As heat waves sweep the nation, many tenants question whether the A/C repairs are the landlord's responsibility. Another common question among renters is, how long does the landlord have to make repairs or replace the broken A/C system? The state laws at the property location govern the landlord and tenant relationship. Thus, local government offices will provide easy-to-understand information about landlord-tenant laws. The tenant or landlord can stop and request information and guidelines for rentals.
The party responsible for repairing the system will also depend on the situation's circumstances. Details such as why the A/C isn't working will come into play. Most states recognize the legal doctrine called the warranty of implied habitability. When state laws call for landlords to provide an A/C, the period the landlord must make the repairs will be from two to thirty days. The landlord's best interest is to repair anything the warranty covers immediately.
The Ins and Outs of the Implied Warranty of Habitability
The implied warranty of habitability is a list of essential health and safety standards for rental dwellings. Landlords must ensure the properties meet the requirements before lease agreements with tenants. They must also ensure compliance while occupants live on the premises.
Landlords must maintain rental and leasing properties and ensure habitable conditions. They must also respond to tenants' communications and complete regular maintenance. The warranty does not apply to commercial properties, as occupants don't live there. Local state laws outline the requirements for rental properties. Yet, the laws countrywide impose an obligation on the landlord to provide renters with a livable home they equip with working:
- Hot and cold water
- Plumbing and electrical wiring, outlets, and lighting
- Functional bathroom, including a shower and toilet
- Adequate ventilation system
- The premises must meet building code requirements and be sanitary and free of insect or rodent infestation
- A heating system for the colder seasons
- Secure doors that lock
- Working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Rental agreements may not explicitly reference the implied warranty of habitability. The landlord is still legally responsible for keeping the property in good repair and livable for the tenants. The warranty requires safe, sanitary, and secure living conditions. As you can see, the list does not include a working air conditioning system. Still, the landlord's A/C requirements will depend on the rental property's location.
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Do Rental Laws call for Landlords to Fix or Replace the A/C?
In approximately one-half of the states in the U.S., lawmakers consider air conditioning an amenity or luxury. Thus, landlords can rent out properties without equipping them with working A/C systems. If the property has a cooling system in those areas, the landlord can exclude themselves from upkeep in the rental agreement.
Thus, the landlord would not be responsible for repairs or replacing the system. The states in the other half of the country consider a working A/C part of basic habitability. The landlord must respond to those tenants and make repairs to avoid legal issues. Local rental laws give the timeline requirements for responding.
The Legal Rights of Landlords
Basic landlord-tenant laws countrywide give the landlord certain rights. They have the right to collect rent and security deposit and withhold funds from the security deposit to make repairs. If the rental payment is late, they have the right to charge a late fee of the amount they disclose in the rental agreement.
Rental laws also give the landlord the right to end the rental agreement if the tenant does not meet their legal duties as a renter. Learning the local regulations can help avoid tenant conflicts and legal issues or liabilities. Other tips include:
- Visit local government to get familiar with the rules and regulations before renting properties
- Ensure there is clear written communication about rules and responsibilities with the tenants
- Respond promptly to tenants when they communicate issues with the property
- Ensure the rental agreements are comprehensive yet straightforward
In most jurisdictions, leases and rental agreements include an implied warranty of habitability. Some rental contracts don't include verbiage on the landlord's responsibility to make repairs. Yet, the warranty still requires they keep the property habitable for renters.
The warranty further states that the tenant's legal duty is to pay rent in exchange for the landlord's legal duty to maintain a habitable premise. The instructions of the warranty do not explicitly list air conditioning repairs. Yet, there are currently 25 states in the U.S. with laws in place making it part of the warranty and the landlord's responsibility.
The Requirements When the Landlord Includes the A/C as an Amenity in the Lease
When state regulations do not require the Landlord to provide and repair air conditioners, many choose to offer it as an amenity. Amenities are the property's additional accommodations, such as the washer and dryer or the dishwasher. If the lease agreement specifies the A/C as an amenity and fixture of the property, the landlord must handle routine maintenance and repair.
If it stops working, the landlord must install a new and functioning A/C unit on the property. When landlords provide amenities, even if the appliances are luxuries, the items are part of the rental agreement. That means the property owner must keep the devices in working order. Landlords can also exclude the amenity from the contract; keep reading for more information on exclusions.
Steps Tenants May take When Landlords Refuse to Repair the A/C
If a landlord refuses to replace or repair a broken air conditioner, there may be steps the tenant can take. If the residence is in a state requiring landlords to repair or replace the air conditioner, the first steps include:
- Call the landlord or maintenance department to alert them of the broken A/C
- Send written notice to the landlord with relevant details, including the date the system stopped working and the date of notice
- If a technician is visiting the property, ensure they have all the pertinent details
If the tenant does all the above and the Landlord has not fixed the broken A/C, they can reach out to the local state government for instructions on how to proceed. Some examples of the procedures for tenants to follow when a landlord won't uphold their legal duties and side of the agreement include:
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Reporting Landlord Air conditioning Issues to the Local Public Officials
Tenants always have the option to report the landlord's actions to the city or county housing authority and officials. A member of the board would schedule to inspect the property. After the review, they would advise whether the landlord's actions violate the law. The official would also speak to the tenant about the steps to take.
Some states allow the tenants to withhold rent until the landlord makes critical repairs. As such, the local government will provide information on the process to follow to file a tenant's assertion. Tenants should not just withhold rent without learning about the correct procedures.
Repair and Deduct the Cost from Rental Payments
Some states allow the tenant to make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rental payment. They must follow the state guidelines unusually involving sending a notice to the Landlord.
Substitute housing may also be an option. State government laws may allow the tenant to find a temporary residence until the landlord completes the repairs. The renter would not make rental payments until they can return to the property.
File a Lawsuit
Tenants also have the option to sue landlord for damages resulting from habitability issues. If the judge's findings favor the claimant, the laws could entitle them to collect compensation for the damages and reasonable attorney fees.
Steps for Landlords to Protect Themselves
If the state does not require landlords to make A/C repairs in the landlord-tenant law, they can exclude themselves from repairs in the lease agreement. To do so, they must state in writing that it is the tenant's responsibility to repair or replace the air conditioner should the situation arise. If the lease does not mention A/C repairs, the tenant can argue it was part of the services included in the agreement.
In states including the A/C on the warranty, landlords have a specific amount of time in which they must make repairs or replace the system. If an air conditioning breaks from normal wear and tear or is out of the tenant's control, the landlord must fix or replace it at their expense. Alternately, when damages occur because of the tenant's negligence, they must cover the cost of repair or replacement.
Landlord-tenant laws vary greatly, depending on the location of the rental property. The local government in each state will have legislation on the landlord-tenant rules and regulations. Cities within the state may also add more bylaws. The best way for the landlord and tenants to protect themselves is to visit the local government. They can stop by to ask for landlord-tenant guidelines and where to find the local codes and statutes.