Intended to minimize the number of Californians who lose access to water service due to their inability to pay, Senate Bill 998 (“SB 998”) provides additional procedural protections before residential water service can be discontinued. These protections apply to water service provided by an “urban and community water system,” a “public water system,” and an “urban water supplier” as those terms are defined. Among other things, SB 998 requires specified water providers to have a written policy on discontinuation of services, prohibits discontinuance until accounts are at least 60 days delinquent, requires 7 business days’ notice before discontinuance, and prohibits discontinuance when doing so would pose a serious threat to the health and safety of a resident if the customer demonstrates an inability to pay and is willing to make payments via alternative methods.
SB 998 defines a “public water system” as a system for the provision of water that has at least 15 service connections or serves at least 25 individuals at least 60 days out of the year.1 An “urban and community water system” is defined as a public water system that supplies water to more than 200 service connections,2 and an “urban water supplier” is defined as a supplier of water for municipal purposes to more than 3,000 customers.3
Both urban water suppliers and urban and community water systems that are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) must comply with SB 998 starting on February 1, 2020, but urban and community water systems not regulated by the PUC must comply with SB 998 starting on April 1, 2020.4
New Procedures Applicable to Urban and Community Water Systems
SB 998 requires all “urban and community water systems” to have a written policy on the discontinuation of residential service and translated into other languages as necessary. This policy must be posted on the system’s website and contain a plan for deferred or reduced payments, alternative payment schedules, appeal/contest procedures, and a phone number for customers to call to avert discontinuation.5
Further, “urban and community water systems” (“water systems”) cannot discontinue residential water service due to non-payment until the customer has been delinquent for at least 60 days, and notice of discontinuance is given at least 7 business days beforehand.6 This notice must contain, among other things, the amount of the delinquency, the date payment is required to avoid discontinuance, a description of the process to apply for an extension or to appeal the bill, and the procedure to request an alternative payment procedure.7 Further, the system must provide to the residential customer its service discontinuation policy and offer to discuss options to avert discontinuation of service.8 If the water system is unable to make contact with the customer by telephone and the notice of discontinuance is returned through the mail as undeliverable, the water system must make a good faith effort to visit the residence and post the notice at the residence.9
Water systems cannot discontinue residential water service for non-payment if:
- The customer submits certification from a primary care provider that discontinuance would be life-threatening or pose a serious threat to the health and safety of a resident;
- The customer demonstrates he/she is financially unable to pay within the water system’s normal billing cycle; and
- The customer is willing to enter into an alternative payment schedule.10
Water systems that discontinue residential service must also provide information on how to restore service.11 Where the customer demonstrates household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, water systems cannot charge a reconnection fee exceeding $50 during normal hours or a reconnection fee exceeding $150 for after-hours reconnections.12
Where the water system customer is the landlord and not the actual occupant of the residence, the water system must every good faith effort to notify the actual resident that the water account is in arrears and that service will be terminated at least 10 days prior to termination.13 Finally, water systems must report the number of annual disconnections of residential service due to inability to pay on its website and to the State Water Resources Control Board.14
Information on www.jones-mayer.com is for general use and is not legal advice. This update is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client-relationship. Should you have any questions or require further clarification of the above, please contact Keith F. Collins at our office at (714) 446-1400, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1Health & Safety Code § 116902(b). All further references are to the Health & Safety Code.
7§116908(a)(1)(C). Water systems cannot discontinue service while an appeal is pending.
10§116910(a). In these situations, the water system is required to offer the customer an alternative payment schedule, but the water system can chose the type of alternative payment schedule.
12§116914(a). Water systems must also waive interest charges once every twelve months for these low-income customers.
13§116916(b). This notice must also include notification that the occupants have the right to become water system customers without being required to pay any amount on the delinquent account.