Lead in Water: Indiana Allows Utilities to Replace LSLs without Landlord’s OK 

What Happened?

Indiana’s legislature unanimously passed SEA-5 in March 2024, establishing steps by which drinking water utilities can replace customer-owned portions of lead service lines (LSLs) without the owner’s consent. The provisions are designed to overcome what has become a major challenge facing utilities as they strive to eliminate LSLs in their service area in a cost-effective manner—cooperation of customers. 

For multifamily residential property with more than four dwelling units, when a utility requests, the owner has 45 days to communicate if it will either: 1) replace the customer-owned portion of the LSL at its own expense; or 2) enroll in the utility’s LSL replacement program. If the owner fails to respond in 45 days or denies access to the property, the owner is responsible for replacing the customer-owner portion of the LSL at its own expense, though there aren’t any deadlines for the work to be completed. For these properties, the new law has no provisions for a utility to access these properties without the owner’s consent.

For all other properties, utilities are given much greater authority. Upon request by the utility, the owner must either: 1) replace the customer-owned portion of the LSL at its own expense within 45 days; or 2) enroll in the utility’s LSL replacement program, allowing the utility to enter at no cost. If after 45 days the owner fails to act or communicate, or is non-responsive to the utility’s attempted communications, the utility may:

  • Enter the property without the owner’s permission. An occupant who is not the owner may grant access to the utility.
  • Disconnect the customer’s water service if the utility is prevented from acting by the owner. To reconnect, the owner must provide proof that either: 1) the LSL is replaced; or 2) the owner has enrolled in the utility’s LSL replacement program. 

The law explicitly holds the utility harmless and immune from civil liability for the entry or the replacement except for a maximum of $500 in property restoration costs. In addition, an occupant is also held harmless and immune from civil liability. 

The law amends a program enacted in 2017 that allows the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to approve utility plans to replace customer-owned LSLs.1 To date, the IURC has approved Indiana American Water’s plan to replace 51,000 LSLs in 2019 and Citizens Energy’s plan for up to 512 of its estimated 55,000 LSLs in 2022. Citizens Energy serves the Indianapolis area. These utilities, representing 40% of the state’s estimated 265,400 LSLs, may follow the new procedures without additional approval from the IURC. 

Why it Matters

Ideally, eliminating LSLs requires the cooperation of property owners and occupants. Traditionally, the owner must approve the replacement because it alters the property. The occupant must allow the people to enter the home and accommodate the disruption, as well as conduct post-replacement flushing and sampling. 

When owners and occupants don’t cooperate, it drives up utility costs by forcing crews replacing LSLs neighborhood-by-neighborhood to go back to areas that it had largely completed. This ongoing set-up and clean-up of the equipment wastes time and resources, effectively increasing the cost. It also increases the cost of outreach.

Our Take

We applaud Indiana for providing utilities with this powerful authority, though we are unclear why it exempted multifamily residential properties serving more than four units. A single LSL replacement for these properties will protect more families, and those families are more likely to have children and have lower incomes. These are risk factors for children’s lead exposure.

Since utilities seeking to use the new authority must have an IURC-approved plan to replace customer-owned LSLs, the state has struck a practical balance between privacy and effectiveness. The IURC’s process to review the plan is transparent and allows for stakeholders to get involved. In addition, the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor is engaged to represent consumer’s interests. 

We are aware of only one other state that has taken on this issue—New Jersey. The law was based on a successful effort in the City of Newark. In 2019, the legislature explicitly authorized municipalities to adopt an ordinance to enter property to perform an LSL replacement. According to New Jersey Future, the cities of Passaic, Clifton, Paterson, and the Borough of Prospect Park adopted ordinances in 2022, with City of Trenton doing the same in April 2024. 

For New Jersey, the municipality’s ordinance must provide the owner and occupant with at least 72 hours advance notice before entering the property unless there is an emergency. The utility must attempt to deliver the notice in person. If that does not work, then it can deliver the notice by certified mail or posting in a prominent location on the property. After the work is completed, the municipality must send a notice to the owner by certified mail summarizing the work done and when it occurred.

Next Steps

We will monitor Indiana’s implementation of the new law and encourage other states to take similar action. These laws empower utilities to eliminate LSLs and reduce the overall cost of the effort.

  1. See IURC’s 2023 Annual Report on pages 82-83 for history and details. ↩︎

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