Are Water Bills Considered Public Records?

For most people, water bills are a routine part of household expenses. But have you ever wondered who else may have access to your water bill information besides you and the utility company? Are water bills considered public records that anyone can request to see?

The short answer is it depends. The availability of water bills as public records varies based on the laws and policies of your state and local jurisdiction. Here’s what you need to know:

What is a Public Record?

In general, a public record is any document, piece of information, or record that is created, received, or kept by a government agency in the course of official business. Public records can include materials like:

  • Meeting minutes and agendas
  • Property records
  • Court documents
  • Police reports
  • Budget documents
  • Regulatory records
  • Voter registration records

Public records laws aim to give citizens transparency into the workings of government. Every U.S. state has some form of public records law, often called “sunshine laws,” though specific definitions and exemptions vary.

Are Utility Records Public?

Utility services like electric, gas, water, sewage, and trash collection are often provided by governmental entities or contracted out by local governments. The records kept by these utility providers in their official capacity may be subject to public records laws.

For example, a 2020 update to New York’s Local Government Records Retention and Disposition Schedule specifies that records like operational permits, construction specifications, inspection reports, and charts and graphs for electric and gas utilities can be requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, with retention periods varying from 3 years to permanent.

However, utility billing records directly linked to specific customers are often exempted or restricted due to privacy concerns.

Water Bill Privacy Protections

Many states provide exemptions in public records laws to protect personal privacy, including shielding home addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers. Water bills containing personal customer information may fall under these exemptions.

For example, the New York City 311 service states:

“According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), water bills contain personal account information and are therefore not subject to FOIL. However, DEP can provide a record of water/sewer accounts by address only with the account numbers redacted.”

So in New York City, a citizen could request a copy of water bills for an address, but with private account numbers blacked out. The bills themselves are not available.

Even when certain utility customer records can be obtained publicly, there may be restrictions on how the records can be used. The Federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act prohibits using public records about individuals for marketing purposes.

Checking Your Local Laws

Because public records laws are determined at the state and local level, it’s important to check the regulations in your jurisdiction if you have questions about water bill privacy. Here are some steps to find out:

  • Check your state’s public records overview or guide provided by the attorney general’s office or an open government advocacy group. This summary should outline overall parameters for public records and personal privacy exemptions.

  • Look up the relevant public records law statutes for your state, county, or municipality. See what they specifically say about public utilities records.

  • Search your county/city website to locate their open records policy, if available. This should explain the process for requesting public records and may address utility bills.

  • Contact your water utility provider. Ask about their policies on releasing customer account information and water usage records as public records.

  • Consult your local government open records officer or clerk’s office if you still have questions. They can advise on interpretations of the jurisdiction’s public records laws.

While water bills themselves are often exempt from public disclosure, related records held by utility providers on water quality testing, construction projects, rate cases, and other operational functions may be obtainable through public records requests. Learning your jurisdiction’s laws helps you understand how your right to privacy over water bill data is protected or balanced with transparency laws.


What happens if you don’t pay your water bill NYC?


What are the consequences of non-payment? Eligible customers who do not arrange for payment before the deadline on the lien sale notice will have their water and sewer charges sold in the lien sale.

How often is NYC water bill?


When do I get a bill? Most small properties in NYC are now billed on metered usage as measured by the water meter in their property. Water meters are read once every four hours by an automated meter reading device and bills are generated once every three months for most customers.

How do I find my NYC water bill account number?


To make a payment, you will need your account number, which is located on your water and wastewater bill. View a Sample Bill to see where your account number is located. Please note that if you wish to pay using a credit or debit card, you will be charged a convenience fee of 2.25%.

Read More :

Leave a Comment