Is It Illegal for a Landlord To Not Provide Heat?

When you live in a northern state that has chilly autumns, freezing winters, and cool springs, you rely on proper heating to keep you warm. Even if you don’t live in a state with these seasonal changes, reliable heating can be a key to keeping your home comfortable. The laws determining if your landlord has to provide heating in a rental property can vary from state to state and even city to city. For example, San Francisco requires a landlord to provide heat that can maintain at least 70 degree Fahrenheit in “habitable rooms,” while New York City has specific indoor temperature requirements that coincide with day and evening temperatures in different seasons.

Does my landlord have to provide heat?

All landlords, regardless of where you live, must provide “safe and habitable conditions” in every rental property. Most states require landlords to provide access to heat in rentals, meaning they must maintain boilers, furnaces, radiators, thermostats, and other technology that manages the heating system. They must also address any issues with the heating system in an adequate time frame.

Multiunit buildings may have only one thermostat that manages heating throughout the whole building. A landlord would control the heat in this case, limiting renters’ access to heating the rental to their comfort.

In some states, a landlord may not be required to pay to keep heat in a unit, and you may be required to pay that utility separately or as part of your rent payment. Make sure that your rental agreement outlines how your unit gets heat and whether you have to pay heating as a separate utility or as part of your rent.

What to do if a rental is too cold

Since a heating system for a rental can come in many forms, there are many reasons why your rental might not meet your comfort standards:

If you have a thermostat

If you have access to the thermostat and your rental feels too cold, turn up the heat. Keep in mind the heating source (boiler and steam versus forced air, etc.) and the utility that powers the source (gas versus water versus electricity) to make sure you stay within your personal budget.

Consider finding other ways to stay warm without turning up the heat too much. Getting on a budget billing program with your utility provider where they charge you the same amount per month based on your typical usage. This allows you to budget consistently with no surprise big bills.

If you get on budget billing and set the thermostat where you want it and the rental is still not reaching that temperature, you should communicate with your landlord. There could be an underlying issue with the heating system, the thermostat, the doors and windows, or another feature of the building they need to address. By communicating as soon as possible about this issue, you can get your heating issue resolved faster and work with your landlord to help maintain the property.

If your landlord controls the thermostat

If your landlord controls the thermostat and your rental is too cold for your liking, ask them if there’s a way to get the heat adjusted so that you’re comfortable. Maybe they have the thermostat set at the same temperature they always have, but the unit isn’t heating properly. The landlord may find out that there’s an issue with the heating system or thermostat that they need to fix right away.

However, in multi-unit buildings, the landlord may need every renter to compromise on comfort since some units may get hotter than others. As long as the heat reaches the minimum temperature required in all units, the landlord may choose not to increase the heat to keep the heat distribution as even as possible.

Landlords may also be less willing to adjust the heat due to budgeting constraints. However, you may offer to pay the difference in the utility bill to help them provide the best heating they can for your comfort.

What to do if a landlord refuses to fix the heat

A good landlord will abide by state regulations and the terms of your lease. However, if you encounter a landlord who does not, here are some things you can do. (Please note: This article doesn’t constitute legal advice, and renters should not substitute this information for professional legal advice.)

  • Repair the issue yourself and deduct it from your rent. If you have the money, you could pay for an inspection and have a service professional fix the heat. Then, provide your landlord with the receipt and deduct the service charge amount from your rent.
  • Refuse to pay rent until the issue is fixed. Learn your state’s laws and review your lease to see if, and under what circumstances, you could withhold rent until the problem is fixed. You can also consult a legal professional to guide you on this decision. That way you stay within the law and avoid potential legal action from the landlord for breaking your lease terms.
  • Break the lease and leave. If the landlord is not providing basic safe and habitable conditions per your state’s regulations, you may have a right to break your lease.
  • Seek legal action. A lawyer can also help you make sure you’re within your right to break the lease due to the landlord not abiding by your state’s regulations or the lease terms. They will also represent you if you plan to sue the landlord.

No matter where your rental is, you have a right to a comfortable living environment, which includes proper access to heat and other security and comfort features. But it’s important to know what limitations landlords face and the options you have to work with them to keep your rental as comfortable as possible when seasons change.

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