Need Creditor Protection from Utility Billing

Note: The DearEsq free 'ask a lawyer' site is offered as a free informational service to the public and is not intended as legal advice. Laws vary from state-to-state, and in addition every situation is unique, and relevant facts may not be known. The answer to the question posed below may not apply to in your state or to your situation. For legal advice in your state and your situation you should consult with an attorney in your state who is familiar with the rules and laws in your state.

“We lived in a dump for one year, there were three tenants in the building. We all moved out because the apartments weren’t up to code. The landlord wouldn’t even fix anything, but expected us to pay rent. It was so bad that we had to catch water leaking with eight pails. And water was coming out of the light sockets. Anyway, the place was locked up and no one lives there still to this day. I have been at my new address for almost three years. After about two years of living at my new address I received a hydro bill for the old address. They said that we owed $3600.00! I called them and said that I had shut off the hydro at that address, and they said they could not get in to shut it off, so that they haven’t even read the meter. So I got papers to go to court. I filled the paperwork out and sent it by fax.

They then told me that I could not fax the papers, and that legally I had to drop them off. Then they made a court date, which I didn’t attend because of the confusion about the paper work.

So they took a default judgement against us (my wife and I). I don’t know what evidence they used in court but it had to be lies. Now why would the hydro company not cut the hydro off when the bill got so high? I know people who got their hydro cut off for an 80.00 bill! What can I do about the corrupt hydro company?”

Well, first, I wouldn’t call them a corrupt hydro company (and that definitely wouldn’t help you in court). There was certainly a failure in the system, and you should have been able to demonstrate that you told them to shut the water off, and that you had not been in the apartment for two years. One has to wonder what water use was going on while you were not in the apartment. Did a new tenant move in, and are they using water on your bill? If so, you may be able to require them to reimburse you for the charges run up under your name. If nobody has been in the apartment, and so nobody is using the water, you should have been able to demonstrate that to the hydro company.

Unfortunately, this has been horribly complicated by the fact that you filed a lawsuit, didn’t serve it properly, and then the defendant responded to your lawsuit by showing up in court, and you didn’t, whether by accident or not. And now the defendant – the hydro company – appears to have a default judgement against you.

In many states it is extremely hard to overturn a judgement; you usually need to show intentional fraud which was designed to mislead you. However, it may be that this is not the case in your situation, and you can only know that by speaking with an attorney in your state. That said, the cost of retaining an attorney and filing a legal action would probably be more than the amount that the hydro company says that you owe them.

Still, you should consult with an attorney in your state to see what your options are (many attorneys offer free consultations). Also, consider contacting your locale’s Public Utility Commission or equivalent to see what they recommend, and whether they can intercede. You may be able to file a grievance with them against the hydro company.