Utility Shut-Offs by Utility Companies for Landlord Nonpayment
Authored By: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
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If a utility company disconnects service or gives written notice that service is about to be cut off because a landlord who is supposed to furnish utilities has not paid the utility bill, then the landlord is liable to the tenant regardless of whether the unit is "all bills paid," submetered, or mastermetered. If this happens, you can terminate the lease in writing and move out within 30 days of receiving the first notice, as long as the landlord has not presented evidence that the utility bill has been paid prior to your termination. Be sure to give your notice in writing, date it, and keep a copy for your records along with any proof of your having delivered the notice.
If you properly terminate the lease and are planning to move, you may deduct your security deposit from your last month's rent and sue for actual damages (such as moving expenses), court costs, and attorney fees. You would have two years within which to file such a lawsuit.
Of course, rather than terminate the lease, you could try to avoid the cutoff by reconnecting the utility in your name and deducting the amounts paid to the utility company from your rent. If you live in an apartment complex, you may have to organize most of the tenants of the complex in order to be able to negotiate successfully with the utility company. If you deduct your payment of the landlord's utility bill from your rent, you must submit a copy of the receipt from the utility company showing the payment you made to reconnect or avoid cutoff of the utilities.
These tenant remedies cease if, before the tenant has terminated the lease or filed a lawsuit, the landlord provides the tenant with written evidence from the utility company that all delinquent sums have been paid in full.