Can the city shut off my utilities (power/water/sewer) if I don’t pay my bill?

utilities shutoffI was surprised by this the first time I saw it, but yes, the city can shut off your utilities for non-payment.  The first time I saw this was in Utah during a brief summer heatwave, where the city of Eagle Mountain shut off electricity to one of my clients.  This meant that they didn’t have any a/c in the summer.  Not the end of the world, but it sure seemed barbaric at the time.  Personally, I sweat in any temperature above 70 degrees, and that shutoff would seem like the end of the world for me.

However, if you look at it from the city or utility company’s viewpoint, they shouldn’t have to keep providing services for free.  They have every right to stop delivery of a product (like water or electricity) if they are not being paid for that product.

If you file bankruptcy, it can stop the utility termination briefly, but you will have to renew service with the city under a new contract.  This new contract requires a much higher deposit.  In the aforementioned Eagle Mountain example, the clients had to come up with a $500 deposit to get their electricity turned back on. The city couldn’t use that new deposit to pay the old bill, but they had every right to charge a higher deposit.

This all came home to me when I saw the recent news article about the city of Detroit shutting off water service to residents.  19,000 homes lost water access, and the city was/is shutting off water service to about 350 homes a day.  It’s hard to believe, but yes, it happens in our modern society.–business.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory

This summer Detroit began what some witnesses last week described as an “aggressive campaign” to pare down $90 million in overdue bills. After 19,000 homes lost water access, people from across the country sent gallon jugs to the city and residents protested in the streets.

Mayor Mike Duggan in August issued a month-long moratorium on shutoffs and implemented a plan to help low-income customers pay their bills that Rhodes called “bold, commendable and necessarily aggressive.”

Still, the plaintiffs said current water disconnections, which have run at a rate of around 350 per day since the moratorium ended, put public health at risk, hurt seniors on fixed incomes, and disrupted families with children.

They also said poor customers needed a more affordable plan than Duggan’s, adding that the injunction would fall during freezing-cold winter months when the department already refrains from disconnecting pipes.