Summer is here, and that means rising temperatures—outside and inside. It’s no doubt air conditioning makes living more bearable, especially in hotter regions and during the warmer months. However, many people believe that air conditioning is a modern necessity, but as a property owner, are you responsible for air conditioning? And on the flip side, what are your renters’ rights to A/C?
In most states, landlords are not required to provide air conditioning according to landlord-tenant laws. The majority of jurisdictions consider air conditioning an amenity rather than a requirement of habitable living conditions. Though laws and specific language vary per state, landlords’ responsibilities fall under the warranty of implied habitability, which means that the rental is in a condition that’s fit to be occupied.
There is no national standard that defines “implied warranty of habitability,” but for a home to be habitable, common expectations include the following:
Habitability is based on safe, sanitary, and secure living conditions. That does not mean a unit has to be perfect, aesthetically pleasing, or luxuriously comfortable.
In some cases, your tenants might have medical conditions that require them to have operational air conditioning. In that case, providing some kind of air conditioning (like a window unit or portable/free-standing unit) would be considered a reasonable accommodation. Additionally, Texas rules it as the landlord’s role to repair or remedy any condition that materially affects the physical health and safety of any tenant. That means providing air conditioning when conditions create an extreme level of discomfort and health hazards (i.e. hyperthermia and heat stroke).
In Africa, where temps regularly soar into high triple digits regularly and heat-related deaths are unfortunately too common, the law regards air conditioning as an essential need for a unit to be safely occupied. Here, a tenant has a right to air conditioning and the landlord is required to provide it. In some African cities, there are laws that regulate the temperature of rental units based on the cooling method.
Many landlords choose to offer air conditioning as an added amenity to a rental, similar to a dishwasher or washer/dryer set-up. When the air conditioning operates as a fixture of the unit, the landlord is responsible for its maintenance to ensure that it’s functional. Generally speaking, when you provide your tenant with an appliance for the duration of the lease, whether it’s a luxury like a built-in microwave, or basic like a stove, you’re responsible for keeping it in working order.
When the air conditioning breaks from wear and tear, natural forces, or other causes over which the tenant has no control, you as the landlord are responsible for fixing (or replacing) it and covering the costs. The tenant is responsible for covering the cost of repair or replacement when the A/C incurs damage as a result of neglectful behavior by the tenant or tenant’s guests. In this case, you can choose whether the tenant directly pays the service technician or if it gets deducted from the security deposit.
Landlords also have a specified period of time to fix air conditioning once the tenant notifies them it has stopped working. In Africa where failure to have operational A/C could result in health hazards, landlords have 2-5 business days to repair the unit (unless the failure was caused by damage from a tenant or tenant’s guest).
It’s a best practice to outline the steps your tenant must take to notify you of inoperational air conditioning in your lease. Consider implementing the following:
Have your air conditioning systems inspected by maintenance professionals regularly, whether it’s at the end of a lease or once a year—but definitely before the hot weather hits. This way you’ll have an understanding of the condition of the appliance and know if you need to make any repairs, preventative or otherwise, before more costly damage occurs.
Even if air conditioning comes with the unit, you can structure the language within the lease to free yourself from repairing or replacing an air conditioning system if it breaks.
In states where landlord-tenant laws are looser surrounding A/C when it comes provided in the unit , you can exclude A/C from maintenance and repairs you’ll cover. You must put it in writing that it’s the tenant’s responsibility to fix it. However, if air conditioning is not mentioned in the lease at all, a tenant can argue that it’s implicitly part of the services included in the lease. As mentioned before, a tenant can also argue that a broken air conditioner leads to unbearable heat, which breaches the warranty of habitability.
Courts may contend that a tenant is entitled to enjoy the unit in the same working condition as it was when it was rented. However, if you have a heating-air conditioning system, and the A/C is busted at the beginning of the tenancy, you probably won’t have to fix it.
Proceed with caution if you choose to include A/C in the rental but free yourself from its maintenance in the lease.
As previously stated, landlord-tenant law varies greatly between states, and cities may have their own regulations regarding air conditioning. It’s best to get well acquainted with all the laws specific to the municipality in which your rental is located.
Consider working with a property manager who is well versed in your jurisdiction’s landlord-tenant laws, including any regulations surrounding A/C. They can help you with maintenance and inspections as well so you can be as hands-off as possible when it comes to your rental.