January 24, 2018

Gas Company Shuts Off Customers' Heat Before a Cold Long Weekend

On Friday, Dec. 28, I was in Athens to visit my aunt at the end of her six-month chemo treatment for breast cancer. We left the house that afternoon to take her dogs for a walk and returned to find the house cold and the gas turned off—locked at the meter. I started making calls immediately, but at 6 p.m., her gas reseller was closed for the weekend.  

I called Atlanta Gas Light, and they confirmed they had turned the gas off, since there was no account at that address (every bill had been paid, though). They told us that without an account, they could not come back out to turn it on, and even with an account, it would take until Jan. 2, four days later, before they could send someone out. We immediately called Georgia Natural Gas and opened a new account, knowing that we couldn't afford to wait until after the weekend to contact her previous provider.  

I'll spare you the details of why the address had no gas account, except to say that it was a clerical error by the gas "marketing company" several months earlier. The point is, Atlanta Gas Light chose to turn off the gas late on the Friday of a holiday weekend, with temperatures expected in the teens during that time. They did not provide any advance notice, nor did they bother to check who was living in the property or how the residents would be affected by their actions. And they did this knowing they would leave the homeowner without heat for four days before anything could be done about it. We learned the next day that many others received the same treatment, including apartment tenants in Athens who weren't even aware their heat required natural gas.

So what to do? I learned from an HVAC repairman that if you really need the gas company to show up and they refuse, one thing they cannot ignore is a gas leak. So I called one in. Within one hour, a friendly and understanding technician was there at the house, and he agreed to turn the gas back on and take the heat he might receive from his own company. He told us that he saw these disconnection orders going out from the company right before the holiday and thought it was a "rude thing to do to your customers."  

Thankfully, Atlanta Gas Light still employs some people with a sense of humanity and decency, and we got one of those. However, the corporate policies that ordered these disconnections, and the lack of flexibility of their customer service policies and staff, should be brought to light, and I do hope you can help in that regard. And perhaps if hundreds of customers call in gas leaks the next time this happens, they'll think twice about putting so many people in this position.