William Lindsay, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, has introduced legislation to provide help to consumers buying home heating oil. One would protect them from what Mr. Lindsay describes as “unfair heating oil contracts” and another would have the county provide “up to-date information on the best heating oil prices offered.”
Mr. Lindsay noted last week that when oil prices soared earlier this year many homeowners in Suffolk County made deals with oil delivery companies that capped the oil prices, but set minimum prices according to then current rates, and the contracts included costly termination fees. With oil prices having plummeted in recent months, those same customers have found that if they want to get out of their contracts and buy oil at the lower prices now available, they face termination fees of up to $600.
The first of Mr. Lindsay’s proposed bills would invalidate any of those purchasing contracts not put in writing. meaning verbal contracts or agreements would be invalid.
His second proposal would have the county’s Division of Consumer Affairs create a website on which the wholesale price paid by home heating oil retailers and the rates they are charging customers would be posted.
“That would give consumers the ability to more easily seek out the best deal and avoid retailers who are charging far above the wholesale price they are paying,” said Mr. Lindsay of Holbrook.
“In these terrible economic times, families are having difficulty making ends meet and residents should never have to choose between keeping their homes warm and putting food on the table,” Mr. Lindsay said. “Getting locked into a contract they don’t understand over the phone is just wrong, and I want that practice to end. Consumers need to understand what they are getting into and requiring written contracts is the best way to do that.”
The website “would allow consumers to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to keeping their homes warm. We want to make sure that our residents are getting the best possible price when they buy fuel to heat their homes,” he said.
The Lindsay bills seem to have wide support on the legislature. Bill Faulk, aide to Legislator Edward Romaine of Center Moriches, commented that the legislator backs the Lindsay bills because “with oil prices fluctuating daily, consumers should know … if better prices are available. Written contracts and a website listing actual prices will give consumers the tools to be better educated and make better choices.”