Is It Legal for My Landlord to Shut Off My Utilities?

UtilitiesIn most circumstances it’s illegal for your landlord to turn off your utilities. However, there are some exceptions.

Whether tenants have a cause of action against landlord for causing water service to be turned off the day after landlord gave tenants three-day’s notice to vacate property.

Possibly.  If the three-day written notice landlord gave to tenants on was valid, it is likely that the parties’ lease agreement had terminated, (with two days added for weekend days).  If it is found that landlord caused tenants’ water service to be interrupted before the termination of the parties’ lease, then landlord may be liable for actual and consequential damages or 3 months’ rent, (whichever is greater), plus costs, including attorney’s fees.  However, the court may possibly award only nominal damages since the interruption of water service only affected tenants for a short period of time and the court may possibly decline to provide three month’s rent. Also, if tenants remained on the property beyond tenants may actually be liable to landlord for double rent.

Facts

Tenants fell behind on rent.  Landlord verbally informed tenants they needed to vacate immediately.  Landlord then served tenants a three-day’s notice on 12/10/15.  The next day, 12/11/15 the water was turned off.  Tenants were arranging to pay the water bill to landlord, as required and agreed upon in the party’s lease.

Discussion

  1. Termination of the Lease

The first issue is whether the parties’ lease had been terminated.  Florida statute 83.56(3) provides, if a tenant fails to pay rent when due and the default continues for 3 days, excluding Saturday, Sunday, and legal holidays, after delivery of written demand by the landlord (in a form specified by statute) for payment of the rent or possession of the premises, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement.

Here, tenants did not provide the date rent was due or the amount of time tenants fell behind on rent.  Assuming rent was due on, tenants have at least been in default for the required three days for landlord to pursue termination of their lease.  The landlord here gave notice to tenants of their default on two separate occasions.  However, the first verbal notice had no effect under the statute as the notice had to not only be in writing, but was required to be in a specific form, mandated by the statute.  The landlord gave the tenants some form of a written three-day notice, but the facts do not indicate whether the written notice was in the proper form.  If the written notice was not in the proper form, tenants may possibly have a defense to the eviction for defective notice under statute 83.60(2).  If the notice was in the proper form, the lease may be terminated, three days from delivery of the notice, excluding weekends and holidays.

  1. Interruption of Water Service

The second issue is whether the landlord improperly allowed the water service to be interrupted. Florida statute 83.67(1) prohibits a landlord from directly or indirectly causing the termination or interruption of any utility service furnished the tenant, including, water, whether or not the utility service is under the control of, or payment is made by, the landlord. Under section 6, a landlord who violates the statute is liable to the tenant for actual and consequential damages or 3 months’ rent, whichever is greater, and costs, including attorney’s fees.

Here, the tenants were responsible for paying the landlord for their water service.  The facts do not indicate whether the tenants actually tendered the landlord the amount for the utility, prior to the expiration of their lease.  If the tenants had tried to give the landlord this amount while the lease was effective, and the landlord did not accept the amount, a court may possibly find that the landlord at least indirectly caused the interruption of tenants’ water service during their tenancy.  As far as damages are concerned, the court is likely to only award nominal damages, absent some extraordinary facts, due to the fact that tenants were only without water and the lease expired in only four days.  It is however still possible, though unlikely, for the court to award tenants three months of rent.

  1. Holdover Tenant Liability

A final issue is whether tenants may actually be liable to landlord for remaining on the property after the termination of their lease.  Florida Statute 83.58 allows a landlord to recover double the amount of rent if the tenant holds continues in possession of the property after the expiration of the rental agreement without the landlord’s permission.

If the court finds that the three-day notice given to tenants was valid, and tenants remained on the property beyond it, it may award landlord double the amount of rent. 

Conclusion

Tenants may have a cause of action against landlord for interrupting their water service during their tenancy if they can prove that they tendered to landlord the amount for the water service and the landlord refused to accept it.  Still, the award may possibly be nominal or possibly be reduced by any amounts tenants may owe to landlord if tenants are found to have held-over the property beyond the termination of their lease.

  • Attorney: Maurice Arcadier
  • Status: Answered