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How can I stop a utility company from turning the lights off?

One option you might have to stop electricity, gas and water companies from discontinuing your service is to file for bankruptcy. This could give you a type of protection that is similar in concept to the automatic stay: the part of bankruptcy that could have the power to stop creditors from harassing you.

While automatic stays are related, utilities are not subject to the same rules as general lenders. The laws that govern your relationship with your utility company are contained in a different section of the bankruptcy code. Once you understand the difference, it is often easier to form a strategy that lets you keep the lights on. 

Title 11, Chapter 366 of the U.S. Code is the section that relates to utility services. There are a couple of points that could be pertinent to your case if you were threatened with shutoff letters. First, your utility would be prevented from shutting off your service, under certain conditions. Second, you would probably have to provide assurance of payment. 

The basic protection this law offers means that the company's ability to shut off your utilities due to a debt or late payment would be limited. They could regain the power to cut you off if you were late on certain deadlines, or else if you were to fail in providing adequate proof that you could pay.

As for your assurance of payment itself, the U.S. Code mentions several forms it could take, including:

  • Prepayment 
  • Letters of credit or surety bonds
  • Cash deposits or CDs

It could seem like these might be inaccessible if you were in the midst of a debt crisis. However, since bankruptcy is essentially about debt restructuring, you might be surprised at what you can achieve with adequate knowledge and correct prioritization of liabilities. This is not meant as legal advice. It is only educational material. 

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