If your heating has gone out in the middle of winter, you are probably shivering in your home and wondering how long it’s going to take to fix the issue.
Maybe your landlord has promised that he’s working on it, but it seems like he’s taking way too long.
If you’re stuck in this situation, you are completely justified in asking how long a landlord actually has to repair a heating system that is not working.
In this article, I am going to answer that question (which unfortunately is not as straightforward as one would hope). I will also cover some of the key legal principles governing this question and review how some of the key states in the US have addressed this question in their landlord-tenant laws and regulations.
Finally, I will also provide some tips on what you can do if your landlord is not fixing your heat in a timely way.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
Landlords must fix your heating system as it’s a breach of habitability in most states. How quickly they must do so depends on state laws and the severity of the situation. A good rule of thumb is between 7 to 30 days of being notified (although severe conditions may dramatically accelerate that).
Ok, let’s get into it!
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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Heat is Generally Viewed as Essential to Habitability
Let’s lay the groundwork.
There is a legal principle called the implied warranty of habitability, which in simple terms states that tenants are promised a safe and livable home, even if the lease does not expressly state it.
This principle is widely adopted among states, but different states implement it differently. One state may cover more under their interpretation of habitability, while another may cover less.
Although in most states, adequate heating is covered, you should check your specific landlord-tenant laws to be sure.
If your state does require proper heating as a condition of habitability, then the landlord is usually required to maintain the heating systems if they break down. One common exception to this is if the tenant is at fault for causing the damage or malfunction through misuse or other prohibited conduct.
So we know that landlords are required in many cases to fix the heat, but how quickly does this have to happen?
Again, state and local laws will differ on this point, so you will need to delve into your applicable laws to find a definitive answer. But it is helpful to look at how some of the major states have addressed this issue, so let’s turn to that.
How Much Time Do Landlords Have to Fix Heat in Key States?
California adopts a broad definition of habitability that includes maintaining heating facilities in good working order.
However, they are not particularly specific when it comes to pinning down how quickly a landlord must repair broken heating facilities.
That being said, the California Tenant Law Guidelines do offer some interesting insights on this point. It states that 30 days is a reasonable period of time for a landlord to make needed repairs, but that the time period for “reasonableness” can become substantially shorter depending on the situation.
For example, it states that if the furnace is broken and it is very cold outdoors, one or two days may be considered reasonable (provided a qualified repair person is available within that time period). Source.
New York City
We’ve talked about a major state, not let’s talk about a major city. New York City provides a more structured approach when dealing with rental unit repairs. As such, they divide rental property repair issues into three categories depending on severity.
Non-hazardous situations are Class A violations which provide a 90-day repair window. Class B violations, which are hazardous conditions, are allowed a 30-day period to make repairs.
Finally, Class C violations are immediately hazardous conditions that can seriously affect habitability and threaten tenant safety. Once an issue reaches this level, landlords are only given 24 hours to address and remedy the situation.
Lack of appropriate heat is a Class C violation in New York City, so it must be addressed within 24 hours. Source.
Texas law requires landlords to make a diligent effort to repair problems that materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant. The duty arises once the tenant notifies the landlord of the issue.
According to the Tenants’ Rights Handbook issued by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas, examples of items that materially affect the health and safety of an ordinary tenant may sometimes include a lack of heat or air conditioning. Source
If your situation rises to the level where it affects your health and safety, then your landlord must make a diligent effort to fix it within a reasonable period of time.
What is reasonable?
Texas law states that 7 days is a reasonable period to complete repairs, but that may be adjusted based on circumstances, such as the nature of the problem and the reasonable availability of material, labor, and utilities.
Legal Actions for Landlord Maintenance Violation
If you have contacted your landlord in writing, described the problem, and requested a prompt fix, but they have ignored you, then you have a variety of different options you can pursue.
Contact Your Local Housing Authority and Report the Violation
When there are habitability concerns, your local housing authority can investigate the matter and compel the landlord to repair the heating system. So this may be a fine option if you don’t want to file a lawsuit or hire a lawyer. Plus they offer a public service, so you don’t have to pay for their help.
Work With your Local Tenants Right Organization
Many tenants rights organizations are experts at helping tenants navigate these types of issues and will likely know the laws in your state and locality. Contacting them may be a smart choice if you don’t know where to start.
Repair and Deduct
Repair and deduct is a concept in tenant laws where a tenant pays for repairing essential facilities in the rental property, then subtracts the cost from their monthly rent.
However, there are legal conditions that need to be met before you can repair a rental property and not every state allows it, so you will need to check your laws to find out if its available and, if so, what’s required to do this.
You may also have the right to withhold rent if your landlord is not making repairs to conditions that affect habitability. Again, some states will allow this but others may not. Before using any of these remedies, you absolutely must confirm if your state allows it or you could be facing eviction for nonpayment of rent.
Apart from withholding rent and repairing the damaged facilities, a tenant may also abandon a rental unit. Renters can opt for this remedy if the facility defects are severe enough with no action of restoration from the landlord.
Again, check your applicable laws on whether this is something you can do. It’s a drastic step, so you should consult with a lawyer before taking it.
As you can see, all of the legal remedies above can be tricky, so you will need to do some research or hire a lawyer to help you.
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
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So there you have it – a comprehensive look at how long a landlord has to fix a heating system and some tips on what to do if they are not repairing it in a timely manner. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!