AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday, Texas adopted a rule that prohibits non-municipal public water and sewer utilities from disconnecting customers during extreme cold weather emergencies.

This means those utilities cannot issue late fees for unpaid bills due during such emergencies, including for bills that were previously due.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas defines extreme cold weather emergencies as periods beginning when the previous day’s highest temperature in an area did not exceed 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature is predicted to remain at or below that level for the next 24 hours. The emergency period ends on the second business day the temperature exceeds 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Under the new rules, affected customers have a 30-day window to request a payment schedule. If a customer makes a request within those 30 days, the service provider must offer them a payment schedule.  

The new rules are a result of Texas Senate Bill 3, which was passed in 2021 after the February winter storm made history for its unprecedented power outages, water loss and subfreezing temperatures.

“The new rules put the health and safety of Texans first during extreme cold weather emergencies,” said PUCT Chairman Peter Lake. “This means Texans can focus on their family’s safety during extreme cold and work with their water or sewer utility to make sure they pay their bills in a timely fashion.”

All non-municipal water and sewer utilities are required to notify their customers of these new rules by Jan. 31, 2023.