Bill Memo: Utility Shut-off Moratorium
This bill amends the Public Service Law to extend the moratorium on utility shut-offs.
This bill prohibits utility shut-offs, including water shut-offs, for the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency and during future states of emergency. For New Yorkers who suffer financial harm during these times, the bill also prohibits shut-offs for a period of time after the end of the state of emergency and guarantees customers the right to negotiate a deferred payment agreement without down payments, late fees, or penalties.
New York’s current shut-off moratorium is set to expire on March 31, and this legislation would ensure current utility shut-off protections do not lapse for New Yorkers currently unable to pay their utility bills. All New Yorkers need clean, running water in their homes to stay healthy, especially during COVID-19. A recent study from Duke University researchers concluded that utility shut-off moratoria have prevented COVID-19 infections and saved lives during the pandemic.
Water shut-offs are a practice that many utilities employ when households cannot pay their water bills, and disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color. From 2015 through March 2019, the City of Buffalo terminated water in over 17,000 instances. In 2016, Suffolk County Water Authority disconnected water service for one percent of its customers, affecting 9,553 people.
To fully ensure that struggling families have access to utility services, this bill could be made stronger by:
- Ensuring protections last for at least 180 days after the end of the state of emergency;
- Prohibiting the placement, sale, and enforcement of water liens during the emergency and recovery period;
- Requiring all community water systems and wastewater systems comply;
- Requiring standardized notifications be sent with each utility bill to fully inform New Yorkers of their rights;
- Strengthening the Department of Public Service’s enforcement authority;
- Prohibiting the charging of interest and reconnection fees, selling or reporting of consumer debt to a collection or credit agency, or charging of a deposit for new service; and
- Requiring immediate reconnection of customers disconnected from service.
Environmental Advocates NY Bill Rating: Substantial Benefit
Memo #: 34