What Is The Penalty For Cutting The Lock Off The Electric Meter?

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart
Cutting the lock off of an electric meter is not only a bad idea for safety purposes, but it also carries penalties. The penalty for cutting the lock off of an electric meter varies based on your location, and it can be as minor as buying a replacement. Penalties can be more severe, however, so follow along as we explore the possible consequences of cutting the lock off of an electric meter.

If there’s anything I learned to hate, it’s meter readings. No, I don’t want to have to see how badly I’m clobbered with electricity use. I just don’t want to look at it.

At times, I’ve even considered unlocking the electric meter. But, I realized that they have penalties for that. Did you ever wonder what those penalties were? They can be pretty steep…

On the light end of penalties, you might only have to pay for a replacement on the lock or not face penalties at all. If the utility company decides to press charges, you may get a heavy fine and a misdemeanor charge. Repeat offenders can be charged with a felony in some states.

It might seem pretty shocking to most of us, but it’s true. Cutting the lock (or seal) off an electric meter can be a pretty bad idea, depending on where you live. Before you grab cutters, you might want to read up on what you should expect…

What Happens If You Cut The Seal Off Your Electric Meter?

The fallout that you could get from cutting the lock off your meter can vary greatly depending on your local laws as well as the service provider that you have.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many meter readers and municipalities won’t penalize you for cutting a lock, especially if you’ve notified them that you’re doing electrical work. However, that doesn’t mean you get away Scot-free.

There are plenty of penalties that can occur for this simple issue. They can vary depending on who your provider is, where you live, as well as a little bit of luck. Here’s a run-through of the most common penalties lock cutters can face:

  • You might have to pay for a replacement lock. This is the most common penalty, and it often comes with a service charge. Most groups don’t want to press charges, since it takes a lot of paperwork. However, they still will want their money back. A typical lock may cost around $20 to $30, but the installation fee might get as high as $150. 
  • Many areas may also fine you. How high a fine you have to pay will be based on how much damage is done, if you’re charged with a crime, as well as similar factors.
  • Many municipalities and providers also may charge you with a misdemeanor. This is typically only done if there’s reason to believe that you were tampering with the meter or your electric grid as a way to reduce your bills. With that said, there are some areas that will give charges as part of their policy.
  • If you are a repeat offender, seriously harmed your meter, or have been caught with meter fraud, things can become a felony offense. This is highly unlikely to happen, but it still occurs once in a while.

How Bad Can The Fines Be?

The amount of money you have to pay will vary greatly from place to place, as well as the policy your energy service provider has. Depending on where you live as well as the severity of your charge, you should expect to pay between $150 to $3,500 per fine. Most fines and fees for meter seal tampering range between $150 to $500.

If you aren’t sure how much you should expect to pay if you are fined, the best way to find out is to read what the fines are on your local town’s site or to search it up on your electric provider’s site.

If I Didn’t Cut The Lock On My Electric Meter, Am I Still Responsible?

This might take some homeowners by surprise, but most jurisdictions will still hold them liable if their electric meter’s seal is broken, damaged, or missing. This means that you should make sure electricians don’t cut the lock on your meter if the need to service your home. Should the need arise, discuss with them what your options may be and what you should expect.

How To (Legally) Cut The Lock On Your Electric Meter

Obviously, there are going to be moments where you need to cut the lock on your meter in order to do repairs or get something finished. Should you find yourself in this situation, it’s best to try your best at doing things the right way. Here’s what you should do:

  • Call your local service provider to see if you can get an appointment to get the meter seal cut. If they can’t offer an appointment, ask for permission to cut it as a way to gain access to your meter for repairs. Many companies will give you the go-ahead if you ask them nicely.
  • Get a permit to cut the meter seal. Most municipalities and power companies will have protocols in place where you can apply for a permit to cut the meter’s lock. You can usually find more information on your electric company’s site, or through your local government website.
  • Once you have obtained the permit to cut the lock, go for it. This will allow you to make sure that you’re staying legal while fixing your electricity.

What If I Hire An Electrician To Fix My Meter?

Hiring an electrician isn’t a workaround for pulling the permit. You are legally obligated to obtain a permit before you are able to cut the lock off your electric meter (or your water meter, for that matter!). Any electrician worth his salt will advise you to pull a permit before he cuts the lock rather than just cut it on his own accord.

If you get into trouble because an electrician cut your meter seal, there may be a chance that you can sue the electrician as a result of the penalties that you face. Explaining the situation to authorities may allow you to get them to be found liable for the damage, since they were the ones damaging the property. With that said, you should talk to a lawyer about this situation.

Related Questions

What is the penalty for power theft?

Federal law makes power theft a serious crime that can be punishable by up to three years in prison. Most people charged with power theft also face exorbitant fines as well as lawsuits from the people they stole the power from.

How common is stealing electricity?

Believe it or not, power theft is a lot more common than you think. According to recent estimates, around $10 billion worth of electricity is stolen in the United States every year. It happens in every neighborhood, from the poor to the wealthy. So yes, it’s common.

What should I do if I believe someone is stealing electricity from my house?

The first thing you should do is call your electricity provider and voice your concerns. From there, the provider will send out a specialist to check for signs of electrical theft and hopefully trace whoever was doing it.

Can an electric company tell if I’m stealing power?

In the past, electric companies used to struggle with tracing power theft. As technology improves, this is quickly becoming a thing of the past. If you try to steal someone else’s power, expect to be caught. These days, it’s not a matter of “if” as much as it is a matter of “when.”

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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