“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” or so says the classic song. But things aren’t so easy if the summer sun is scorching and your apartment feels like an oven. Do you have recourse to call the landlord? What does the law say about tenant rights and the temperature in your apartment?
Landlord-tenant laws fall under the purview of local and state governments. Basically, all leases carry a warranty of habitability. As the attorney general of New York explains in that state’s tenants’ rights guide, this means that “tenants have the right to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment.”
But how exactly habitability is defined can vary in different localities, so you’ll want to check both your state and municipal tenant rights statutes. In New York City, for example, the law stipulates that landlords must provide a minimum level of indoor heat when the outdoor temperature falls below certain thresholds during the “heat season” (defined as October 1 to May 31). However, there is no complementary requirement for cooling an apartment during New York City’s summers.
By contrast, Dallas imposes rental temperature regulations for both hot and cold weather. As the Dallas Morning News explains, landlords are required to provide refrigerated air to tenants between April 1 and November 1. Dallas uses a formula based on external temperatures, but the rough guideline is that the air inside needs to be at least 20 degrees cooler than the air outside.
Maintenance and repairs
“Generally, a tenant is entitled to have the unit in the same condition as it was rented—if it had a furnace, then the furnace should work; [if it had] central air conditioning, then it should work,” Loydene Brock, an attorney in Kansas City who practices landlord-tenant law, said in response to a question in the AVVO forum about a busted AC unit.
Renters should always check to see that both the heat and air conditioning function correctly before signing a lease, no matter what the temperature is outside. If the air conditioner that was working when you rented your apartment isn’t working now, you should notify the landlord, preferably in writing.
If the landlord fails to make timely repairs, you should contact a lawyer, who can send the landlord what St. Louis attorney Matthew Chase (writing in the same Avvo forum) calls a “kick in the rear” letter. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can take the landlord to court.
Note, however, that you should not stop paying rent or reduce the amount to compensate without court approval to do so.