If your bill is uncommonly high and you suspect that you are being billed for more service than your household is using, you should check whether there is any "utility tap". A utility tap occurs when someone without permission taps into existing electrical, water, gas or other utility line/pipe/wire to get service. Utility taps may occur in various ways. For example, your neighbor’s dwelling unit is hooked into your meter; you are paying for lighting in a common area; or the hot water for the entire building is on your gas bill.
If you suspect that a utility tap has occurred, you should contact your landlord. Under Illinois law, landlords must inform a tenant if the tenant is responsible for direct payment to the utility company for any service to common areas or other units. Without such notice, the landlord will be responsible for compensating the tenant and eliminating the tap.
Utility companies also have a duty to ensure that your utilities are not being stolen. You can ask the utility company to investigate within 30 days after you receive the bill. After the utility company inspects the meter, they should issue a report confirming or denying the existence of the utility tap. The report should also indicate whether the landlord is the party benefitting from the usage of the utility service. Make sure you save this report. If the utility company refused to inspect the property, you should contact the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) at (800) 524-0795.
Once the utility company determines a utility tap exists, you should send the landlord a written notice stating you are paying for additional utilities. If your landlord is willing to work something out, you should proceed with negotiations. If your landlord does not respond to your notice, you should send a letter to the utility company stating that you will not be liable for additional charges.
The utility company may charge the customer who received service as a result of unauthorized usage or an illegal tap. The utility company must prove that:
- Tampering has occurred with the utility's wires, pipes, meters, or other service equipment;
- The customer has benefitted from the tampering; and
- The utility's billing is reasonable.
If the utility company fails to take action, you should file a complaint with the ICC regarding the overbilling.