California tenants facing retaliation and landlord harassment often experience service interruptions to their essential utilities and other services, such as cable, internet, and electricity.  Where the landlord or their property manager indirectly or directly disconnects the wires, California tenants have actionable claims for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, tenant harassment, and tenant retaliation.  The law is clear, landlords may not interrupt services or utilities to harass California tenants, retaliate against them, or when undertaken to force California tenants from their homes.

May Landlords Disconnect A California Tenant’s Utility Services?

No.  Landlords may not terminate utilities or services by cutting the wires providing service to California tenants.  California Civil Code § 789.3(a); Otanez v. Blue Skies Mobile Home Park, 1 Cal. App. 4th 1521, 1525 (1991) (landlord cut off gas, water, and electricity to tenant’s mobile home.); Hale v. Morgan, 22 Cal. 3d 388, 393 (1978) (California tenant may assert claim under Civil Code section 789.3 where landlord disconnects water and electricity.).  California Civil Code section 789.3 only expressly covers water, heat, light, electricity, telephone, gas, elevators, and refrigeration.  However, to the extent a utility or service is not covered under California Civil Code section 789.3, California tenants could assert a claim under breach of contract as a California tenant experiencing an internet interruption, for example, suffers an impairment of their quiet enjoyment.  Merchese v. Standard Realty & Development Co., 74 Cal. App. 3d 142, 147 (1977) (The promise implied from the covenant of quiet enjoyment ensures that the landlord will not disturb California tenant’s possession of the property.).

Please note that California Civil Code section 789.3 only applies to landlords and not property managers and other agents.  Consequently, the California tenant may only assert a breach of contract claim against property managers.  But, the California tenant may sue the landlord under California Civil Code section 789.3 for their property manager disconnecting or interrupting utility services.

Finally, where the landlord or property manager cuts, or damages phone, cable, or electrical service wiring, California tenants may call the police to have their aggressor arrested for unlawful trespass.  Damaging a phone, cable, or electrical service wiring violates California Penal Code section 591, which may subject the landlord or property manager to arrest and/or criminal prosecution.  California Penal Code § 591.

May Landlords Disconnect Utility Services Where the California Tenant Does Not Reside in the Unit as their Permanent Residence?

No.  California tenants remain protected against utility disconnections or service interruptions even if they do not permanently reside in the home.  California Civil Code § 789.3(a); Otanez v. Blue Skies Mobile Home Park, 1 Cal. 4th 1523, 1525 (1991).  Further, the California tenant does not have to be in the home when the landlord causes the disconnection or interruption.  Id.  The California tenant still has a claim against their landlord.

What Damages May California Tenants Recover Against Landlords that Disconnect or Interrupt Utility Services?

A California tenant suffering through protracted landlord harassment and retaliation may file a civil lawsuit in court.  In court, the California tenant may recover:

  • Actual damages, such as out-of-pocket costs (motel bills, portable electric generator costs);
  • A statutory penalty under California Civil Code section 789.3(c) of $100.00 for each day the utility service is disconnected and/or interrupted;
  • Injunctive relief, which consists of having the court order the landlord to restore service; and,
  • Reasonable attorney fees.

What is the Best Law Firm to Handle California Utility Service Interruptions and Disconnection Claims? 

Astanehe Law is California’s premiere landlord-tenant law firm handling California utility service interruptions and disconnection claims.  Astanehe Law has successfully resolved numerous landlord-tenant cases throughout California, including California tenants facing utility interruptions.  The firm only represents California tenants, and never represents landlords.  It is never too early to establish a relationship with an experienced California tenant when suffering through protracted tenant harassment and retaliation, including utility service interruptions and disconnections.  Contact Astanehe Law to discuss your rights and options as a California tenant pertaining to utility service interruptions and disconnections.