Generally, tenants are not subject to the termination or reduction in utility service when their landlord fails to pay a utility bill. Many states have laws that prevent service from being terminated because a landlord failed to pay their utility bill.
What Laws Are There to Prevent Termination of Utilities?
In most states, if a landlord fails to provide a utility, they may be in violation of housing codes. Many states have provisions which provide tenants with remedies against a utility from being shut-off. If your service is wrongfully terminated, you may be entitled to damages and attorney's fees. There are some states that have laws which will impose civil or criminal liability upon a landlord for failure to provide service to their tenants.
What If I Choose to Pay the Bill So Service Will Continue?
Some states allow tenants to pay overdue utility bills on the landlord's account and then deduct the amount of the payment from their rent to prevent a termination of service. Generally, if a tenant chooses to pay the landlord's utility bill, the tenant is only required to pay an amount necessary to maintain service.
What If the Lease Requires the Tenant to Pay Utilities?
Like many aspects of landlord tenant law, the lease controls the outcome of the dispute. Some states allow landlords and tenants to agree that the tenant will pay the utilities rather than the landlord. If the lease states the tenant will pay for utilities, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to maintain the utilities.
What If the Tenant Failed to Pay Rent?
Some landlords might be tempted to stop paying utilities if the tenant stops paying rent. In most states though, it is illegal for landlords to shut off utilities even if the tenant stops paying rent. Landlords have a contractual obligation to not disturb the tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the property and residential landlords have an additional obligation to keep the property livable. Shutting off the utilities would violate both sets of laws.
If a landlord has a problem with a tenant paying rent, the landlord should try to negotiate with the tenant or formally evict the tenant. Refusing to pay the utility is an illegal form of tenant harassment in most states.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If your landlord has failed to pay the utilities as promised in your lease agreement, an experienced landlord tenant attorney can explain the laws of your area and suggest options available to you.