Do landlords have to provide air conditioning? This is what tenants should know.
Do landlords have to provide air conditioning? This is what tenants should know.

When the heat doesn’t subside, authorities advise people to avoid being outdoors. But what happens if your home doesn’t offer respite from the high temperatures? Are tenants who don’t have air conditioning or whose air conditioning units are broken entitled to compensation? We’ve put together information to help you find out your right to cool air.

Do landlords have to provide air conditioning?

Whether your landlord is required to provide air conditioning depends primarily on two factors: your lease and your location.

First, check your lease to see if air conditioning is included (it’s probably in the “amenities” section). “If it’s mentioned at all in the lease, you have to abide by the terms of the lease,” says Jacqueline Salcines, a Coral Gables, Florida-based attorney who specializes in real estate and business law.

Rental laws vary widely by region, but in most states, air conditioning is not part of the basic required services like heat and running water.

States that require landlords to provide air conditioning include Florida, Nevada and Arizona – all places with very hot climates. “Down here in Florida, air conditioning is a big deal,” says Salcines. If it doesn’t work, “it makes a place uninhabitable.”

But even if air conditioning isn’t a basic service in your state, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You should also check your county’s laws. For example, while Maryland doesn’t have a statewide air conditioning law, in Montgomery County, “a landlord is required to provide and maintain air conditioning for all tenants,” with some exceptions, says Carol Ott, tenant protection director at Economic Action Maryland.

Do landlords have to repair their air conditioning?

If your apartment has air conditioning and it stops working, your landlord will most likely have to pay for the repairs (again, the usual caveats about checking your lease and local laws apply).

“If you rent an apartment that has air conditioning, the landlord has an express obligation to maintain it,” says Aaron Sokolow, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney specializing in landlord-tenant law, speaking specifically about the District’s regulations.

How long can a landlord leave you without air conditioning? How long does he have to fix it?

In many jurisdictions, the law does not specify a specific time frame for repairs. Instead, landlords are required to fix a condition “within a reasonable time frame,” a phrase Ott calls vague and subjective. “For me, on a day like today, a reasonable time frame would be maybe 20 minutes,” she says.

However, some places have more specific requirements. In Florida, a landlord must fix the air conditioning problem within seven days of receiving notice from their tenant, Salcines says. “If the landlord doesn’t fix the problem or doesn’t fix it within seven days, the tenant has the right to terminate the lease because it will make the apartment uninhabitable.”

Regardless of where you live, be sure to complain to your landlord about the air conditioning (or lack thereof) in writing so that you have a record of the correspondence.

Can I withhold rent because of a broken air conditioner?

A broken air conditioner can certainly serve as a legal defense against nonpayment of rent. But again, the exact rules vary from place to place. In DC, the landlord’s right to receive rent is based on fulfilling all of his obligations under the housing code. Sokolow explains, “So a judge could say, ‘Landlord, you are not entitled to full rent because you failed to fulfill your obligation to provide air conditioning.'” Of course, that means taking the matter to court.

Ott says that despite the lack of a right to air conditioning in Maryland, a tenant could still sue their landlord, but “you have to be creative,” she says. “If the air conditioner was installed and suddenly stopped working, you could argue that you could sue for diminished performance or something like that.”

If your Florida landlord still doesn’t respond after seven days, Salcines says you have two options. “Either you can terminate your lease and be entitled to a refund of your entire security deposit and any rent you paid in advance,” she says. Or you can call a repairman yourself and have the money you spent on repairing the air conditioner deducted from next month’s rent.