Need help with heating bills? Help is available

-A A +A
By Kristin Beck

With temperatures falling into the negative digits, virtually no one wants to be outside unless absolutely necessary. But just imagine if the inside of your home did not provide much relief from the bitter cold.

Residents throughout the county are faced with this very problem. Sometimes residents may fall behind on their bill payments and have their utilities shut off. Other times, renters may be at the mercy of landlords who do not fix or provide adequate heating.

According to state law (KRS 383.595), landlords must make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition. They must also maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities and appliances.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

“I’ve experienced, more than anything else, absentee landlords in this city who collect rent and don’t put anything back in the housing,” Sr. Paula Gohs said.

Gohs said she has seen roofs in need of repair, windows that would not open or were in need of insulation and heating units that were broken. “It seems to me, when you pay rent, those are the things landlords should be fixing.”

Sometimes people will move into houses where the previous renters had pets, especially cats, and the entire house smelled like urine all the time, she said. In one instance, there was so much mold in a home it made a hole in the ceiling. Gohs said she called the Three Rivers District Health Department, but they said nothing could be done. The residents were sick all the time from breathing in the mold, she said. Luckily, another landlord was able to find them a place to live and the family moved out.

There are a number of absentee landlords in Carrollton, but not all of them are that way. “Some landlords are really good, but the ones who are bad are really bad,” she said.

Vicki Kemper, center manager for Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, said she has seen people heat their homes with a variety of resources, including space heaters, kerosene, wood and even coal.

Some also do not have electricity or water because they have gotten behind on their bills. However, Kemper said one woman who lives in Carrollton called about a month ago because she did not have any heat and was up to date on her bills. Kemper advised her to call Code Enforcement Officer John Welch. She called NKCAC again Monday because the heat still had not been turned on, so Kemper suggested she call County Attorney Nick Marsh.

Sometimes, the issue is education, she said. One person told Kemper she thought it would be more economical to use space heaters rather than her furnace. Kemper informed her that space heaters use a lot of electricity and urged her to light her furnace.

Another applied for a heating assistance grant for kerosene, but did not realize she needed to purchase a carbon monoxide detector her for her home, especially with children living there.

Gohs acknowledged that having landlords meet their obligations can be a sticky situation because renters do not want to be evicted. A lot of times, the substandard housing is all they can afford, she said.

Gohs said it is important for renters to get to know their landlords and establish a relationship with them. Some renters she knows do not even know the landlord’s name and phone number, she said.

She believes it also is important to show the landlord the state of the house and explain why things need to be fixed. However, she realizes some residents may be too afraid to stand up for themselves and do this.

Helping hand

The Carroll County Ministerial Association began Project Comfort eight years ago, a program where volunteers perform mostly winter weatherization projects on homes throughout the county on a Saturday in late October/early November. The project assists homeowners only, not renters, in part because the residents have more of a vested interest in the home, Gohs said.

The ministerial association also donates money to NKCAC for heating assistance. About four to five years ago, Kemper sat down with several church leaders to form the Carroll County Ministerial Fund. Residents can receive assistance once per fiscal year, and the maximum amount given right now is $100, Kemper said.

In the past, there was an issue with people jumping from church to church getting assistance, and the churches did not have time to do background checks on everyone, Gohs said. Now, NKCAC is a “one-stop shop.” Information on the person being assisted is entered into a computer database, including their situation, how they were helped and how often, she said.

“It’s been working beautifully in terms of being fair,” Gohs said.

Area residents can begin applying Monday, Jan. 13, for federal funding through the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program provides money for electricity, natural gas, propane, kerosene and wood. If applying for electricity or natural gas, applicants must provide a disconnect notice or a previous balance. Those applying for kerosene and propane must be down to 10 percent of their fuel.

Applicants must provide proof of income for the previous month, as well as social security numbers for all residents.

The first two weeks of the program are Kemper’s busiest of the year, she said. NKCAC is accepting appointments now for LIHEAP. Act quickly because the funding likely will not be around for long.

LIHEAP funding was cut nationwide, Kemper said. NKCAC received less money last year than they had the previous year and even less this year. The program is supposed to last until the end of March, but NKCAC ran out of funds last year in six weeks, Kemper said.

Heating safety

If your family is using fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil or methane to heat the home, keep in mind the dangers of carbon monoxide. This is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when those fuels burn incompletely, Kentucky State Fire Marshal William Swope said in a news release.

“If you use a fireplace, a wood stove or a kerosene heater make sure they are properly vented and that you have a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated,” he said. “These detectors will provide an early warning to get out of your house and call the fire department.”

The fire marshal also warns Kentuckians about warming a vehicle on cold mornings – don’t leave it running inside your garage.

“Remove it from the garage immediately after starting it – even if the garage doors are open. And make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.”

Swope said that most home-heating fires involve portable heaters and space heaters; although all heating systems can be dangerous if not used and maintained correctly. “Space heaters need space,” Swope said. “Keep these heaters at least three feet from furniture, walls, curtains or anything that can catch fire. It’s also vitally important to turn these heaters off when you go to sleep. Add extra blankets to your bed, but turn those heaters off. I cannot stress that enough.”

If using a generator, make sure it is used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings, he said.