Water Service Shutoffs


Water service is an essential service like electricity and gas. These essential services are called "utilities." There are some rules that apply if you are unable to pay the bills for your water service. The rules are different depending on who provides your water services.

Water could be provided by a private company or by the city where you live. The State of Iowa makes the rules for private water companies that serve 2,000 or more people. These rules are made by the Iowa Utilities Board. Most people in Iowa get their water from the city where they live. There is a different law that applies to cities that supply water to their residents.


What if I get my water from a private company?
If your water comes from a private water company serving 2,000 or more people, then Iowa law gives you some important protections. As of 2023, there is only one private water utility company regulated by the State of Iowa: Iowa American Water Company which serves approximately 213,000 customers. 


Iowa law creates specific rights and responsibilities for both the customers and the utility provider. For example, utility providers can require that customers pay a deposit for water services. However, that deposit cannot be more than the maximum estimate of what 90 days of service would cost. 

Additionally, the utility provider must promptly and courteously respond to any request for information or any customer complaints. They must tell you how you can reach someone who can help you with your complaint. If the utility does not resolve your complaint, you may ask the Iowa Utilities Board for help. The utility is supposed to tell you in writing that you may request assistance from the Iowa Utilities Board by phone, email or physical mail. https://iub.iowa.gov/

Importantly, your water service can be shut off if you do not pay your water bill. However, there are three things that the water provider must do before they can shut off your water. First, they must try to collect the money you owe them before they can shut off the water. Second, they must give you notice that you have at least 12 days (which does not include Sundays or legal holidays) to pay them what you owe. Third, they must give you a list of your rights and responsibilities to avoid your water getting shut off. If you disagree with the amount that the utility provider is saying that you owe, then they must wait 45 days before they can shut off your water while the dispute is resolved. If you file a complaint with the Iowa Utilities Board, they can request that the waiting period be extended to 60 days.

The utility cannot shut off your water or refuse you water service because:

  • Someone who lived in your home before you lived there owes the utility company money (in most cases); or
  • You did not pay the bill for another customer of the utility company that you had promised to pay; or
  • You did not pay your bill for some other kind of utility service (like electricity or gas); or
  • You owe a debt for previous water service that is 10 or more years old.

If you think your water meter isn't working properly, you can ask the utility to test the meter. They must test the meter if you ask, but they only have to do this once every 18 months.

What if I get my water from the city or town where I live?
If you get your water from the city or town where you live, then the rules made by the Iowa Utilities Board do not apply. A different Iowa law applies to cities who supply water to its residents. Under this law, water services may be shut off if the water bill is not paid. However, before the city can shut off your water, they must give you written notice and an opportunity for a hearing.

Notice means that the city must tell you what the problem is, what you can do about it, and what is going to happen if you don’t. They must do this in writing and send it to you by regular mail. In this notice, the city must tell you that you have the right to a hearing, and they must give you an opportunity for a hearing before they shut off the water services. A hearing is where you have the opportunity to tell your side of the story and try to resolve the problem.

At the hearing, you have important rights, including:

  • To be represented by a lawyer;
  • To present witnesses, documents and other evidence; and
  • To question the witnesses and examine documents and other evidence that the city presents.

Some cities may not have a written policy on hearings and may not be aware of the Iowa law that requires them to provide one. City staff may tell you that there is no right to a hearing. If that happens, you may need to call a lawyer for help.

What help is available to help me pay my water bill?

Unfortunately, there is not a federal program that helps individuals specifically with their water bills. However, your local community action program may be able to help with paying your water bill. You can look up what program serves your county at: https://iowacommunityaction.org/. You should also apply for help from your county’s general assistance program.
There may be other organizations in your community that may be able to help. Many people find local churches to be a good source of help in an emergency. Of course, these are not government programs, so churches can make their own rules about who they help and for what.


Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 


To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Mar 25, 2024
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