(a) If a public utility furnishes light, heat, water, or power to residential occupants through a master meter in a multiunit residential structure, mobilehome park, or permanent residential structures in a labor camp, as defined in Section 17008 of the Health and Safety Code, and the owner, manager, or operator of the structure or park is listed by the public utility as the customer of record, the public utility shall make every good faith effort to inform the residential occupants, by means of a written notice posted on the door of each residential unit at least 15 days prior to termination, when the account is in arrears, that service will be terminated on a date specified in the notice. If it is not reasonable or practicable to post the notice on the door of each residential unit, the public utility shall post two copies of the notice in each accessible common area and at each point of access to the structure or structures. The notice shall further inform the residential occupants that they have the right to become utility customers, to whom the service will then be billed, without being required to pay the amount due on the delinquent account. The notice also shall specify, in plain language, what the residential occupants are required to do in order to prevent the termination of, or to reestablish service; the estimated monthly cost of service; the title, address, and telephone number of a representative of the public utility who can assist the residential occupants in continuing service; and the address and telephone number of a qualified legal services project, as defined in Section 6213 of the Business and Professions Code, which has been recommended by the local county bar association. The notice shall be in English and the languages listed in Section 1632 of the Civil Code.
(b) The public utility is not required to make service available to the residential occupants unless each residential occupant or a representative of the residential occupants agrees to the terms and conditions of service, and meets the requirements of law and the public utility’s rules. However, if one or more of the residential occupants or the representative of the residential occupants are willing and able to assume responsibility for subsequent charges to the account to the satisfaction of the public utility, or if there is a physical means, legally available to the public utility, of selectively terminating service to those residential occupants who have not met the requirements of the public utility’s rules or for whom the representative of the residential occupants is not responsible, the public utility shall make service available to the residential occupants who have met those requirements or on whose behalf those requirements have been met.
(c) If prior service for a period of time or other demonstration of credit worthiness is a condition for establishing credit with the public utility, residence and proof of prompt payment of rent or other credit obligation during that period of time acceptable to the public utility is a satisfactory equivalent.
(d) Any residential occupant who becomes a customer of the public utility pursuant to this section whose periodic payments, such as rental payments, include charges for residential light, heat, water, or power, where these charges are not separately stated, may deduct from the periodic payment each payment period all reasonable charges paid to the public utility for those services during the preceding payment period.
(e) If a public utility furnishes residential service subject to subdivision (a), the public utility may not terminate that service in any of the following situations:
(1) During the pendency of an investigation by the public utility of a customer dispute or complaint.
(2) If the customer has been granted an extension of the period for payment of a bill.
(3) For an indebtedness owed by the customer to any other public agency or when the obligation represented by the delinquent account or other indebtedness was incurred with any public agency other than the public utility.
(4) If a delinquent account relates to another property owned, managed, or operated by the customer.
(5) If a public health or building officer certifies that termination would result in a significant threat to the health or safety of the residential occupants or the public.
(f) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, and in addition to any other remedy provided by law, if the owner, manager, or operator, by any act or omission, directs, permits, or fails to prevent a termination of service while any residential unit is occupied, the residential occupant or the representative of the residential occupants may commence an action for the recovery of all of the following:
(1) Reasonable costs and expenses incurred by the residential occupant or the representative of the residential occupants related to restoration of service.
(2) Actual damages related to the termination of service.
(3) Reasonable attorney’s fees of the residential occupants, the representative of the residential occupants, or each of them, incurred in the enforcement of this section, including, but not limited to, enforcement of a lien.
(g) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, and in addition to any other remedy provided by law, if the owner, manager, or operator, by any act or omission, directs, permits, or fails to prevent a termination of service while any residential unit receiving that service is occupied, the corporation may commence an action for the recovery of all of the following:
(1) Delinquent charges accruing prior to the expiration of the notice prescribed by subdivision (a).
(2) Reasonable costs incurred by the corporation related to the restoration of service.
(3) Reasonable attorney’s fees of the corporation incurred in the enforcement of this section or in the collection of delinquent charges, including, but not limited to, enforcement of a lien.
If the court finds that the owner, manager, or operator has paid the amount in arrears prior to termination, the court shall allow no recovery of any charges, costs, damages, expenses, or fees under this subdivision from the owner, manager, or operator.
An abstract of any money judgment entered pursuant to subdivision (f) or (g) of this section shall be recorded pursuant to Section 697.310 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
(h) No termination of service subject to this section may be effected without compliance with this section, and any service wrongfully terminated shall be restored without charge to the residential occupants or customer for the restoration of the service. In the event of a wrongful termination by the public utility, the public utility shall, in addition, be liable to the residential occupants or customer for actual damages resulting from the termination and for the costs of enforcement of this section, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorney’s fees, if the residential occupants or the representative of the residential occupants make a good faith effort to have the service continued without interruption.
(i) The public utility shall adopt rules and regulations necessary to implement this section and shall liberally construe this section to accomplish its purpose of ensuring that service to residential occupants is not terminated due to nonpayment by the customer unless the public utility has made every reasonable effort to continue service to the residential occupants. The rules and regulations shall include, but are not limited to, guidelines for assistance to actual users in the enforcement of this section and requirements for the notice prescribed by subdivision (a), including, but not limited to, clear wording, large and boldface type, and comprehensive instructions to ensure full notice to the actual user.
(j) Nothing in this section broadens or restricts any authority of a local agency that existed prior to January 1, 1989, to adopt an ordinance protecting a residential occupant from the involuntary termination of residential public utility service.
(k) This section preempts any statute or ordinance permitting punitive damages against any owner, manager, or operator on account of an involuntary termination of residential public utility service or permitting the recovery of costs associated with the formation, maintenance, and termination of a tenants’ association.
(l) For purposes of this section, “representative of the residential occupants” does not include a tenants’ association.
(Amended by Stats. 2010, Ch. 328, Sec. 205. (SB 1330) Effective January 1, 2011.)
Last modified: October 25, 2018