What is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program?
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides eligible households with help in paying winter heating bills. The program pays benefits of fixed amounts based on household income and size. LIHEAP operates between November 1st and April 30th, offering financial assistance to residents who are at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. Local non-profit agencies determine household eligibility based on income and the number of members in the household. The agency then will make payments on your behalf to the primary heat source vendor (oil, propane, wood or coal dealer or gas or electric utility). Special provisions are made for those households whose heat is included in their rent and those living in subsidized housing. Homeowners and renters are both eligible.
Where can I find sites in my neighborhood to apply for LIHEAP?
Local non-profit agencies administer LIHEAP assistance. In Boston, Action for Boston Community Development operates fuel assistance intake sites in your neighborhood. Fuel Assistance is by appointment only.
If your income does not exceed 175% of the federal poverty guidelines AND you either (1) receive any means-tested public-benefit program or (2) are eligible for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), you may be eligible for a discount rate from your gas and electric companies.
If you currently receive certain government means-tested benefits, or qualify for fuel assistance, you might be eligible for the Discount Rate. Since December 2004 NSTAR is required to make customer information available to the Mass. Department of Transitional Assistance to help determine and enroll Discount Rate customers. Customers have the option to exclude their information from this list. NSTAR Electric customers who receive NSTAR's Discount Rate may also be eligible for the Energy Efficiency Program for Lower Income Customers.
You may consider joining an oil cooperative (co-op). Co-ops often save their members money on their oil and other services, such as energy efficiency services. They may also offer discounts to low-income customers. Many co-ops also offer discount membership fees for senior citizens.
Massachusetts laws prevent utility companies from shutting off service to people in special situations. These laws protect the elderly, low-income families with infants, people with serious illnesses who cannot pay their bills, and low-income families who would be left without heat during the winter months. There are also laws that protect tenants when their landlords do not pay utility bills that are the landlord's responsibility.
Am I eligible?
Senior households, low-income families with infants, people with serious illnesses who cannot afford to pay their utility bills, tenants whose landlords are responsible for utility bills, and low-income people who would be without heat during the winter are eligible for shutoff protection.
Utility companies cannot shut off service to households that qualify for shutoff protection. During the winter months, utilities cannot shut off service to low-income households if those households would be left without heat.
You should call your utility company to register for shutoff protection. If you need more information or have questions about your rights regarding telephone service, call the State's Department of Public Utilities (DPU).
What are the heating requirements landlords must provide?
Chapter II of the MA State Sanitary Code (105 CMR 4 10), often referred to as the "housing code," requires that residential property owners provide functioning heating systems that are capable of heating habitable spaces to minimum temperatures of 68° daytime (7AM-11PM) or 64° nighttime (11:01PM-6:59AM).
Alert your landlord first to correct "no heat" or insufficient heat problems. If your landlord does not respond, please call the Inspectional Services Department at 617-635-5300 during normal business hours 8AM-4PM Monday-Friday. After hours, you can contact the 24-Hour 'No Heat" response team via the Mayor's Hotline at 617-635-4500.
What do I do if I have a problem with my heat?
Check the thermostat and make sure it is on.
Check to make sure you have oil in your tank.
Ensure that your gas service has not been turned off.
If the problem persists, tenants should contact the property manager or owner to remedy the problem.
If the property manager or owner is unresponsive, tenants should call the Inspectional Services Department's Housing Division at 617-635-5322 (M-F 8AM-4PM) or the Mayor's Hotline after hours at 617-635-4500.
What is the established heating season during which the minimum heating requirements must be met?
These heating requirements must be met during the "heating season" established by housing code (105 CMR 41 0.201) which begins on September 15th and ends on June 15th each year.
Does a tenant need to have access to the basement?
Yes! Tenants need access if there are electrical over-current devices (circuit breakers), utility meters or oil tanks in the basement. Access does not always mean that a key must be provided.
What are the required minimum and maximum temperatures for hot water?
110 Fahrenheit minimum and 130 Fahrenheit maximum.
Are heating facilities required in every room?
No, as long as the minimum heating requirements are met in each habitable room.
Do tenants have to call their landlord before calling ISD?
No! But ISD urges tenants to call their landlords to give them an opportunity to make repairs.
Does a landlord have to schedule an appointment with a tenant in order to make non-emergency repairs?
Yes. Landlords must give “reasonable notice” before entering to make non-emergency repairs. Reasonable notice is at least 24 hours. Written notice is strongly recommended.
What should I expect?
Every time you get a delivery of home heating fuel you should get a receipt from the dealer's truck at the time of delivery that provides some key information including the price per gallon, the name of the dealer, your name and a meter stamp of the volume of oil delivered. Under state law, these elements must be listed, they are key to ensuring a fair and honest transaction between you and your dealer.
Where do I lodge a complaint against my oil dealer?
Please call the Office of Consumer Affairs & Licensing if you have a complaint about your oil dealer. The office will also help prepare information for the Attorney General to pursue civil penalties against violators in addition to any recovery obtained by the individual consumer. If you feel you have been victimized by any unfair or deceptive practice of any type dealer's service, you can also call the Office at 617-635-3834.