Utility Rights and Programs

Produced by Jen Bosco
Reviewed January 2022

Who Pays the Utilities?

The landlord must pay:

  • Hot water and heat. You only have to pay if you sign an agreement that says you pay.
  • Gas and electricity. You only have to pay if you sign an agreement that says you pay and your apartment has separate gas and electric meters.
  • Water. You only have to pay if you sign an agreement that says you pay, your apartment has a separate water meter, and the landlord has a certificate that shows your apartment has low-flow fixtures.

When You Move In

If you signed an agreement that says you will pay for gas or electricity, contact the gas or electric company when you move in.

Most utility companies allow you to ask for new service over the telephone. Some companies may require you to fill out a form.

Certain rules apply if you owe a utility bill at a prior address.

Get help

If you cannot pay your current bill

You may be able to get a discounted rate from gas, electric and telephone companies if your income is low and you get government assistance, like SSI, Food Stamps, or Head Start. See Can I get a discount on my utilities?

If you need help to pay your heating bill, find out if you qualify for the Fuel Assistance Program. Call 800-632-8175.

If you are behind

Call your utility company immediately and ask about payment plans.

Utility companies have special programs called Arrearage Management Programs. If you qualify, every time you pay a bill on time, they give you a credit on your past due bill. See Get help to pay your bills.

You may be able to get help from a rental assistance program. You must be financially eligible. See how to apply for emergency housing payment assistance.

If you owe a bill from a prior apartment

If you owe a gas or electric bill from a prior apartment, the company may ask you to pay off the whole bill before they turn on new service.

They may agree to a reasonable payment plan. You can contact the company directly to negotiate your own payment plan. Do not agree to pay an amount you cannot afford.

If a utility company refuses to turn on the new service, they may ask you to sign a Cromwell Waiver. This form gives the company permission to add your unpaid bill to your new bill and set up a payment plan. If you do not pay your new bill, they can turn off your service.

Do not sign a Cromwell Waiver if the bill from the prior address is wrong or it is not yours.

If a company refuses to set up a payment plan or sign a Cromwell Waiver, call the Department of Public Utilities Hotline at 877-886-5066 and ask them to help you.

Protection Against Shutoffs

If your landlord is responsible for utilities and fails to pay for them, the utility company must give you at least 30 days' notice before they shut off your service.

If you fail to pay at your current address, a utility company can shut off your service.

They cannot shut off your services for charges from a prior address or for money a prior tenant owes.

Special protections: If your household has a low-income, a utility company must not shut off your services if anyone:

  • Is under 12 months
  • If all adults in the house are 65 or older, or
  • Has a serious or chronic illness like diabetes, ADHD, or asthma.

Special Winter Protections: If your household has a low income and you cannot afford heat for the winter months – November 15 to March 15 - an electric and gas company cannot shut off your service. Sometimes this protection lasts until April, too. To get this protection, ask the company for a hardship application.

Resolve a dispute with a utility company

If a utility company does not fix a problem to your satisfaction, ask the company to protect your service until they resolve the dispute.

If they have not shut off your service already, they cannot shut it off while they are resolving the dispute.

If the utility company does not help you, call the Department of Public Utilities 1-877-886-5066, email them at [email protected], or complete their online complaint form.

See Protections against shutoffs

Landline phone help

If you have a low income, get help to pay your home landline phone bill and keep basic phone service.

  • Get 90 days to pay your landline phone bill if someone in your house has a serious illness. Also, if someone has a personal emergency and needs a phone, you can get up to 30 extra days.
  • Try to negotiate a payment plan. If you owe money to a phone company for a landline, you can try to negotiate a plan to pay off the amount you already owe and set up a new account. If the company will not agree to a payment plan, call the Department of Telecommunications and Cable consumer line: 800-392-6066. Tell them you need an advocate to negotiate a plan.
  • Get your deposit back if you pay all your phone bills on time for 6 months. After 6 months, ask the phone company for your deposit, plus interest.
  • Get a discount each month if you get government assistance like SSI, SNAP, and Head Start. Apply to your phone company.

Landline, cell phone, and internet help

The Lifeline program helps pay for a landline phone, a cell phone or Internet services. A household can only get help with one service. But you can apply the Lifeline benefit to bundled services, and choose to apply the benefit to the phone or Internet service. Call your phone company to apply, or apply online. The Lifeline Support Center phone number is 1-800-234-9473. If you do not have a phone or your phone company does not offer Lifeline call the Dept. of Telecommunications and Cable consumer line: 800-392-6066.

Internet help

The Affordable Connectivity Program helps pay for Internet. The program provides a discount of up to $30/month toward Internet service for  households that qualify. For households on qualifying Tribal lands, the discount is up to $75/month . If your household qualifies and you contribute $10-$50 toward the price, you can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 to buy a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. . The program is limited to one discount and one device discount per household. See www.fcc.gov/acp or call your broadband provider.

What if the heat goes off?

A landlord must provide heat from September 16 through June 14.

If the heat goes off, call your landlord immediately. If you cannot reach the landlord or they do not fix the problem, call the local board of health. Tell them there is a problem with the heat. The law requires them to do their best to inspect your apartment within 24 hours.

If your landlord turns off your heat you can also ask a court to order the landlord to turn them back on.

See What if my landlord tries to force me out or turns off my utilities?

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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