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Tenant's rights, Landlord wants to turn POWER OFF...

Orlando, FL |

We moved in our home 3 months ago and when we moved in the landlord said he would keep the power and water in his name. My husband was layed off from his job and are now falling behind on the rent. The Landlord said that he will cut the power off if he does not receive the rent by next week! Can he turn our power off and leave us with no heat or running water? And how long does it take to evict us?


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Attorney answers 1


My first question for you is: Did you sign a lease? If so, did the lease state that the rent included water and power?

If so, then the landlord cannot shut off the water and power because that would make the home uninhabitable, something he is not able to do in retaliation for non-payment of rent. There are certain steps a landlord must take to evict a tenant and partial deprivation of essential services is not among them.

If there is a lease but it is silent as to the inclusion of the water and power in the rental price, then it may be more difficult to claim they were part of a verbal contract separate from the lease writing. Usually, if there is a writing, it represents the entire agreement.

If there is no lease then the landlord has the practical ability to shut those services off for any reason. After all, under normal circumstances, he is not bound to pay for them for you and you would be able to provide them for yourself at any time. Your recourse would be to bring him to court on a claim of breach of verbal contract. A showing of his past payment of those services while you had possession of the property should show performance on his part regarding the terms you claim are now in breach. This will tend to support your claim. HOWEVER, if the shut-off is solely to force you out that is illegal - only a judge can order you out of the home and only the Sheriff can enforce the order.

If he does shut them off in retaliation, you can sue him for actual and consequential damages.

Whether or not there is a lease can also affect the amount of time it will take the landlord to evict you. No lease means you are a month to month tenant and a minimal notice period is required. Either way, the landlord must file for a court Judgment for Possession against the property. To do this, the landlord must first serve you with adequate notice which, unfortunately, provides a short period of time for you to pay all rent due (as short as three days, not counting weekends and holidays, notice in many cases). If you fail to pay in the allotted period, the landlord must file with the court for an eviction complaint and serve an eviction summons. You will have an opportunity to answer and defend your position. If you lose, the actual order will be issued and the sheriff can force the eviction.

Finally, landlords are to provide a statutory minimum standard of housing. Check your local municipal code for enumerated standards (non-leaking roof, weather tight windows and doors, safe structure and electrical systems, etc.). If your housing does not meet these standards, you can provide written notice that they require repair and it may be possible for you to withhold rent in a bid to force compliance.

If you cannot afford an attorney, try to contact your local area Consumer Affairs Division or Legal Aid as soon as possible for advice best suited to the facts and circumstances of your particular case. Good luck.

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