Who’s Responsible for Furnace and HVAC Maintenance?

Written on March 28, 2017 by

HVAC maintenanceHVAC is an acronym to which landlords need to pay particular attention. It refers to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning—systems which have to be in good working order.

Keeping a rental unit warm in winter and cool in summer obviously benefits your tenants, but it also benefits the HVAC unit itself, which can suffer damage from extremely high or low temperatures as well as from moisture buildup caused by a lack of ventilation.

Definitions

1. “H” is for “Heat”

The implied warrant of habitability requires landlords to supply some method of heat, and some communities get pretty specific about heating requirements. For example, New York City requires heating units to maintain a minimum temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit from October 31 to May 31, and San Francisco requires a minimum temperature of 68 degrees between the hours of 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. all year.

Don’t give your tenants the cold shoulder! State laws define what temperature your rentals need to conform to.

Most states set heating requirements. Maine, for example, requires a minimum indoor temperature of 68 degrees when the outside temperature falls below 20 degrees. It’s important to be familiar with requirements established by your state as well as your community.

2. “V” is for Ventilation

The “V” in HVAC” doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Central heating and cooling systems provide automatic air circulation, but rentals that rely on room heaters and lack air circulation systems may suffer the effects the stale air. These include paint deterioration, wood rot, pest infestations, and mold.

Ceiling fans and room fans can provide the circulation needed to control moisture and keep tenants comfortable. You also need to maintain them unless otherwise specified in the lease agreement.

3. “AC” is for Air Conditioning

Landlords generally don’t have the same responsibility to provide air conditioning. If you rent a unit with air conditioning, though, there’s a contractual responsibility for you to maintain it. If you don’t, your tenant may be entitled to a rent reduction or some other consideration.

Common HVAC Maintenance Issues

Whether the heat in a rental unit comes from a forced air furnace, a heat pump, or a radiant heat system, there are usually two main maintenance concerns. One is the heating unit itself—which includes the heat source and the blowers—and the other is the control network. An air conditioning system, which is essentially a refrigeration system, also has a control network, and it’s often the same one that controls the heating system.

The Thermostat

Blowers, burners, heating elements, and refrigeration coils can all malfunction, and when they do, the landlord has to repair or replace them. Many HVAC problems, however, result from the thermostat, which can easily be maintained by tenants.

  • Programming
    Failure to program the thermostat properly is such a common occurrence that many appliance repair specialists address it first. Is the thermostat switch properly selected for heating or cooling? Is the target temperature properly selected? Is the unit even on? Tenants should have a copy of the manual so they can check the settings themselves before calling for help.
  • Batteries
    If the batteries in the thermostat are weak, the heating/cooling system won’t get the message to turn on. Batteries are easy to replace, and the tenants can do that themselves, especially if they have the manual.
  • Cleaning
    Thermostat leads can get dusty, and all it takes is a blast of compressed air to clean them. Accessing the leads means removing the cover, which tenants can do if they have the manual to guide them.
  • Location
    Persistent failure of the central air system to maintain the target temperature could be caused by a poor thermostat location. It may be in the sun, behind a bookshelf, or in the path of a draft. Moving the thermostat, as well as replacing worn wires, is usually a major job.

Filters

The heating and cooling system connects to the living space via a network of metal ducts, and if you’ve ever looked inside one of these ducts, you’ll appreciate the need for filters. When dust enters the ducts and gets drawn into the central system, it can block gas orifices, hinder fan rotation, reduce heating and cooling efficiency, and even potentially create a fire hazard.

Many HVAC pros offer duct cleaning services, but you generally need these only if you’re renovating; if animals, mold, or contaminants got sucked into the ducts; or if someone in the house has become ill. In most cases, however, you just need to service the filters.

The MERV Rating

Changing the filters at least once a year, which is the best way to maintain system efficiency, is another job that tenants can do, especially if you supply the filters. Filters are classified according to their MERV rating, which is an acronym that means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter.

Filters with high MERV ratings can filter out contaminants as small as bacteria, but they also restrict air flow, so it’s best to stick with a filter with a rating in the range of 5 to 8. Ratings go as high as 16, so this is on the low side of average.

Two Ways to Approach Maintenance

The HVAC system, like the rental unit itself, belongs to the landlord who has a vested interest in maintaining it in good condition. As the beneficiary of clean, conditioned air from a properly functioning system, however, the tenant also has an interest in keeping things in working order. You can retain full responsibility for maintaining the system or can share that responsibility with your tenant.

  • Landlord Controlled and Maintained
    The landlord assumes full responsibility for maintenance. The lease usually specifies standard hours for maintenance, such as from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. If maintenance is required at other times, there is usually an extra charge. This arrangement is typical in multi-unit dwellings.
  • Landlord Controlled/Tenant Maintained
    The tenant pays for filters and minor service calls, such as cleaning and minor malfunctions, while you pay for major service. The tenant also typically pays the utility bills. This can be a good arrangement for sensitive tenants who require enhanced air filtration or who require temperatures outside normal ranges.

Hang Onto Repair Records

Minor HVAC maintenance responsibilities are seldom overwhelming, so it’s usually in your best interest to maintain your property’s HVAC system. That way, you ensure that proper repairs are made and that all servicing conforms to acceptable standards.

Whether you opt to share the maintenance responsibilities with your tenants or not, keep all the maintenance records in a safe place to ensure faster resolution to problems when they do arise.

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14 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Sue

    I rent an old house. Very drafty and the furnace has not been serviced since we moved in six years ago…. Half of the windows are missing storm windows. .. what do I do. And that’s only two problems. There’s more

  • JoAnne Dobkin

    Our landlord never wants to find repairmen for issues like plumbing and heating. He feels rent is all his and repairs aren’t his responsibility. We live in NY. Recently over the week of New Years our heat went out for 4 1/2 days during the coldest week in NY. Temp in the house 40 degrees. Finally it’s fixed a $227. Cost. He wanted to place the blame on us. We buy oil ourselves he wants us to pay more for oil to include a service contract so he can avoid repairs to his furnace/boiler. Isn’t this illegal ? He sent us a nasty text that it’s our fault we froze.

  • Angela nanney

    I was just with out heat for a whole week.my landlord said he forgot
    I live across the street from him.he had the same guy to come and fix it this year as the same for last winter.it’s fixed for now.he said he ordered a new unit.I said thank you and he said he was going to raise rent
    Is that legal?

  • Gary church

    Can a landlord perform major repairs to a furnace in a rental unit when the tenet is living there? Electrical , valves, ect.

  • AdrianGry

    The HVAC Maintenance is must to keep your air conditioner properly working. Elaborative Content you have Written.Good Work! Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Jennifer

    My heater want on for almost a week. I looked everywhere for the thermostat and I couldn’t find anything. So I finally went and asked the manager. He said that my apartment didn’t have a thermostat for my heater and that when he tried to turn my heater on before that it wouldn’t go on. I was like um ok well I need a heater because my electric one cost a ton of money. Anyway they turned on my heater and I have to tur;it on from the pilot area. Noel my question is don’t i have to have a thermostat for my heater? I would like to be able to know if it’s on or off and I would like to be able to control the temperature.

  • Jennifer G

    Rats have chewed through every duct and landlord won’t fix problem. Keep saying can’t afford and are gonna raise rent. Can they do that? Isn’t it a health problem and their responsibility to fix this without a threat to raise rent? Every time there is a repair they threaten to raise rent. We have been here 6 years and the A/C has gone out and they will not fix. We have had a total of 4 major work orders. All ones they as landlords are required to fix.

  • Stacey Bower

    My question is if a central unit is provided in a rental property and it stops working, does a landlord have to replace it with another central unit in the state of Mississippi? Reason is our central unit stopped working and the maintenance guy had already told our landlord it needed to be replaced last year. The landlord put one window unit in the kitchen and it does not cool the whole trailer.

  • Stacey Bower

    My question is if a central unit is provided in a rental property and it stops working, does a landlord have to replace it with another central unit in the state of Mississippi?

  • Jeanine CALLIER

    Hello I recently rented a vacation house for a week.. when I arrived at the house the owner texted me about an AC unit that he has sitting on a bucket. The AC was extremely heavy to lift as well as the bucket because the water drains into like a 5 gallon paint bucket long story short he claims I made the bucket flow over and caused water damage through out the whole house. There was only 1 AC in 1 area the bucket was full but not over flowing..who is at fault?

  • Stephanie Woods

    Landlord always reluctant to do anything done. Told me to change the filter in the furnace is it my responsible as the tenant is it my responsible I 63 years old & live on a fixed income.

    • DIANA B

      I’m reading all these comments and I’m in the same boat. My problem is I’ve never had a landlord include in the lease the responsibility of the tenant for the HVAC. To me that’s dangerous for an amature to take on this task.

    • Fern Koenig

      Yes deductible from your rent. But if it’s physically impossible for you replace I’m sure he’s aware of. But didn’t offer to make arrangements to stop by periodically to assist you. Can be considered elder abuse. Tell your Dr. Your the one forced to breath in unhealthy air. Good luck

  • Jack Beardsley

    I have a question, I’m sorta up I been renting this apartment in this complex outa Michigan for about 4 months, I started to notice like this fiber over the counters, and all other surfaces it gradually got worse withen a week or two, and tried to contact the office, about it on a wends, but there hard to get into contact with, the next day I come home my door is frozed shut after trying to figure out a way to get into touch with management, the maintenance guy basically tore the door handle off and kicked the door in, now there is a huge 1.5 inch hole in my door u can see into the apt, I told the maintenance guy about the vents, and he said he would fix both issues, never showed I’m scared someone is going to break in,

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