Paycheck Chronicles

Your Rights When Your AC Is Out


Summer seems to finally arrived across the country, and with it there are  more people trying to use their air conditioning.  Sometimes, you turn on the AC and discover that it isn't working well, or even working at all.  If you're a renter, the next obvious step is to let your landlord know so that he or she can arrange to have it repaired.  Unfortunately, the busy summer season means that repairs don't always happen immediately.

When you're hot, and the AC isn't working, it is easy to get frustrated, and you might start to wonder if your landlord is getting the AC fixed fast enough.  It's a legitimate question.  Based upon the comments in my social media groups, non-working AC seems to be the biggest problem out there right now, and people are mad.  They're also spreading a lot of false information.

The first thing to know is that the requirement to provide air conditioning is based upon state law, and in some cases, city or local law.  What your friend knows about the rules in Tennessee are going to be entirely different from the rules where you live in Texas.

The second thing to know is that in most cases, as long as your landlord is making a good faith effort to get the air conditioning repaired, no more is required.  There are notable exceptions.  For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, the law requires that air conditioning repairs be completed within five days of written notification.  Such a specific law is pretty rare.

The most important thing to know is that unless your state or local laws specifically authorize it, or your lease authorizes it, you probably can not withhold rent due to lack of air conditioning, and you probably can't force your landlord to pay for a hotel, either.  Before taking either of these steps, I would first call your local landlord-tenant bureau to verify what the rules say in your state or local area, and possibly have your lease reviewed.

Either I'm an old fuddy-duddy, or I've lived overseas too long, because I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who are freaking out and demanding hotel rooms when their air conditioning has been out for two days.  Millions of people around the world live in very hot places without air conditioning.  Even in the US, window air conditioners did not become common until the 1950s, and central air conditioning wasn't common until the late 1960s.  Yes, it's uncomfortable, and yes, we are all spoiled by it being 72 degrees everywhere we go, but being without AC is rarely something that we can't handle (medical conditions excepted, of course.)

Tenants who rented a home with functional air conditioning do have the right to have air conditioning repaired, and should expect those repairs to occur in a timely manner.  Unfortunately, in the world of air conditioning repairs, it is not uncommon to wait several weeks for an appointment, or a part to be located, or the decision made to replace the entire system.  Unless you live in a location where state or local laws specify more stringent timelines, you may not have any recourse in the way of lower rent or alternate accommodations.  Don't take any steps without checking with a resource that knows local laws, and don't make any decisions based upon something you heard from a friend or saw on Facebook.


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