The rules for disconnecting utility services are often a blend of ordinances approved by the city council and regulations established by the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB). Not all types of municipal utilities fall under direct IUB jurisdiction, although IUB rules often serve as the basis for city policies in this area. Below is an overview of disconnection issues; a more detailed review of these issues is included in the Disconnection of Service Handbook which is produced by the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU). This handbook is free and available on the IAMU Web site for members of that association.
Electric and Gas Utilities
Municipal electric and gas utilities are fully covered by IUB regulations concerning disconnection of services. Generally, disconnection of a customer due to nonpayment can occur if the utility has made a reasonable attempt to collect, has given the customer 12 days notice to pay and has provided the customer with information on their rights and remedies regarding reestablishment of service. Disconnection of a residential customer, however, may not take place on a weekend, holiday or after 2 p.m. unless the utility is prepared to reconnect the same day. Disconnection of a residential customer shall be postponed if the disconnection would present a special danger to the health of any permanent resident of the premises.
There are few restrictions on disconnection of water service, as the IUB does not have jurisdiction. The applicable state law relating to disconnection of water is Code of Iowa Section 384.84, which prevents disconnection unless “prior written notice is sent, by ordinary mail, to the account holder in whose name the delinquent rates or charges were incurred, informing the account holder of the nature of the delinquency and affording the account holder the opportunity for a hearing prior to discontinuance of service. Code of Iowa Section 384.84 also contains provisions relating to placing liens on property for nonpayment and also allows municipal utilities to disconnect one city utility service for nonpayment of another (usually disconnection of water for nonpayment of sewer or garbage). This does not apply to all types of utilities as gas and electric utility service cannot be disconnected for nonpayment of any other utility service.
Disconnection of residential electric and gas service is subject to special requirements from November 1 through April 1. During this time period, the utility cannot disconnect electric or natural gas service to a customer who is certified as eligible for either low-income energy or weatherization assistance. To avoid disconnection of electric or gas service during the winter moratorium, customers must apply to their local Community Action Agency (CAA) before the scheduled disconnection, and customers must notify both the electric and gas utility that they have applied. The length of time to determine eligibility by the CAA will vary. However, the utility must delay disconnection for up to 30 days while the agency rules on eligibility. The “20 degree” rule applies only to delinquent customers who received notice of termination, failed to qualify for any kind of energy assistance, agreed to a payment plan and then defaulted again on the payment plan. For these customers service cannot be terminated unless the temperature is forecasted to be above 20 degrees.
If a head of household is a member of the military and has been deployed, electric and natural gas utility service cannot be shut off during active duty or within 90 days after the end of deployment. For this exception to be valid, the customer must inform the utility of military deployment prior to disconnection.