Landlord May Not Interrupt Tenant Utilities

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Oct

Landlord May Not Interrupt Tenant Utilities

NON-PAYING TENANTS AND THE STRESS THEY CREATE

Few things cause landlords as much stress and turmoil as  do non-paying tenants.  Indeed, the whirlwind of expense and emotion caused. by a tenant who expects a “free ride” can lead landlords to extreme measures.

When they cannot collect rent, some landlords seek to exert pressure on tenants by cutting-off utility services to rental property. Unfortunately, such action solves notions, and creates an even bigger landlord problem.

This is the case because, landlords are prohibited from interrupting certain utility services provided to tenants except where “the interruption results from bona fide repairs, construction, or an emergency.”

PROHIBITED CONDUCT

Texas law prohibits landlords and their agents from the following:

  1. interrupting or causing the interruption of utility service paid for directly to the utility company by a tenant; and
  2. interrupting or causing the interruption of water, wastewater, gas, or electric service furnished to a tenant by the landlord as an incident of the tenancy or by other agreement.

See Texas Property Code section 92.008

LANDLORD CONSEQUENCES FOR ENGAGING IN PROHIBITED CONDUCT

The statute has real “teeth” for punishing those landlords that unlawfully interrupt tenant utilities.

Specifically, when a landlord engaged in prohibited conduct, a tenant may:

(1) either recover possession of the premises or terminate the lease; and

(2) recover from the landlord the following (reduced by the amount of less any delinquent rents or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord):

  • an amount equal to the sum of the tenant’s actual damages
  • one month’s rent
  • $1,000
  • reasonable attorney’s fees, and
  • court costs.

Landlords cannot legally ask a tenant to waive a right or to exempt from a liability or duty.”  In fact, any lease provision that purports to waive a right or to exempt a party from a liability or duty under section 92.008 is void.