The days are getting longer and heating up. In some parts of the country, that means hot (it’s already hit near 110 degrees fahrenheit in Arizona this year), making air conditioning a “must have” for any type of indoor comfort. In fact, high temperatures can even be deadly: the CDC reports that more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year. So this means that air conditioning is a necessity for rental properties, not just an amenity, right? It’s not so simple.
Landlord-tenant law is complex, even when it comes to something simple like air conditioning. The law varies widely from state to state, so it’s a good idea to brush up on your state’s regulations if you have concerns. For example, in Arizona, tenants have rights when it comes to having working air conditioning in their rental unit. However, if they have any issues, they must notify the landlord in writing and take several other formal steps in order to take advantage of the law.
In some states, air conditioning is not a requirement, but most require that the property be “habitable.” In Oregon, if a landlord doesn’t take care of important repairs, tenants may have several options, including the right to withhold rent or “repair and deduct.” In Texas, a landlord’s responsibility is to “repair or remedy” any condition that “materially affects the physical health and safety of an ordinary tenant.”
So even though the language varies, it’s clear that there are usually regulations in place to protect tenants. It’s important to have a complete understanding of your rights. Because the relationship between a landlord and tenant is governed by the state in which you live, get the facts. The consumer protection departments of many state governments post information about landlord-tenant law, and many states have associations that help tenants navigate these waters.
Sounds complicated, right? So how do you stay cool? Here are some rules of thumb:
Your home needs to be habitable
As mentioned above, despite differences in the details, landlords are responsibilities for the “warranty of implied habitability.” Habitability, quite simply, means “able to be inhabited” with “conditions that are fit for living.” There is no national standard for habitability, but it should encompass safe and sanitary conditions, along with the basics like doors that lock, hot water, flushing toilets, roofs and walls that are not leaking, heat and a garbage disposal area, among many other things. You’ll note that air conditioning isn’t included on this list – it is usually considered an amenity – but “if you live in an area that experiences fairly high temperatures or you have a medical condition requiring a functioning air conditioner, the law might look on that differently.”
Was the A/C there when you moved in?
If a working air conditioning system was in your rental property when you took tenancy, it makes sense that it would be included just as if it were another major appliance, like an heater, refrigerator or stove. But does that mean a landlord MUST repair it? It’s a good idea to address this up front in a lease. If the lease excludes the A/C from maintenance or repairs the landlord may not have to repair it – more on this below.
Check your lease up front
A lease is a written document stating the terms of a rental agreement. In some states a written lease is required by law, and in some states it is optional. Before signing, make sure that the A/C is included in the lease language, with responsibility for maintenance and repairs clearly defined. A lease could possibly exclude A/C from the list of repairs that a landlord is responsible for, and then if it fails during tenancy he or she may not have to repair it. As an added layer of protection, you can request that all major appliances, including the air conditioning, be inspected by a maintenance professional. Then you’ll both know the condition of the A/C upon move in.
Get full contact information and notification instructions
When filling out paperwork for your new place, make sure that you have access to full contact information for the landlord, with both a physical address and email address if possible. Ask if there is an office that answers calls 24 hours a day. Who do you call in the middle of the night? Pay close attention to the fine print to clarify what the landlord is responsible for and how you are expected to notify the management of problems. A good lease will spell out the obligations of both the tenant and the landlord, clearly defining things like notifications and how long you need to wait for a repair.
Best case scenario is that nothing ever goes wrong with your air conditioning. But, if it does, it is important to keep a log of problems. This includes not only the date that the A/C started having issues, but also each contact you made (or attempted to make) with your landlord. Make copies and keep careful records. It is important to stay professional and, if you do run into any problems, seek legal advice in your state before taking any kind of action.
Navigating laws when it comes to air conditioning can be complicated, so it’s important to do your due diligence as a tenant in order to keep your cool.
Kaycee Wegener manages marketing and media relations for Rentec Direct and shares industry news, products, and trends within the community. Learn more about Kaycee at www.rentecdirect.com and on Twitter at @thatrentergirl.