With the cold winter months upon us, there are more and more questions about heating. Who is responsible for heating a rental property? What kind of heating? How much heating? What are the laws that landlords and tenants should know? If you have these questions, keep reading to learn about the laws regulating heating in rental properties, what the landlord’s heating responsibility is, what the tenant is responsible for, risks associated with heating, and how you can stay safe both physically and legally.
Rental Heating Laws
Laws vary state to state when it comes to heating and air conditioning. However, landlords in all states must ensure their rentals provide for their tenants “safe and habitable conditions.”
In some states, landlords are responsible for air conditioning and heating, and only heating is required in some states. To learn more about your state, read Responsibilities for Air Conditioning.
Overall, there are responsibilities for providing and repairing broken heating systems, the timing of repairs, what tenants are responsible for, and what they can do if repairs aren’t made promptly.
Landlord Heating Responsibility
As mentioned earlier, a landlord’s responsibility for providing heat differs from state to state. However, keep in mind that municipalities can require different duties from landlords, so be sure to understand the laws in your city.
We can provide an overview of the Implied Warranty of Habitability for you here.
Implied Warranty of Habitability is an implied promise written into residential leases stating that the property is maintained at suitable levels. In addition, the commitment requires that landlords comply with all applicable building codes and that they make repairs as needed.
Warranty by law means “a stipulation, explicitly or implied, in the assurance of some particular in connection with a contract, as of sale.” (dictionary.com). So, for example, an Implied Warranty of Habitability means that a landlord must act in compliance but that temporary issues or minor issues aren’t considered a breach of the warranty. Still, they also won’t excuse the renter from paying rent in full.
Breaching the warranty could depart from building codes, such as a lack of heat, air conditioning, or running water. In this case, renters justify taking further action or withholding rent.
As a general guide, regardless of state or municipality, a landlord is responsible for the following:
- Compliance with safety regulations
- Functional and reliable electrical, heating, and water systems
- Protection from foreseeable criminal activity
- Preventative measures against environmental hazards
There are more requirements to consider. But, again, you can go to legaltemplates.net to learn more.
Can a Landlord Control the Heat?
Because of temperatures and climate change throughout the country, no federal laws regulate what landlords can and can’t control the heat.
To learn more about your state and municipality regarding whether a landlord can control heat, go to usa.gov.
Tenant Heating Rights
The best-case scenario is to have a landlord who upholds the Implied Warranty of Habitability and, at minimum, meets their tenants’ basic needs.
While we all prefer the best-case scenario, understanding tenant rights are always prudent if a landlord is less than honest.
Should a landlord not meet minimum habitable requirements, a tenant does have recourse. However, keep in mind that there is a difference between 1—A landlord who ignores the laws and Warranty of Habitability allows the heating system to fall into disrepair, and 2—a landlord who deals with the normal wear and tear.
- A heating system’s components can wear out during their lifespan—in this case; it’s the landlord’s responsibility to repair.
- A heating system could be faulty—it’s the landlord’s responsibility to fix it and pay for repairs
- A heating system could be broken by a tenant, intentionally or accidentally—the tenant must pay for the repairs. If they don’t, the landlord can deduct the cost of repairs from their security deposit.
Should a landlord not repair a heating system based on # 1 and 2 above, a tenant can—
- Withhold rent,
- Make their repairs and deduct the cost from their rent payment (showing all receipts),
- Move out even if it means breaching the rental agreement, or
- Take legal action against the landlord.
*NOTE—Whether or not a tenant can use a space heater in a rental unit should be specified in the lease agreement. Many agreements will have a “no space heater clause.” It is recommended that even with the clause, periodic inspections are necessary.
A Final Thought
The inquiry of a landlord’s heating responsibilities is serious. Understanding a landlord’s heating responsibility and tenants’ rights during the winter months is crucial.
Tenants’ safety and a landlord’s property, as well as their legal exposure, can be protected through knowing how to keep rental properties warm enough, morally, ethically, and legally. Know what you’re accountable for as a landlord and what your tenants’ rights are this winter.