Is it unlawful for a landlord to turn off utilities on a tenant?

New York News

CORNING, N.Y. (WETM) — The eviction moratorium is ending this weekend in New York, and some tenants fear they could be put out in the cold. There have been several reports of landlords turning of utilities due to renters not paying their bills, but is this legal?

Because of the moratorium, one New York landlord shared that some property owners are forced to go to the extreme in order to get months of back rent payments. Landlords feel they are being treated unfairly by the state. But under criminal law, they could be charged with a class A misdemeanor for turning off the heat, water, or other utilities. Landlords cannot forcibly evict a person by shutting off their utilities.

“The law looks at turning off the utilities as sort of like a self-help eviction, which is not permitted under the civil law,” said Anna Czarples, an attorney with Welch, Donlon & Czarples in Corning. “If a person was in the situation where the landlord purposely and intentionally cut off their utilities, one of their remedies is to call the police and say ‘Can you investigate if this was a part of an unlawful eviction?'”

While weather conditions are not written into law, they can be a factor in an eviction case. “It doesn’t matter to the law what the weather is outside, but I will say that it is certainly within the discretion of law enforcement or the discretion of a judge for determining if charges have been brought appropriately for unlawful eviction,” Czarples added.

Ultimately, it is unlawful to leave tenants in the cold, but area landlords are struggling as the pandemic enters its third year, and aid funds—like the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)—are quickly exhausted. While Gov. Kathy Hochul fights for federal funding, tenants and landlords may be out of luck if they try to apply for these funds. Though the ERAP application portal was ordered to reopen, the program has no money to disburse.

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