NH Bill Aims to Exclude Cable from Utility Protections

NH Bill Aims to Exclude Cable from Utility Protections

A 2009 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision that prevents landlords from shutting off cable services they offer free to tenants has inspired new legislation from State Representative 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 shut-offs of such utilities 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. Additionally, Flieder asserted Lally illegally connected the cable to his apartment illegally.

‘Protections Not Enumerated’
Lally’s attorney successfully argued that 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 also asserted cable access frequently is employed for other essential services as telephone, the Internet, news, and entertainment; so, therefore cannot be terminated during disputes between landlords and tenants.

The New Hampshire House Judiciary Committee is drafting an amendment to McGuire’s bill that would allow landlords to terminate cable television service only as long as the landlord provides the service to tenants. Otherwise, all other utility protections will remain intact.

Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an education and research institution located in Midland, Michigan, applauded McGuire’s efforts to close the protected utility loophole. “Access to the 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 (moestreich@heartland.org) is a legislative specialist at The Heartland Institute.