Is It Legal for My Landlord to Shut Off My Utilities?
In most situations, your landlord is not allowed to cut off your utilities. A landlord who wants you to leave can evict you under the terms of the lease or rental agreement, but cannot cut off your utilities.
In general, utilities include gas, heat, electricity, and water and sewer – anything that comes out of a pipe or outlet. Utilities often include trash collection as well. In some rental units, they include telephone, cable and high-speed Internet.
Covered by Your Lease
A lease or rental agreement should include a “utilities and repairs” clause that specifies who is responsible for what. Check this carefully before you sign. You might also ask to see the utility meters, to verify if you will be sharing a meter or having your own.
Generally, a landlord pays for utilities when a unit is vacant, and cancels these accounts on a date that is specified in the lease. It is the tenant’s responsibility to contact the utility companies, sign up for utilities, pay for them so they don’t get cut off and endanger the landlord’s property, cancel them when the lease is up and notify the landlord. At this point, utilities revert to the landlord’s name.
If your failure to pay your utility bills leads to a cut-off of services which are your responsibility under the terms of the lease or rental agreement, you can be evicted for violation of the lease.
What If My Services Are Shared?
When there is a single gas, electricity or water meter for an entire building, the costs are often allocated among the tenants, usually based on the size of the units. Make sure that this issue is clearly addressed in any lease or rental agreement.
When Are Utilities Included?
Utilities are included in your rent only when this is clearly stated in your lease or rental agreement. In this case, utilities are in the landlord’s name. Generally, the more utilities that are included, the higher the rent you will pay. If your landlord turns off the utilities, purposefully or negligently, make a demand in writing that they be restored. The landlord must restore utilities within a “reasonable time.”
You can take steps to get the essential service yourself, like buying bottled water or a space heater, and deducting this expense from your rent. You can sue the landlord to recover based on the reduced value of your rental without the essential service. You can get substitute housing until the problem is fixed and not pay rent. However, the landlord does not have to pay for this housing. Rules vary by state.
A landlord is not allowed to cut off the utilities in a rental property in foreclosure. If this happens, get legal assistance.
What If I Can’t Pay My Utility Bills?
When utilities are in your name, your landlord is powerless to cut them off. The utility company, however, can cut them off if you fail to make a required deposit or pay your bill, fail to make payments according to schedule or refuse to allow the utility company access to its equipment.
The utility must send you notice and attempt to contact you close to your shut-off date. Even after the utilities are shut off, you are still responsible for past-due amounts.
If you cannot pay your utility bills and fear being evicted as a result, contact your utility company and ask about balanced payment plans and emergency assistance programs. States also offer a wide range of programs to help low-income people with their utility bills – especially the ill, the disabled, the elderly and households with children.