The Housing Rights Advocate, the quarterly publication for the Austin Tenant's Council had a great article on Tenant Rights in regards to utilities. Most renters really don't have any idea what their rights are if their landlord shuts off their utilities so I thought I would share it. The educational portions of the article, titled "Court Orders Landlord to Restore Utilities", are outlined below.
UTILITY SHUT OFFS
A landlord may shut off any utility (electricity, water, wastewater, and gas) to carry out repairs or construction or in an emergency. A landlord may never shut off electricity, water, wastewater, or gas because the tenant is delinquent with a rent or utility payment. Any provision of a lease that purports to waive any of the tenant's rights, liabilities, or duties under the utility shut-off law is void.
TENANT REMEDIES FOR ILLEGAL SHUT OFF
If a landlord or a landlord's agent violates any of the rules for shutting off electrical service, the tenant may:
Either recover possession of the premises or terminate the lease; and
Recover from the landlord actual damages; the greater of one month's rent or $500; reasonable attorney's fees; and court costs, less any delinquent rent or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord.
TENANT'S RIGHT OF RESTORATION
If a landlord has interrupted utility service in violation of Section 92.008 of the Texas Property Code, the tenant may obtain relief after filing a sworn complaint specifying the facts of the landlord's disconnection with the justice court in the precinct in which the rental premises are located. The tenant must also state orally under oath the facts of the unlawful utility disconnection during an appearance in court.
If the court believes that an unlawful utility disconnection has likely occurred, the court may issue an order that entitles the tenant to immediate and temporary restoration of utility service pending a final hearing.
Hopefully you're never in that situation in your Austin apartment; but if you are, it's important to know your rights and the landlord's rights.