Over the past 50 years, the number of Americans renting their homes has increased by more than 22%. Pew Research has revealed that 36.6% of US homes are rented, yet just 32% of those said they rent out of choice. While a handful of landlords rent out a property with utilities included, many don’t. So, what do you do when your heating packs up on a cold winter’s night and how can it impact the relationship between tenant and landlord?
First, you must determine who is responsible for paying the utility company. This should be clearly outlined in the tenancy agreement that you signed before moving into your Texan property. If your paperwork states you’re liable and you haven’t been paying your supplier, ensure you take immediate action to contact your utility company as you will owe them cash and they may have cut off your supply. PUC rules state that customers can be disconnected due to failure to pay on the 26th day past the bill due date, so long as the electricity company sends a notice of disconnection 16 days after the due date. However, if you’re confident that you’ve been paying your bills or your tenancy agreement states that your landlord is responsible for the bills, then you’ll need to make contact with him or her.
What the law says
Effective from January 1, 2010, Section 92.009 of the Property Code states that Texan landlords are not permitted to interrupt a tenant’s heating supply unless it is for compulsory repairs, construction or there is an emergency. This rule applies regardless of how the tenant pays their bills or if utilities are included in the rental agreement. Should your landlord illegally shut your power off, you are within your rights to gain a writ of restoration from the court and claim damages and civil penalties. Or, should you discover that your landlord has not paid the utility company, Section 92.301 of the Texas Property Code allows you to take legal action against your landlord.
Every rented property in Texas must be fit for human habitation. Fully functioning heating in your home is a vital necessity no matter what your age or the time of year. Under the doctrine “implied warranty of habitability”, landlords must ensure that their Texan rental properties are liveable. Therefore, if the heater they are responsible for breaks, they must take immediate action to get it fixed or install a new one. As a tenant, you must wait a ‘reasonable time’ for repairs to be actioned, as per the Property Code. Once this time has elapsed, you can repair the heater yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. Alternatively, you may choose to cease your lease agreement and move on.
There are many benefits to renting a property in Texas, however, when your heating stops working it’s imperative that you determine the cause. Landlords who provide premises with utilities included must ensure they pay the utility company’s bills to avoid legal action. Whereas, renters must be clear on what they are and aren’t responsible for in their home as this will allow them to easily take the necessary action when their heating fails.
Blog post contributed by Cassie Steele.
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About Michael Farah
Michael Farah is the founder and managing attorney of the Farah Law Firm. Mike graduated from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and is licensed to practice law in Texas and New York.