How to Discourage Electricity Theft, Utilities Tampering by Residents
One way residents may steal electricity is by stealing from the building supply. Residents may tamper with wiring and hook up directly to your building’s metered electricity supply. A resident who does this taps into power that you’re paying for. Another way to steal electricity is directly from other residents. In this case, a resident may tap into a neighboring resident’s metered electricity supply. While this type of tampering may not happen often at your building, it can cause big problems when it does.
One course of action is to add a clause to your lease giving you the right to take strong action, including eviction, against residents who tamper with utilities. It’s important to bar tampering with all utilities, not just electricity, since residents might also try to steal other utilities, such as water. You can adapt and use our Model Lease Language: Bar Residents from Tampering with Utilities, to help you prevent this type of theft.
Problems Caused When Residents Steal Electricity
If residents steal electricity, you can get stuck dealing with some big problems. For example, many local jurisdictions bar tampering with electrical lines and unlicensed people from doing any sort of electrical work. Another big problem is the increased danger from fire hazards. Tampering with electrical lines can create a fire hazard.
Another problem is that if a resident steals electricity from your building, your expenses will increase, since you’ll be paying for that electricity. If a resident steals from another resident, the victimized resident could sue you for negligence, claiming that you knew or should have known about the problem and that you did nothing to stop it. A court may decide that you must reimburse the resident for the difference in the electric bills.
When to Suspect Utilities Tampering
To help you discover if residents are tampering with electricity or other utilities, inspect an apartment’s utilities and service whenever there’s a vacancy. And inspect building-wide utilities monthly.
For example, check for wires around the electrical meter area that were not there the last time you looked. Also look out for the following signs that someone is siphoning electricity:
- Sudden dramatic increase in your electric bill;
- Loss of power or service for unexplained reasons;
- Flickering lights; or
- Circuit breakers tripping for no apparent reason.
Use Lease Clause Banning All Utility Tampering
Most leases ban illegal actions by residents. Since stealing electricity is against the law, you probably think you can evict a resident who siphons off your or another resident’s electricity. But it may be more difficult than you think. The stealing resident may simply claim that he or she didn’t install this electrical wiring. And a court may accept this argument. The best way to avoid a problem like this is to put a clause in your lease banning residents from tampering with any utility or service, including electrical wiring.
The lease clause should cover all possible utilities and everything residents could possibly do to tamper with them or steal them. Our Model Lease Language says residents can’t change, alter, or interfere with the mechanical, electrical, sanitary, or other service systems of the building and apartment.
The clause should also specify that it applies to residents who actually tamper with the utilities themselves and residents who just permit it. Some residents may claim they didn’t do the work themselves. Also, the clause should state that tampering with the utilities is a “default” under your lease and can lead to the resident’s eviction. This will allow you to evict a resident who tampers with utilities if, like many leases, yours has a paragraph elsewhere saying that residents “in default” can be evicted. Your attorney can help you make the necessary revisions to our Model Lease Language if your lease doesn’t specifically use the term “default.”
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