This post was written by Jeff O’Brien for Simply Residential Property Management Magazine.
In Minnesota, when temperatures dip in late fall, a law known as the “Cold Weather Rule” kicks in. The Cold Weather Rule set forth in Minnesota Statute Section 216B.096 is designed to protect tenants and homeowners from having their heat source permanently disconnected in winter (defined by law as October 15-April 15) if they are unable to pay their utility bills. The Rule, implemented by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, provides that a utility may not disconnect and must reconnect a customer whose household income is at or below 50 percent of the state median income if the customer enters into and makes reasonably timely payments under a mutually acceptable payment agreement. It does not, however, prohibit shut-offs, and a tenant who fails to comply with the agreed upon payment agreement could trigger a shut-off which, depending upon the utility involved, could result in damage to the property due to pipes freezing and bursting.
Utility customers whose household income is above 50 percent of the state median income also have the right to a payment agreement to prevent disconnection or get reconnected that takes into consideration the customer’s financial circumstances and any other extenuating circumstances of the household.
The Cold Weather Rule applies to all natural gas and electric utilities. It does not apply to delivered fuels like fuel oil, propane and wood. The Cold Weather Rule requires a utility company to notify its customers in writing before it disconnects their heat. The notice must be in easy-to-understand language and must contain the amount due, the date of the scheduled disconnection, the reasons for disconnection, and options to avoid disconnection.
A regulated public utility must notify a customer of disconnection at least seven working days in advance. An unregulated utility; i.e., a cooperative or municipal utility, must notify a customer of disconnection at least 15 days in advance. A disconnection may not generally happen on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, a holiday or the day before a holiday, while an appeal is pending, or after the close of business on the scheduled day of disconnection.
For landlords, it is important to note that the Cold Weather Rule does not prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant or refusing to renew a lease that expires during this “cold weather” season. In fact, if the lease requires the tenant to pay utilities and the tenant fails to make timely payments pursuant to the agreed upon payment plan, such nonpayment could constitute grounds for eviction.
For questions about the Cold Weather Rule, contact your local utility or call the Consumer Affairs Office of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission at 651-296-0406 or 800-657-3782.
For questions about how to handle an eviction during the cold weather months, be sure to contact a knowledgeable attorney.
Jeffrey C. O’Brien is an attorney with the Minneapolis based law firm of Lommen Abdo, P.A. and a MSBA Board Certified Real Property Specialist. He can be reached at (612) 336-9317 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.