New Restrictions on Residential Water Service Discontinuation in California
SB 998 Will Require Written Policies, Detailed Notices and Alternative Payment Options
There will be new restrictions on residential water service discontinuation when customers are delinquent in paying their water bills under Senate Bill 998, signed last week by California Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation will impact existing practices, policies and procedures relating to delinquent accounts and discontinuation of water service by retail water purveyors.
The new law applies to all urban and community water systems, public or private, that provide water to more than 200 service connections. For water systems regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, or those supplying water to more than 3,000 customers annually, the new requirements will go into effect on Feb. 1, 2020. For any other water systems with more than 200 service connections, the new requirements will go into effect April 1, 2020.
Among other things, SB 998 mandates:
- Water systems must adopt written discontinuation policies that are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean and any other language spoken by 10 percent or more people within the system’s service area. The policies must contain certain information, and be posted on the water system’s website.
- Water systems may not discontinue residential water service due to delinquent payment until payments are delinquent for at least 60 days. After that time, the water system must attempt to provide notice to customers by telephone or in writing, and provide information about appeals, extensions and alternative repayment options.
- Water systems may not discontinue residential water service if all of the following take place: 1.) a primary care provider certifies that the discontinuation of water service will pose a serious or potentially fatal threat to a resident, 2.) the customer demonstrates inability to pay and 3.) the customer is willing to enter into an alternative payment arrangement. A customer can demonstrate an inability to pay based on the receipt of certain public assistance by someone in the household, or a declaration from the customer that the household is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
- Water systems must limit certain low-income customers’ reconnection fees to no more than $50 during regular business hours, and $150 during non-regular hours.
- Water systems must attempt to provide notice to renters and mobile home residents that their service may be discontinued due to delinquent payments by their landlords, and that the residents have the right to become customers of the water system without paying the past-due amounts on the landlords’ accounts.
- Water systems must annually post on their websites the number of times the system has discontinued service due to inability to pay.
These new rules, and others contained in SB 998, are in addition to existing discontinuation of service requirements that apply to special districts that provide retail water service under Government Code section 60370, et seq.
In light of SB 998, water systems should carefully evaluate their existing policies and procedures relating to delinquent accounts and discontinuation of water service, and update any necessary policies, procedures, ordinances or administrative codes to ensure compliance with the new requirements.
If you have any questions about SB 998 and how it may impact your agency, please contact the author of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Special Districts practice group, or your BB&K attorney.
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