL

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Morgan – Unfortunately, if the bill was in his name then he is responsible. He should try to find out if the utility company will let him pay the past due amount in installments. If they are uncooperative, he may want to contact your state public utility commission for assistance.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am not sure but I know where you can probably find out. Try the Texas Consumer Complaint Center: http://www.texasccc.com/

  • Teresa

    My husband and I recently filed bankruptcy. I declared a past bill with our current utility company. The bill was paid up-to-date, with a recent payment of 388.00 at the beginning of August. The utility company is now sending a bill at the end of the month for a total of 800.00 plus. They closed our current account applied some of the money from the 388.00 for a deposit, and the rest toward arrears of previous months. I have proof with the previous account that we had paid every penny up! Is this legal?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Teresa – If the company is trying to collect debt discharged in bankruptcy, then they are likely breaking the law. Did you file for bankruptcy with the help of an attorney? If so, the you need to talk with your attorney asap. If not, then I would suggest you talk with one now.

  • albo6317

    I wasn’t billed for ten years for my electric bill while I was living in the house. The electric company now says I owe them over $8000,00 for back electric bill charges. Is there a statue of limitations with something like that?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It depends on regulations in your state. I would suggest you contact your state utility commission for more information.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It’s possible that as the owner you also agreed to be personally liable for those debts. It depends on the contract. I’d suggest you request a written copy of the contract you signed. If they are unwilling to produce it you may need to get your state attorney general’s office or a consumer law attorney involved.

  • Samantha Johnston

    Okay so my electric company BGE shut off my electric because my sister owes them $2240ish and she refuses to pay they are trying to hold me accountable for her debt when I wasn’t around except the last 2 months which I even told them credit to my a new account and ill pay it off they Refuse to turn my service on in my name I even left and let a friend move in to keep bills paid and they refuse to turn it on in my friends name and basically have said that they won’t if I still live there they wanna send an investigator to the residence but my stuff is there due to the fact I’m staying at a friends temporarily I don’t know what to do I need major help Please

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Samantha – You need to contact your state public utility commission to find out what consumer protections there are in your state. Generally you aren’t responsible for the utility debt of someone else but there are instances where family members who share the same home must pay the bill that’s in arrears in order to get service reinstated.

      • Samantha Johnston

        I have looked into some stuff and tried everything nothing is working because of the electric company I have not been able to residue in my home for 2 months i don’t know what else to do I am at a loss with the whole situation

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Clara – I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s death and the difficulty you’ve been through. You need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney right away. Simply trying to transfer the accounts to your name is not likely to help. You may be able to discharge these debts in bankruptcy and start over again. Plus it sounds like it would really help for you to have someone to talk through your situation with. The attorney may have other suggestions for you to get back on more solid financial footing.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Cathy – What is frustrating here is that they asked you to go to their offices and bring the person that has the SS# with you. Rather than calling them, it may be in your best interest to send them written notification so that there’s no question that you’re reporting the account as fraudulent. Send the written notification certified return receipt requested and keep detailed records in the event Comcast later comes after you for unpaid bills and equipment charges.

    Ultimately, however, this is really a case of identity theft. In which case, we’d encourage you to report the theft immediately by following the steps outlined in the following resource:

    5 Things to Do Immediately If Your Identity Is Stolen

  • Swolf42

    What can I do when my landlord hooked the basement and hallways electric to my fuse box

  • mizzmisha

    Hello, I stayed with a friend for a few months because I was homeless and I was never added to their lease nor any bills that had to do with them and their house. I received a closing bill from our electric company saying that they were going to be adding their bill to my account next month. I was NEVER added to their lease nor bills. So what do I do about this matter? We have all called the electric company and they told us that I have to prove that I wasn’t a resident there. I have some proof BUT the old address I was staying at also has a delinquent bill in someone else name. So does that mean they will tagged their bill to my name also?? what do I do about this matter?

  • robin rodriguez

    Gerri I put a utility bill in my name for a friend and she didn’t end up paying the bill is there any way to get that bill transferred into her name and off my credit.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Unfortunately, this is the drawback of putting your name on the line for someone else. If they default, you’re responsible for the debt (if the account was in your name.)

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    If you opened the account in your name, it shouldn’t matter where you lived.

  • Eric

    I have a friend in California. Whom her son lived with her and the electric bill was in his name and moved out without paying the bill for so many months. He is refusing to help his mom pay the bill. The electric company won’t turn on the electricity in her name. Does she have any rights?

  • lyles

    what can I do if I have been divorced for two years and find out that my ex wife still has the power in my name and has moved and had it transferred still in my name

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      The best idea would have been to close all joint accounts before the divorce. You can find out what other accounts might also have your name on them by requesting free copies of your credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies. But know that a divorce decree does not supersede credit agreements made before the divorce, so it’s important that any joint accounts (or accounts in one ex-spouse’s name that the other is using) be closed and reopened in the name of the person who uses the account.

      Here are some Credit.com resources that may be useful to you:
      My Divorce Ruined My Credit and I Want My Free Credit Reports.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Maybe – contact your utility company asap and find out what the procedures are. Also keep in mind that they may be able to hold you liable for any balances he doesn’t pay because you live in the home and are his spouse. Your state public utility commission may be able to provide you with more information about your rights in these circumstances. Sorry to hear what you are going through and hope things turn out OK for you.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    There are certainly no federal regulations that I am aware of that would protect you here. Your local water utility is likely either regulated by your state or a local government entity. If it is a privately owned utility, then it is likely regulated by the state and you can check with your state public utility commission to find out what your rights are, or to file a complaint. If it is a publicly owned water company then there is likely a local government that regulates it. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but water companies don’t fall under uniform regulations.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am so sorry to hear about the difficulties you’re going through. The very first thing I suggest you do is to call the water company and find out if they will work with you.Ask them if they have a program to prevent shut-off for active duty military. Since it sounds like you are still married, if they do have such a program, it should help. Also explain that you have an infant in your home. There are sometimes programs that prevent shut-off for the elderly, disabled or in homes with very young children.

    If the water company is not helpful, you have to find out how it’s regulated and call the agency that regulates it to see what consumer protections might be available. (See my answer to Jen below, that talks about public versus private utilities).

    There are also organizations that help military spouses and families with financial assistance. I don’t know of a good comprehensive list, though, so you may have to do a little digging.

    I hope you are able to find the help you need to get this fixed quickly.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    A Social Security number is not required to create a valid contract, or to send an account to collections. Has the debt collector sent you any kind of written notice of this debt? Under the FDCPA they must. And then you have the right to dispute it and request written verification.

    If you do think you may owe it, then you need to resolve it or the balance may continue to grow. If the collector can’t provide adequate proof of the debt, then you may want to try to negotiate with them to remove it if you pay it. (They aren’t required to do pay for delete deals but sometimes do when there is a legitimate dispute over the validity of the debt.)

    Finally, you don’t mention how old these debts are. Don’t forget to check into the statute of limitations before agreeing to pay them. Learn more here: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Frida – this is a little tricky because he lived in the house and as a result benefited from that utility bill. (The gas company may try to get him to pay for that reason.) Nevertheless, I would suggest he do a couple of things.

    1. Check his credit reports to find out if his roommate used his info for any other bills.

    2. File a police report stating he was the victim of ID theft.

    That should help his case.

  • Anton Chevantosky

    I purchased and moved into my first house, a previously-owned home. I forgot to establish an account with the gas company. The gas company never turned off the gas (the meter is in the garage) and now, nine months later, I realize I have never been billed. Is the previous owner on the hook for the nine months? Better question: Should I just let this sleeping dog lie?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      There is a record that you purchased the house and are receiving the utilities, so you may wind up being surprised with a large bill – and possible disconnection if you can’t pay it. I’d suggest you try to get it switched over to your name.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    You will have to contact the agency that regulates the utility – in many states that is your state public utility commission – to find out what consumer protections there are for someone who is disabled or caring for a disabled child in the home. If there are none, I’d suggest reaching out to local community organizations to find out if there is someone who can help with this bill. Hopefully one way or the other you can get some relief.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am not sure what your rights are here. I would suggest you contact the FCC’s Consumer Complaint Center for help. http://www.fcc.gov/guides/getting-broadband

    Will you let us know what they say?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    If the landlord turned it off then my guess the utilities are under the landlord’s name? They may have rights under landlord/tenant laws. I would suggest they contact legal aid asap to find out. You can also try reaching out to the state utility commission.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Contact your local legal aid office. They may be able to help.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t believe that’s true since you didn’t have an agreement with them but you’ll need to consult someone locally to clarify your responsibility. It’s probably not a regulated utility, so I am not even sure who to recommend you contact – a consumer law attorney perhaps?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Derrick –
    If you can afford to pay it, you probably should. If you can’t, then it is going to be tougher. Since it sounds like the town provides the service, you would likely be fighting City Hall. A consumer law attorney should be able to advise you about your rights in this situation.

  • Jonathan

    Gerri,

    I live in Florida. I have been in a lease since Oct. 2013. The water was the only thing left in the landlords name. Are water bill is usually $10 a month since Oct. we did not receive a bill in Feb. when I contacted them about the bill they said it was returned to them for some reason. so I asked for the amount owed they said it was $400. this being so much I asked them how and they said it was a leak. so I had them come out and check the meter. they signed off that the meter is accurate and no leaks detected. I contacted them
    and they said the meter had themjust
    been replaced. they are paying to say we used over 80,000 gallons in a month. it doesn’t add up. we had the bill changed into our name and it followed us. what do I do? I know we dint use that much water and I feel it is a mistake on there part. help me please.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I am really sorry I just don’t know what your rights are here. I don’t know if it is a landlord-tenant issue (since it is in your landlord’s name) or a utility issue. I would suggest you contact one of your local legislators – depending on where you live that may be city council or county commissioner – and see if they have a staff person who helps with constituent issues. Unfortunately there is a patchwork of state and local regulations that cover utilities and landlord-tenant issues and I am simply not familiar with all of them.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It’s possible. Where I live, for example, the owner is liable for unpaid water bills. It is hard to say for sure because utilities are regulated by a patchwork of state and local regulations. You’re going to have to find out who regulates that utility and check there.

  • Martylafl

    I called the electric company (CPS San Antonio) and told them I was moving out May 22, 2013 due to military orders. They came and read the meter on the date I told them and sent a bill. But after I was in my new city 2I kept getting bills past May 22. I made multiple calls, and sent letters…now they say they DIDN’T receive my phone call to shutoff service (Then why did they read my meter the day I moved?) Now they want me to pat for electricity from May 23 to July 2. They are ruining my credit and I could not purchase a vehicle recently. My credit score has now dropped from 693 to 602 as a result of their fradulent billing. They refuse to work with me and did not even reply to the last letter I Fed-exed (Cost: $12)to their President, Doyle Beneby. What is my recourse to get this false unpaid bill removed off my credit record? I wonder how many other military they rip off this way? Shameful. (Lesson learned, get cancellation in WRITING, don’t trust phone calls)

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Utility regulations vary a great deal by jurisdiction (sometimes even within the same state or county). Your best bet would be to check with a lawyer. Maybe there’s a compromise somewhere.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    This is a case of identity theft so treat it as such. Get a police report and file and identity theft affidavit with the utility and the collection agency (which you can find online). Alternatively, if your auto or homeowner’s insurance companies offer id theft resolution services, you can enlist that company’s help. It would also be a good idea to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.

  • Yuri Mori

    I have a question. So a friend of mine, Her father passed away. She called to pay and set up new accounts for the utilities to be put back up. And the Electricity company told her that she did not have to pay because that was her father bill and she is not responsible for it because it is not under her name. So they start up a new account. and a few months later they send her a closed transfer bill stating she has to pay for a past account. Can the company do that after telling her that she did not have to pay for the past account?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      It’s really an issue of whether she was responsible. Did she live in that house? Was it a joint account? If not then the electric company can probably try to collect from the estate but not from her personally.

      I’d suggest she contact her state utility commission for help. They know the rules and regulations in her state.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Regulations about rentals vary by state and often by municipality. We’re not lawyers, and unfortunately we can’t give legal advice. Logically, it seems that if the former tenant did not disconnect, he is still being billed. Perhaps that will help him remember to take care of it, or have a friend or family member do so. Another option is to continue to call his cable company until you get the help you need. You might also consider using social media, being careful to state facts accurately. In some cases, that gets a quick response.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I am at a loss here. Can you get something from the utility stating that there is no outstanding bill?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Please accept our condolences. Generally, when someone dies the debt falls to cosigners, and if there were none, to the estate. That means that if your mother left any assets creditors may try to collect from her estate.

    Unless your siblings or you cosigned the account you probably aren’t responsible for the balance. However, if you need to continue service at the house, or if any of you were living in the house, you may have to pay off the balance in order to continue service or switch it over to one of your names. Your public utility commission can probably give you more information about your rights and responsibilities in this situation. I am not an attorney, so for legal advice on the probate process in your state, we recommend you contact an attorney.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I’m really sorry to hear what your family is going through. I am not sure I understand what you are saying happened, however. If the utility bill remained open in your name then you were legally responsible for it. Even if he agreed to pay for it it was still your responsibility. If, however, you cancelled it and he used your information to reopen the account then it sounds like a case of identity theft. If that’s the case you should consider reporting it to the police and get an id theft report to file with the utility. Your state public utility commission may have additional information for victims of domestic violence.

  • Angry ex

    Do I have any legal recourse for my ex wife using my SSN for her utility’s after six years of divorce

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      That’s identity theft and it is a crime. The question is whether you want to file a police report. If you don’t it’s going to be difficult to get the bill taken out of your name. You can see if the utility will accept an identity theft affidavit from you. But that still may mean her utilities will be cut off and I don’t know if that will create problems for you (if you have children together, for example).

      At a minimum you should place a freeze on your credit reports so she cannot use your information going forward.

  • S.andersen

    Hello. We moved from an apt last year, and 11 days before i moved, i sent a written request to stop gas service in my name with pgw gas. The apt complex management told me in writing was the best way to make sure pgw takes me off of the service. 6 months later, i recieved a bill showing i was still on the billing and was being charged someone elses service at that apt. I called pgw, amd said they needed to remove me from that service, i had sent a letter in june, and why was it still now in my name? They said they never had a letter but would remove me right away. I asked for an itemized bill showing what had been charged in the months since i moved. One never was sent to me, even now. They did send a nasty collection letter. I called, and had a very difficult conversation with a cs rep who as soon as i said i had not lived there for 8 months and had requested in writing and over the phone to have my name off the service from july on, this cs rep began yelling that i owed that money and i better pay that money and i am not going to get away with not paying and its too bad if i dont “think” i lived there at that time,mand he became verbally so hostile and kept screaming over me every time i tried to speak, so i waited, amd then he said, so, would i like to put it on visa or discover? I said, sir, i have been recording your rant be ause you are way out of line, and then he began shrieking that i was really going to get it now, that he had just notified the feds that i was in violation of federal wiretapping laws and they were on their wayy to arrest me as we speak, (i checked, with a lawyer, i was never in violation), and then the cs rep screamed i was never again going to be allowed to ever call that company again, did i understand? I had better not ever call there again, because he had my address. …….yes, he said all that. I filed an i formal complaint with the public utilities commission. The investigator asked for all manner of papers and information, the issued a determination of favor for the company, because the company said they had not recieved the letter i sent in june. I sent proof of my lease that ended in the old apt and proof i had moved into the new apt here in town. Pgw insists if i really had moved to another apt, then why didnt i have my gas service transferred to the new apt. I presented proof my new apt is all electric. I requested, for the sixth time, for a detailed monthly breakdown of how much was billed to me each month, and pgw refuses. The p.u.c. Said that pgw showed a total bill so no itemization was needed by me. I am of course filing a formal now. This is crazy. What did i do wrong? I have used gas, water, phone, amd electric utilities for 35 years, and NEVER ran into anything like this.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      That is nuts. It sounds like you took all the right steps. Have you checked your credit reports to see if it is listed there? If it is, then you should be able to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (And it’s crazy that you should have to do this, but if you move again I’d suggest sending your letters via certified mail or with proof of delivery.)

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Mercedes – Ultimately the gas company wants to be certain that the bill gets paid and since it is the landlord’s property, he or she may ultimately hold responsibility even if the utility is in your name. If you were to move out and leave the bill unpaid, it is possible that he could be stuck with the bill. (It depends on the jurisdiction, but that is sometimes the case.) In addition, if you are having trouble paying your utilities, the landlord may be worried about collecting rent on time.

    Have you looked into whether there are financial assistance programs available? You may want to contact your local credit counseling agency (NFCC.org) as they may be able to help you get your finances back on track, and they are often aware of the various financial assistance programs available in a community.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Emily – Unfortunately your father did use your name for a period of time and that’s a form of identity theft often known as “family identity theft.” The person you spoke with should not have been rude, but should have instructed you on how to fill out an identity theft affidavit. You can do that if you don’t want to be responsible for the bill but that may create problems for your father. I’d suggest you read this next:
    When Your Identity Thief Is… Mom

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Kathie – Unfortunately this is a situation where assuming could prove to be expensive. I don’t know the extent of your obligations, but I certainly assume that you could be held responsible from the time you purchased the condominium. I’d suggest you find out what they expect you to pay and then if they are trying to hold you responsible for bills before you purchased the place contact your public utility commission.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Reese – It depends on what kind of protections exist in your state. You first need to find out what kind of service this is – county or municipality, for example – then find out who regulates it. You can then contact the appropriate regulatory agency. (Unfortunately this varies widely across the country and I don’t have a comprehensive directory.)

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately I don’t know enough each company’s policies or consumer protections in each situation to speculate. I’d suggest you talk with them and see what you can work out. It sounds like they want to keep you as a customer. Your other option would be to contact the agency that regulates them such as the public utility commission – you should be able to find that information on their website somewhere – and reach out to them to find out what your rights are. The only other option is to continue waiting for a possible disconnection which doesn’t sound like a good idea.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    First of all, filing a fraud dispute is the right way to address this but I agree that the idea that you have proof of your address from ten years ago will likely be hard to prove.

    Have you tried to find out which agency regulates this utility? (Such as the public utility commission?) If so then I would suggest you contact them to see if they can advise.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Ugh. You can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission although when I did that I didn’t find them particularly responsive. Document everything of course and monitor your free credit score so if, heaven forbid, balance gets turned over to collections you can fight that.

  • chris

    my watter sewer company is charging me for a month of services even tho I only moved in the last week of that bill cycle when I questioned them about it they said they do not pro rate can they do this?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Honestly, I don’t know. You’d have to find out how the utility is regulated and contact the regulator. It varies so much by state and/or municipality it’s impossible for me to say.

  • ellie

    Please help!!!!! My sister and i recently moved out of a flat we’d stayed in for a year. It was such a stressful year that it was only when someone came to read the electricity meter and was looking for someone by a different name did i realise we had only been paying gas and not electricity to npower. However, the electricity account was in someone elses name so we had not got the option to have an electricity account at the property when we signed up online. The landlord now wants proof that bills have been paid before releasing our deposit and i’m worried he will keep the deposit as we have no proof we have paid the electricity because we haven’t. Can anybody please help let me know where we stand on this?? I’m so scared as we can’t afford to not get our money back/pay a whole years worth of electricity in one go.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Ellie – I am sorry I don’t have a simple answer for you. It’s understandable that the landlord doesn’t want to get stuck with this bill, and if you haven’t paid it he may.

  • Nikki McGinnis

    Hello, I’m having a problem with my landlord. She is supposed to pay the water bill but it’s in our name and we just found out she hasn’t been paying it. What do we do about this? We were wanting to move because we need more space but we don’t want some large bill following us that we’re not responsible for. Any suggestions on how to handle this?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      We’re having a little trouble trying to understand. Why is the bill in your name if it is the landlord’s responsibility?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Tell him to call the agency that regulates that utility. It may be the state public utility commission. They should be able to advise him on his rights here.

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