May a landlord shut off utilities on a tenant in California?

In short, the answer is “No.”  Landlords may not cause to have utilities (such as gas, electricity, heat, etc.)  shut off on a tenant as a means of trying to get the tenant to move.

The utilities that are covered by this prohibition include, but are not limited to, water, heat, light, electricity, telephone, gas, elevators and refrigeration.

The consequences to a landlord that causes the utilities to be shut off can be severe.  The tenant can file a civil action against the landlord for actual damages and statutory penalties.  These penalties can be very high.

There are also laws restricting the authority of the utility company from disconnecting service due to the landlord’s failure to pay for the utility.  Written notice must be sent from the utility company to the tenant before the utility company can terminate service.  Depending on the type of residential unit, anywhere from 7 days’ to 15 days’ notice is required before a utility company can terminate the service.  If the tenant decides to start service in their own name, and if the lease with the landlord had a clause stating that the landlord would pay for the service, then the tenant may legally deduct the amount of the utility charges from future rent payments.

It is important to note that these rules are applied to landlords, and not to property managers or other agents.

For the above reasons, we recommend that before a tenancy begins, the landlord should make sure, if possible and allowable by law, to disconnect service and take it out of the landlord’s name prior to the tenant moving in.  In addition, the landlord should make clear in the written lease that utilities are not included and that the tenant is responsible for putting the utilities in their own name.

Contact the Law Office of David Piotrowski for additional help.

Additional landlord/tenant posts can be found on this blog here.

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This article is courtesy of the Law Office of David Piotrowski, a California law firm representing landlords with eviction matters.

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The Law Office of David Piotrowski

represents California landlords.

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