Generally, the colder the state, the more likely the state requires landlords to provide adequate heating.
Requirement to Provide Heating
Whether a landlord needs to provide depends heavily on the state and local laws. The below options are only available in areas where heating is required. Look to your state “implied warranty of habitability” definition and local housing codes to see if either includes heating as a requirement. Often, these regulations don’t explicitly require a heating unit, but instead require that an apartment be maintained at a reasonable temperature. Local regulations sometimes provide exact minimum temperatures.
Tenants and landlords typically agree to a reduction in rent where the landlord did not or is unable to fix a problem in a reasonable time. Landlords often don’t know the extent of an apartment problem because they don’t live there. Tenants should notify the landlord of updates to each problem and keep clear documentation.
Housing Code Violations
Local laws often include detailed rules about how a landlord must maintain an apartment. Where a landlord is significant violation of housing codes, or where the apartment has become unsafe, tenants can report the issue to housing authorities. This may result in an inspector visiting the apartment and then generating a report. Depending on the jurisdiction, the report may go to the landlord, the city, or to housing court. Failure to fix the problem may result in fines, court orders to fix the problem, reductions in rent, or other remedies. Often, the threat of reporting violations will push landlords to fix issues quickly. Tenants that suffer harsh conditions, can’t afford a lawyer, and don’t wish to move to a different apartment may consider this option of reporting the landlord. Sometimes, tenants will be required to report a housing code violation before taking a landlord to landlord-tenant court.
Deduct and Repair
About two-thirds of states allow tenants to deduct the costs of repairs from their rent when certain conditions are met. Usually, the state includes detailed rules about the types of repairs the tenant can make, how much they can deduct for the repairs, how long the tenant must wait before making the repair, and the proper notice the tenant must give to the landlord. If a tenant fails to follow the proper procedures for a deduct and repair, they may be legally treated as not paying a portion of their rent and thus, may be evicted. Tenants should consult with a local lawyer before engaging in a deduct and repair, or at least fully read the law and procedure about the requirements. This remedy is usually not available when the tenant caused the problem.
About 80% of states allow tenants to withhold rent until essential repairs are made. These states may offer restrictions about the types of issues that tenants can withhold rent for, the amount they can withhold, details about the timing and content of the notice the tenant sends the landlord, and sometimes requires the rent be placed in an escrow account. If a tenant fails to meet these requirements, the tenant may be successfully evicted. Therefore, tenants should consult with a local lawyer before engaging in rent withholding, or at least fully read the process and requirements. This is usually not available when the tenant caused the problem.
Breaking the Lease
If the landlord has broken a promise in the lease, the tenant is free to break their end of the agreement too. The tenant can move out and is entitled to get their deposit back. Alternatively, the tenant can go to court and seek a reduction in rent or a court order requiring the landlord to fix the problem.
In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable depends heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality). Unless the tenant caused the problem, the landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues). If an apartment is so cold that no reasonable person would live there (for example, it’s below freezing in the apartment), then it’s likely the landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability.
In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back money. Furthermore, the tenant’s next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so tenants should be prepared with documentation and the story of why it was necessary to move out.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Login to RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area. Often, local users who've dealt with the same problem can provide helpful tips beyond the law, such as numbers for local non-profits or lawyers, tips about DIY fixes, and stories about judges.
Documenting the Problem
Tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord, and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free app that helps with each step of this process. Tenants can login for an easy way to track their problems, share updates with their roommates, keep their landlord notified, see laws for their state and locality, and chat with other tenants about taking action. RenterPeace also comes with a home management system to track chores, shopping, and finances. It's the ultimate, must-have app for every renter. Learn more.
Using Property Management Software
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but landlords can use RenterPeace for free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Learn more.