Has your AC just gone out in the middle of summer?
If yes, you are probably dealing with suffocating heat and nasty humidity. Pretty awful, I know. So you call up your landlord and they say they are not responsible for fixing it.
What are your options? Is your landlord violating his obligation to fix the AC?
In this article, I am going to answer whether a landlord must repair a broken air conditioning unit or system. I will cover the key areas you need to examine, including your lease and state and local laws.
I will also cover important related questions like how quickly a landlord must repair the AC and what you can do if they refuse to do so or are delaying the repairs beyond reason.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
A landlord is responsible for AC repairs if applicable laws require it or the lease agreement obligates them to do so. In hot regions of the country, states may include air conditioning among the list of essential services that a landlord must provide to meet habitability standards, which would include making repairs as needed to AC units or systems.
Let’s dive in!
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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Always Check Your Lease First
The lease agreement is the governing contractual document outlining the rights and obligations of the tenant and landlord. So it makes sense to read your lease carefully to find out what is says on the issue of AC repair.
Some will indicate that the landlord is responsible for providing adequate cooling systems and for making repairs when they break down, while others may put the burden on the tenant for getting window units or other AC systems in place for their dwelling and making repairs as needed.
Of course, lease agreements need to conform to applicable laws as well. On that note, let’s get into some of the key legal principles governing this issue and cover how some states have handled it.
What Are the General Legal Principles Governing AC Repairs?
The implied warranty of habitability is a legal principle that states that a tenant is entitled to live in a dwelling that is habitable – in simpler terms, it is safe and livable. It is widely adopted among states and therefore usually embodied in their landlord-tenant laws. Source
However, different states interpret this differently. In the case of air conditioning, this is especially relevant because the AC may or may not be necessary for habitability depending on the climate of that state.
Let’s get into some state law examples demonstrating this.
How Do Various States Address AC Repairs?
Let’s take the example of New York.
It has four seasons and the summer months can be hot, but in general it is not considered a warm weather location, like Florida or Arizona. Thus, their laws do not include air conditioning as an essential service necessary for habitability.
So what that means is that landlords are not required to provide AC at all, let alone fix it. Source.
There appears to be a limited exception for rent controlled apartments. If you moved into a rent controlled unit with AC already installed, then, according to Just Fix, the landlord will have an obligation to fix it if it breaks down.
Arizona has a much hotter climate, with temperatures in the summer months ranging from 90 degrees to 120 degrees! So the laws are understandably different.
They require that landlords maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him. Source.
Now, there are a lot of states in between, so you will need to conduct some research into what your state and local laws say about AC repair.
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.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
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How Long Does Your Landlord Have to Fix the AC?
Like the broader question of whether a landlord is obligated to fix your AC, the question of how long a landlord has to fix the issue depends on state and local laws.
If the issue is something that affects habitability, the time period is usually dramatically shorter than something that doesn’t.
In serious cases, you are talking about 3-5 days at most (but it can be as short as 24 hours).
But if the repair is not as pressing, then the time period could be 30 days or even longer.
In the meantime, you don’t want to suffer needlessly.
One option is to buy a portable AC unit. Window units are powerful and pretty effective at cooling a room, but you should check with your landlord to make sure they are permitted. If not, then a standing AC unit can work pretty well.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, here’s an example from Amazon with good ratings.
I know it’s a bit pricey, but that’s a true portable AC, with dehumidifying features (and air purifying benefits to boot), not just a fan.
Fans are much cheaper, as you can see below.
What Can You Do If Your Landlord is Wrongfully Refusing to Fix Your AC?
Can I Terminate the Lease if AC Repairs Aren’t Done?
Your termination rights will hinge on whether the landlord has an obligation under the lease or applicable laws to fix the AC.
Most leases will allow a party to terminate the contract if the other party is not performing its obligations under the lease. Most leases will require tenants to notify the landlord of the repair request and allow the landlord a reasonable opportunity to make the repairs.
If they fail to do so, then you may have a right under the lease to terminate.
Similarly, most states will require some form of notice to the landlord that a repair is needed and will give the landlord some period of time to perform before a tenant gets the right to end the tenancy.
Can You Withhold Rent?
Assuming the lease requires a landlord to repair the AC or state and local laws mandate this, you may have a right to withhold rent until the repair is made. This will depend on the laws in your jurisdiction.
Word of Caution: A lot of states don’t allow this and you could be in hot water if you don’t pay rent on time, so you should be very careful before doing this.
Can You Make the Repairs Yourself and Deduct the Cost From Rent?
The repair and deduct framework is a relatively common solution to a landlord not making required repairs and is recognized by some states. Basically, this solution gives you the right to take matters into your own hands.
Under repair and deduct, you can repair the AC yourself, then deduct the cost of fixing the unit from the rent. So, make sure you keep a detailed invoice of all repair costs.
So there you have it. A detailed look at whether landlords are required to make AC repairs and some tips on how to respond if your landlord is not cooperating. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting.