NH Bill Would Exclude Cable from Utility Protections

Published February 2, 2011

A 2009 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision preventing landlords from shutting off cable services they offer free to tenants has evoked new legislation from State Rep. Carol McGuire (R-Epsom).

McGuire appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on January 20, 2011 to explain her bill’s exemption of cable services from state protections for shutoffs of utilities such as heat, water, and electricity.

Eliminating the protection of cable television access as a “necessary” utility stems from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lally v Flieder. In that case, the Court determined landlord Lauren Flieder could not shut off cable services for Christopher Lally, a tenant she was attempting to evict over unpaid rent. Flieder also asserted Lally connected the cable to his apartment illegally.

‘Protections Not Enumerated’
Lally’s attorney successfully argued cable television was a utility subject to state law, which reads: “No landlord shall willfully cause, directly or indirectly, the interruption or termination of any utility service being supplied to the tenant including, but not limited to water, heat, light, electricity, gas, telephone, sewerage, elevator or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the control of the landlord, except for such temporary interruption as may be necessary while actual repairs are in process or during temporary emergencies.”

The court noted cable access frequently is employed for essential services such as telephone, the Internet, news, and entertainment. Therefore, it ruled, cable service cannot be terminated during disputes between landlords and tenants.

‘Not a Life Necessity’
Since the Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state to adjudicate this matter, and the case probably doesn’t have implications for federal law that would warrant review by the United States Supreme Court, there is no further recourse other than to introduce legislation to amend the statute.

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee is drafting an amendment to McGuire’s bill that would allow landlords to terminate cable television service.

Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an education and research institution in Midland, Michigan, applauded McGuire’s efforts to close the loophole.

“Access to a Burn Notice marathon is not a life necessity,” he said. “Clearly, landlords should be able to cut off cable television access they provide if a tenant is behind on the rent.”

Marc Oestreich ([email protected]) is a legislative specialist at The Heartland Institute.