Authored By: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
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A landlord may not interrupt a tenant's utility services, including electricity, water, wastewater, or gas services, unless for bona fide repairs, construction or an emergency. This is true whether utility services are paid by you directly to the utility company or if they are furnished by the landlord through your tenancy. This is also true whether or not you owe the landlord rent.
If a landlord interrupts your utility services in violation of law, you should request an order to have them restored, called a "writ of restoration", from the Justice of the Peace court in the precinct where the residence is located. If the judge approves your request, the court will issue the "writ of restoration," which orders the landlord to immediately restore your utilities. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee for this request, you may file an Affidavit of Inability to Pay, sometimes called a Pauper's Oath, with information about your income, your property, monthly expenses, dependents, and debts.
When the landlord on whom the writ of restoration of utility service was served fails to immediately comply with the writ, or later disobeys it, that failure is grounds for contempt of court. If the Justice of the Peace court finds, after considering the evidence at a hearing, that the landlord has directly or indirectly disobeyed the writ, the court may put that person in jail without bail until they comply with the writ.
If a landlord illegally interrupts utilities, the tenant may either recover possession of the premise or terminate the lease. Also, the tenant can sue the landlord for actual damages, one month's rent or $500 (whichever is greater), reasonable attorneys fees, and court costs, less any delinquent rents or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord.