Montana

What to do if Your Landlord Turns Off Your Utilities

Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) LSC Funded
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My landlord has shut off my utilities. (Utilities are electricity, gas, or water.) What should I do?

1. Talk to your landlord. And, give your landlord a written demand that the landlord turn the utilities back on. Remember, this applies to utilities such as electricity, gas, or water. The law says you have to give the demand in writing. Explain your rights to your landlord. Tell your landlord that Montana law does not permit the landlord to cut off essential services like utilities. (The laws about that are in the Montana Code Annotated, Sections 70-24-303, -408, and -411). Be sure to keep a copy of the written notice you give your landlord.

2. The law says you have to give your landlord a "reasonable opportunity" to turn the utilities back on, after getting your written notice. The law doesn't say how much time is reasonable. A few days, such as 3 business days, is probably reasonable. If the landlord does not have the utilities turned back on after the reasonable amount of time has passed, then you can choose one of the following actions:

* Get the essential service yourself. For example, if the gas has been shut off but the electricity still works, you could purchase a space heater to get heat. You can deduct the cost of the heaters and the additional cost of the electricity from the rent, or

* Sue the landlord. This may allow you to recover money from the landlord based upon the reduced value of your rental without the essential service, or

* Get substitute housing while the problem continues. For example, you may decide to stay with a friend temporarily. If you do this, you are excused from paying rent for the time you stay in the substitute housing. But, the law does not require the landlord to reimburse you for any money you spent on substitute housing. If you decide to stay in a motel because your rental has no utilities, you cannot force the landlord to pay for your motel. You just don't have to pay rent to the landlord for the days you had to stay in the motel.

Note: You only have these options if the landlord acted purposefully or negligently in shutting off your utilities. That means that the landlord must have shut them off on purpose. Or, the landlord must not have acted with the degree of care that a reasonable landlord should have. If the utilities were shut off for reasons that had nothing to do with the landlord, then the options in # 2 above don't apply. For example, if you did not pay the electricity or gas bills in your own name and they got shut off, you don't have the options described above.

If I win in court against my landlord, can I get money for the landlord's violations of the law?

Yes, you may be able to get money if you win in court. If you have to move from your rental because the landlord shut off the utilities, and the judge finds that the landlord did that on purpose, the judge has the power to order the landlord to pay you money. The amount of money the landlord may have to pay you would be triple the amount of your monthly rent, or triple the amount of your out-of-pocket expenses, whichever is more. (Section 70-24-411, Montana Code).

What if the landlord and I reach an agreement and work things out?

1. That's generally the best result. If you reach an agreement, put it in writing. Both you and the landlord must sign the agreement. Both you and the landlord should keep a copy.

2. If the utility service was in the landlord's name, have the landlord call the utility company and have your utilities turned back on.