You want to be comfortable in your home, but what happens when the temperature isn’t right, or worse, the conditions are unsafe? Do you have a right to heat and air conditioning? It depends.
The laws regarding heat and air conditioning vary from state to state. In most states, landlords are required to provide adequate heat, but they usually don’t need to provide air conditioning. Let’s break this down a bit more.
Rental Units Must Be Habitable
All states have laws and regulations to ensure safe, habitable living conditions in rental housing properties. And providing heat is one of them.
In California, for instance, a functioning heat system is required for a rental unit to be considered “legally habitable,” according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The landlord is also responsible for repairs to the heating system, as long as the tenant or the tenant’s pets and guests did not create the problem.
While heat is a requirement in California, air conditioning is not. But if the landlord included an air conditioner in your unit when you moved in, the landlord is contractually obligated to ensure it works. Otherwise, they’d be in breach of contract.
The law is similar in Georgia: landlords are not legally required to provide air conditioners but are obligated to maintain A/C units they have provided.
In hotter climes such as Arizona, air conditioning is a requirement, along with heat and hot water.
Since the United States spans many different climates, the laws vary by region. Read through Landlordology’s state law summaries for tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities in your state. In some cases, large cities may have their own regulations regarding air conditioning. Visit your city’s tenant-rights webpage for specifics.
When Heat or A/C Fails
When the heat or air conditioning (provided by the landlord) fails in your unit, the landlord must repair the problem within a reasonable amount of time. In Arizona, this is typically within two business days, as long as the failure was not caused by you or a guest in your home.
- Call the landlord, and if applicable, or the maintenance department noted in your rental agreement.
- Send the landlord a notice in writing, detailing the date the heat or A/C failed, as well as the current date.
- Include your unit and contact information so a repair person can set up a repair time.
If the landlord doesn’t address the issue in a timely fashion, or doesn’t respond at all, you have several options:
- Repair or remedy the problem yourself
- Temporarily move into a hotel and deduct funds from your rent payment
- Withhold rent
- Take legal action
If you stay in a hotel because your home is temporarily inhabitable, you can’t deduct the entire cost of the hotel stay. For example, if you live in Arizona and your rent is $900 per month, your daily rental rate is $30. You can only deduct from your rent $30 per night stayed in a hotel.
If you’ve waited days and your landlord has made no attempt to remedy the situation, you are legally allowed to withhold rent in some states as long as you’re current on rent payments. Save the money for a later date, as you’ll still have to pay once the problem is resolved.
Don’t Get Evicted
It’s always risky to withhold or deduct from your rent. If your landlord disagrees with your actions, they could terminate your lease and attempt to evict you. In most states, like Nevada, a landlord cannot legally evict you, raise your rent out of spite, or cut off essential services once you have filed a habitability-based complaint. This is called “retaliation,” and it’s not okay. However, if the landlord has already sent an eviction notice for another reason or has previously stated that rent will increase or that your lease will not be renewed, then such actions can still take place.
With that said, if you withheld rent wrongfully, then you will likely be responsible for the missing rent and the landlord’s legal fees to evict you.
If you are served an eviction notice that you believe is because you’ve asked for a heating or cooling system repair, you must file an answer in court stating that you are standing up for your rights as a tenant due to habitability issues in your unit. Provide proof of your original written notice to the landlord.
Read through your state’s rental housing habitability laws to ensure that your own response to a heating or cooling concern follows protocol.