Landlord-Tenant Issues : Utility Shut-Off

What happens if I have a problem with my landlord?
If a landlord has an unresolved problem with a tenant, the landlord may try to change the locks or shut-off utilities to get a tenant to solve the problem. This is called lock out or freeze-out (also called shut-off). The following information discusses utility shut-off.

What is a utility shut-off?
A utility shut-off is like a lock out in the context of landlord-tenant law. This is not about the utility company turning off your service (gas, electric, water, etc.) because the tenant failed to pay their bill. A utility shut-off in landlord-tenant law occurs when the landlord takes action or fails to have the utilities turned off in order to try to force the tenant to leave. This can occur by a landlord failing to pay a bill for a utility in the name of the landlord or calling the utility company to request shut-off in order to get the tenant to leave. Both are prohibited.

Is it legal for the landlord to have any of my utilities terminated in order to get me to leave?
No. Just like lock outs were made illegal in 1973 with the passage of the landlord/tenant law, the same statute that prohibits landlords from locking out tenants also prohibits landlords from terminating utility service in order to make the tenant leave. It is illegal. The only way a landlord can legally force a tenant to leave, who does not agree to do so, is by getting a court order to evict the tenant.

What can I do if the landlord terminates utility service?
The options are the same as if the landlord locked out the tenant. Keep in mind that if the utility service is in the tenant’s name and the tenant has caused the termination, the landlord cannot be held responsible for this problem. In addition, there is another practical problem with utility shut-offs. If the landlord allowed the utilities to be shut-off by nonpayment, this may or may not be a “utility shut-off” depending on the landlord’s intent. If the landlord allowed the utility to go unpaid to force the tenant to move, then it is a shut-off. If the landlord simply failed to pay, for whatever reason (neglect or short of cash), then the tenant should consider a different option called escrow because this is now an issue of the landlord failing to maintain the conditions of the unit.

This sounds complicated. Can I get legal help?
Possibly. Legal aid programs sometimes represent those who are locked out and/or give them specific advice through a hotline. Find your local legal aid program now.

See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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