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Heat emergency

No heat in the winter can be life threatening

Prepare for winter heating
In southwest Ohio the issue of utility disconnections is in the news before the heating season begins. An Enquirer article asks: "They died in their beds from hypothermia. Was Duke Energy responsible?" In the wake of that article, the Ohio Consumers Counsel has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to order the Public Utilities Commission to speed up violations of the Winter Shut off Rule.

The Winter Reconnect Order works like this. "The order allows any electric or natural gas customer of an investor owned utility to avoid disconnection or to reconnect their service for $175, even if the customer owes more and cannot afford to pay the entire balance." There are no income restrictions, but the consumer may be charged a reconnection fee and may be required to set up a payment plan if he/she owes more than $175.

For tenants who live in a rental property where utilities are included in the rent, there's a lesser known shut off rule. The Landlord Tenant provisions require utility companies to give a 14 day notice to the tenants and offer them the opportunity to keep service on if the tenants agree to deposit their next month's rent with the local municipal court. Because this process can be cumbersome and unfamiliar to both utility companies and municipal courts, an advocate (attorney or an outside organizer) may need to take charge of negotiating with the company and the court.

For tenants in buildings heated by a boiler system (steam or hot water), a water shut off can also be a heat shut off. Although the Landlord Tenant provisions only apply to investor owned utilities, tenants may want to use the same technique to prevent a water shut off until tenants can make their rent deposits. Consult an attorney.

For tenants who live in buildings where the heat is included in the rent, it's good to know when owners are required to provide heat. Most cities or counties have a health or housing code regulation that determines when owners are required to provide heat. These code requirements may be pretty straightforward (a set date) or may be based on outdoor temperature. Check your local building, housing or health department to learn the rule for your community.

Two other winter heating programs that can help low income households prevent a loss of heat in the wintertime are Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP+) Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) Winter Crisis program.

PIPP+ permits low income Ohioans to set up consistent payment amount for utilities year round. Households which pay on-time and in-full will receive credit for the balance of their current bill and credit to reduce their outstanding balance.

HEAP Winter Crisis helps low income Ohioans prevent disconnection between November 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. To find a local agency to help, you can call the Ohio Development Services Agency’s hotline (800) 282-0880 or your local community action agency.

Ohio Consumers Counsel (OCC) can answer questions about heat and other utility issues. Tenants may call OCC at 1-877-742-5622, or send an e-mail to, or use the online contact form. Here's OCC's summary of disconnection related programs.

 The basics
1. If the problem is a breakdown of heating system, landlord is responsible to repair. To speed the repair process, tenants may

1. seek a motion to compel repairs under ORC 5321.07 by
  • written notice to landlord
  • contact attorney or the court staff and ask for help to file emergency motion to compel
  • get court order (and maybe assistance with emergency shelter or rent abatement)
2. seek assistance of code enforcement (or local government generally) to order/urge/monitor repair process

3. get media to pay attention to the problem. TV likes this kind of story because there are nice visuals.

4. If the problem is non payment shut off and landlord pays the utility supplier, then...tenants can contact Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Under PUCO regulations, service can be restored and tenants deposit next rent with local court in order to pay the outstanding utility bill. More here.

5. If the problem is a non payment shut off and the tenant failed to pay the bill, then tenant should talk to the utility company about public assistance programs which might be able to get service reconnected. More info here.

NOTE: Customers of Rural Cooperatives and Third Party resellers are not eligible for public benefit progams like PIPP +

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