Utility Cut-Offs
In many circumstances it is illegal for a landlord to cut off your utilities. If you pay your utilities directly to the utility company, it is illegal for your landlord to cut off your utilities for anything other than bona fide repairs, construction, or an emergency. Even if you pay your utilities to the landlord, the landlord's ability to cut off your utilities is severely constrained. 

What happens if your landlord illegally cuts off your utilities? 

Texas law provides tenants two solutions when a landlord cuts off utilities (they aren't mutually exclusive, so you can do both):

First, Section 92.0091 of the Texas Property Code allows a tenant to quickly secure a "writ of restoration" from a Justice of the Peace Court, which orders the landlord to turn the utilities back on. If the landlord won't comply, they can be put in jail until they do.

Second, Section 92.008 of the Texas Property Code provides that a tenant can file a lawsuit and recover compensation and penalties from the landlord as a result of the illegal cut off. Under Section 92.008(f)(2), a tenant can:
  • Recover a civil penalty of one month's rent plus $1,000;
  • Recover any damages they suffered as a result of the cut-off;
  • Recover their reasonable attorney's fees;
  • Recover court costs and filing fees;
  • Terminate their lease or recover possession of the property, at the tenant's option. 
Money that the tenant owes the landlord is deducted from these sums.