Utility Shutoffs on the Rise!Feb 22, 2023
Many individuals have struggled with utility payments over the years, but recently, utility shutoffs for nonpayment have risen to all times highs across the country. Unfortunately, Illinois and Chicago lead the nation in utility shutoffs for electricity and gas.
What Utility Companies perpetrate the majority of shutoffs?
The “Powerless in the United States” report, issued January 30 by three groups, which monitor the fossil fuel industry, cited ComEd and Nicor as extreme examples of companies that have dramatically increased utility shutoffs during 2022. ComEd canceled service for 225,827 accounts in the Chicago area, up 27% from 2021. Nicor, which supplies gas to most suburbs, was even worse, with a 38% increase in shutoffs from 20211-2022, representing 24,022 customers. And Peoples’ Gas, which provides gas service to Chicago, was also up 14.7%, or 14,859 accounts.
Although some of the increase is due to COVID-related suspension of utility shutoffs for some of 2021, the report also cites other factors: exorbitant executive salaries and increasing shareholder dividends. ComEd, in particular, was singled out for increasing disconnections while winning rate increases and paying a $200 million fine for corruption charges.
What to do about utility shutoffs as landlords?
If tenants cannot pay for their utilities, this affects landlords. Some landlords include utilities in the rent, but many do not, which means tenants must pay for their own utilities, and they are at risk of shutoffs. What can landlords do to help?
First, landlords should have a section in their lease regarding utilities, and Chicago and Cook County ordinances require some sections:
- Tenants must keep utilities on at all times, and utilities must be in their name
- The lease must specify whether landlords or tenants are responsible for a utility
- Landlords must disclose the approximate cost of a utility (if known)
- If tenants pay for a utility, it must be individually metered to the unit
Second, if tenants are experiencing difficulties paying their utilities, landlords can provide them with resources from the utility companies to help avoid shutoffs:
- ComEd: https://www.comed.com/.../Pages/PaymentAssistance.aspx
- Nicor: https://www.nicorgas.com/.../energy-assistance-programs.html
- Peoples Gas: https://www.peoplesgasdelivery.com/payment-bill/assistance
Landlords want to avoid damage to their properties, which may result from not having utilities, such as frozen pipes, stealing of electricity, or extreme heat. In addition, helping tenants with utility payments can help ensure tenants pay rent because they don’t have to choose between rent and utilities. And last, landlords should try to help their tenants whenever possible.
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