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TENANT ACTION GROUP v. PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION (09/11/86)

decided: September 11, 1986.

TENANT ACTION GROUP, PETITIONER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in the case of Joint Petition of Tenant Action Group and Philadelphia Electric Company for Declaratory Order, No. P-850006, dated April 18, 1985.

COUNSEL

Janet Parrish, for petitioner.

Terrence J. Buda, Assistant Counsel, with him, Louise A. Knight, Deputy Chief Counsel, and Charles F. Hoffman, Chief Counsel, for respondent.

Judge MacPhail, and Senior Judges Rogers and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail. Senior Judge Rogers dissents.

Author: Macphail

[ 100 Pa. Commw. Page 470]

Tenant Action Group (TAG) appeals from a final declaratory order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). We reverse.

This case arises out of the settlement of the formal complaints of four individual tenants whose landlords were delinquent in paying their electric bills to the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO). The tenants claimed that PECO had violated Sections 1521-1533 of the Public Utility Code (Code)*fn1 and the PUC's accompanying regulations found at 52 Pa. Code §§ 56.121-56.126. This portion of the Code and the regulations require advance notice to both landlord/ratepayers and their affected tenants before termination of service due to delinquent payments. They also provide for the right of tenants to retain service by paying the bill for the prior 30 days service and to continue this process in successive months. The amount paid by the tenant to the utility may be deducted from the tenant's rent.

Although it is not made clear from the record certified to us, the parties agree in their briefs that as part of the settlement, TAG and PECO formulated revised, comprehensive landlord-tenant termination procedures to be used from that point on by PECO. The PUC's Bureau of Consumer Services agreed to all of the procedures, with one exception: what procedure to follow where an affected tenant is seriously ill. TAG and PECO agreed that the tenants should be afforded the protections provided by the PUC's regulations to all other seriously ill residents facing termination of service. These regulations are found at 52 Pa. Code §§ 56.111-56.118 under the heading "Emergency Provisions." The Bureau of Consumer Services agreed to the temporary inclusion of the Emergency Provisions in

[ 100 Pa. Commw. Page 471]

PECO's landlord-tenant termination procedures on the condition that PECO and TAG would seek a declaratory order from the PUC to settle the question.

By order entered April 18, 1985, the PUC ruled that the Emergency Provisions found at 52 Pa. Code §§ 56.111-56.118 do not apply to tenants where their service has been terminated due to a landlord's failure to pay his bill. The PUC held that such terminations are governed by Sections 1521-1533 of the Code and the accompanying regulations, found at 52 Pa. Code §§ 56.121-56.126. It reasoned that because the Emergency Provisions are not mentioned in either these Public Utility Code sections or the accompanying regulations the emergency provisions must not apply to the landlord-tenant situation. We disagree.

In our analysis, we keep in mind that our scope of review in PUC cases is limited to a determination of whether constitutional rights have been violated, an error of law has been committed, or the Commission's findings and conclusions are, or are not, supported by substantial evidence. Barasch v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 507 Pa. 561, 493 A.2d 653 (1985). Because no evidence was taken and no factual findings were made, we must look for errors of law or violations of constitutional rights. We find that the PUC made an error of law.

The PUC correctly notes in its order that the Emergency Provisions regulations, at 52 Pa. Code §§ 56.111-56.118, were promulgated before the landlord-tenant provisions of the Code at 66 Pa. C.S. §§ 1521-1533 were enacted or the accompanying regulations at 52 Pa. Code §§ ...


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