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Pennsylvania Power Shutoffs

When a Pennsylvania landlord commenced eviction proceedings against his tenants, they called the local electric company and arranged for disconnection of the electric service before leaving the premises. Because the tenants were the "ratepayers," i.e., the individuals who had arranged for the electric service and who were responsible for paying the bills, the electric company disconnected the rental home from all electric service. At the time the service was disconnected, the outdoor temperature was below freezing. Since the home-heating system depended on the electric service, the house froze throughout and substantial water damage resulted from multiple ruptures of the plumbing system.

The landlord sued the electric company for failing to notify him before they disconnected the electric service. The landlord's suit against the electric company went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where the electric company won.

Pennsylvania law closely regulates the termination of public utilities. Electric companies cannot terminate service on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, or certain specified holidays. Consumers are entitled to 10 days' notice before termination. The electric company must attempt to make personal contact with the consumer before terminating service. From December 1 to March 31, electric companies may not terminate electric service related to home heating unless the provision of service causes an actual danger or unless the company secures special permission from the Public Utility Commission.

In this case, the landlord's problem was that the electric service was not "terminated"-it was "disconnected." Disconnection of service at the request of the ratepayer is not surrounded by the same safeguards as is termination of service by the electric company. When an electric company terminates its service, its rights are limited by the consumer protection laws described above. Additionally, when terminating service, the company owes notice to the landlord. But in this case, the landlord's tenants legally were considered the "residents" in the home, and because they alone were the "ratepayers" the company was entitled to disconnect the service at their request without any notice to the landlord.

Some electric companies have a "landlord/tenant agreement" through which landlords can agree automatically to assume the responsibility for payment of the electric service if the tenants request disconnection of the service. Some electric companies may follow a policy of notifying landlords in regard to both terminations and disconnections. But, as this recent case clearly shows, there is no obligation on the part of an electric company to notify a landlord where residential tenants request disconnection of their electric service.

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