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Rights and options for those behind on utility bills in cold temps


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Rights and options for those behind on utility bills in cold temps

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Dec 10, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Some struggling families across the Valley are braving the cold temperatures after their utilities were disconnected for not paying their bill.

What do you need to know if you're facing a similar situation?

April wasn't sure what to do. She huddled near a fire place in her home to keep warm.

"It's so cold," she said. "It's like an icicle in here."

No lights and plenty of blankets. That's life after she said her electric service was disconnected about a week ago.

"It's just really, really hard right now," she said.

April said she lost her job in November. She said she was on a payment plan but struggled to keep up with payments and the outstanding balance, which a statement showed to be hundreds dollars. Running out of options, she emailed Action News.

"I'm not doing this for someone to come and pay my bill," April said. "I didn't know where to go or who to go to try to get some help."

The consumer's bill of rights, available through the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, offers some protections to customers in similar situations.

For example, state administrative code prohibits regulated utilities from shutting off gas or electric service when the temperature drops to 15 degrees or lower or reaches 105 degrees or higher.

Utilities must give a written warning before disconnecting, which April's house received. If your health could be impacted by a shutoff, you must first supply a doctor's note to postpone a disconnect, according to the code. Utilities must also offer payment plans for late bills, the code states.

The Salvation Army is one of several non-profits who help administer assistance programs. With the cold weather, the Salvation Army said it's receiving up to 30 requests a week. 

Perhaps the most important lesson: Don't wait until it's too late and your service has been disconnected to ask for help, according to the Salvation Army.

"Once their service has been disconnected, we may or may not be able to assist them," said Heather Witcher with the Salvation Army. "We don't want them to be in a cold house either."

NV Energy and Southwest Gas said they will work with customers who are struggling to set up payment plans. Both companies offer assistance programs and online tools that help monitor energy usage. NV Energy also lets customers set up alerts when their bill reaches a certain amount.

Action News is also working to find a program that might be able to help April.