Utility companies may apply locks on gas meters for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons for a lock to be placed upon a gas meter is non-payment or delinquency on the utility account. Removing the lock for any reason is a violation of the law and may be cause for serious consequences including civil and criminal sanctions.
Removing a gas lock without the utility company's permission may result in theft or vandalism charges, punishable by fines and imprisonment of around a year, depending on the jurisdiction.
Criminal Theft and Vandalism Charges
Of all consequences that may result from unlawfully removing a gas meter lock, criminal charges are by far the most serious. Although utility meters are attached to a home, apartment or business, gas meters are privately owned devices belonging to the utility company. While laws vary by state, removing a gas lock without the express consent of the utility company who owns the meter may result in charges ranging from destruction of private property to theft of services. Depending on the nature of the offense, charges may be classified as a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or as a felony, which carries a sentence of a year or more in prison.
Heavy Civil Fines
In addition to criminal sanctions, unlawfully removing a gas utility meter lock can result in hefty civil fines. Depending on the nature of the violation, defendants who have been found guilty of illegally removing gas meter locks may be ordered to pay punitive damages as mandated by the state in which the violation occurred, in addition to court costs and attorney's fees incurred by the utility company as a result of the case.
Reimbursement for Damages
If the meter is damaged during the course of removing the lock from the gas meter, a defendant who has been found guilty of removing the lock may be ordered to reimburse the utility company for the cost of repairing or replacing the meter that was damaged. In addition to paying for the repair or replacement of the meter, the defendant will be required to reimburse the company for costs associated with the repair and the cost of purchasing a replacement lock.
Permanent Service Loss
Depending on the laws of the state in which the violation occurred and whether or not the gas company in question is a publicly or privately owned utility company, the company may enforce their right to refuse service to the defendant based on his violation of the terms of the utility agreement. If service is granted, the utility company may enforce their right to seek an additional deposit due to the potential risks incurred of providing services to the defendant.