Utilities and Landlord/Tenant Issues
A landlord may shut off any utility (electricity, water, wastewater, and gas) to carry out repairs or construction or in an emergency. A landlord may never shut off electricity, water, wastewater, or gas because the tenant is delinquent with a rent or utility payment. Any provision of a lease that purports to waive any of the tenant’s rights, liabilities, or duties under the utility shut-off law is void.
If a landlord or a landlord’s agent violates any of the rules for shutting off electrical service, the tenant may:
- Either recover possession of the premises or terminate the lease
- Recover from the landlord actual damages; the greater of one month’s rent or $500;
- reasonable attorney’s fees; and court costs, less any delinquent rent or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord.
Tenant’s Right of Restoration After Unlawful Utility Disconnect
If a landlord has interrupted utility service in violation of Section 92.008 of the Texas Property Code, the tenant may obtain relief after filing a sworn complaint specifying the facts of the landlord’s disconnection with the justice court in the precinct in which the rental premises are located. The tenant must also state orally under oath the facts of the unlawful utility disconnection during an appearance in court.
If the court believes that an unlawful utility disconnection has likely occurred, the court may issue an order that entitles the tenant to immediate and temporary restoration of utility service pending a final hearing.
If a landlord fails to pay the utility company for utility services in an “all bills paid” unit, Section 92.301 of the Texas Property Code addresses a tenant’s remedies if the utilities are disconnected or notice is received from the utility company stating the utility service is about to be disconnected.
The tenant’s remedies are as follows:
- Pay the utility company the amount owed to reconnect or avert the shutoff
- Terminate the lease with a written notice within 30 days from the date the tenant has notice from the utility company of a future shutoff, or notice of an actual shutoff, whichever is sooner
- Deduct the amount paid to the utility company to reconnect or avert the shutoff from the rent, without the necessity of judicial action
- If the tenant terminates the lease, the tenant can deduct the security deposit from the rent, without judicial action, or obtain a refund of the deposit
- If the tenant terminates the lease, the tenant can recover a pro-rated refund of any advance rental payments
- Recover actual damages including, but not limited to, moving costs, utility connection fees, storage fees, and lost wages
- Recover court costs and attorney fees.
If the tenant deducts money from the rent after paying the utility bill, the tenant must provide a copy of a receipt from the utility company showing the amount paid to reconnect or avert the utility shutoff.
Note: The tenant loses the above-mentioned remedies if, before the tenant terminates the lease or files suit, the landlord provides the tenant with written evidence from the utility company that all delinquent sums have been paid.