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My landlord locked the thermostat and it's not in the lease
July 3, 2012 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Just started renting at a new apartment. The lease includes a flat fee for utilities, but does not state that the landlord will have control over the thermostat/have the thermostat locked. I was never told that the thermostat would be physically locked and the lease makes absolutely no mention of it. In fact, the only thing in the lease about utilities is his single hand-written line stating "$100 flat fee for utilities a month."

When I saw the locked thermostat upon move-in, I called and asked and he was thrown off when I mentioned the lease lacking this stipulation, but said he could change it when I requested but that he'd like it to stay locked.

I'm not prepared to make a big fuss this early on, but this is really bothering me. I am able to slip a thin object into the box to change the temperature myself, which I am prepared to do because it appears to me that I have that right.

What am I legally able to do in this situation? How should I be handling this? Thanks!
posted by rbf1138 to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
We need to know your jurisdiction. Alternatively, call a tenant's rights group in your area.
posted by SMPA at 7:06 AM on July 3, 2012


Legality depends on where the apartment is, what country, what state, etc.

But, if you can get past the lock and change the thermostat, then don't tell anyone about it. $100 a month for all utilities seems like a good deal.
posted by ky1e at 7:07 AM on July 3, 2012


A flat fee for utilities basically means that the utilities are included in the rent, and the rent is actually $100 higher than what you're currently thinking of as 'rent.' IANAL and have never rented in your area, but when the utilities are included in the rent, I think it's typical that tenants don't have control over the thermostat. The landlord has to keep the temps within certain legal limits, but tenants don't get to make it super-cool in summer and super-warm in winter, because doing so could dramatically increase the landlord's costs.
posted by jon1270 at 7:11 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not in your jurisdiction but what jon1270 says reflects my experience in Wisconsin. There is a city ordinance that specifies how warm the apartment must be kept (I don't think there's a comparable one for cool; there is no requirement for air conditioning and anyway this is Wisconsin). I could theoretically change the thermostat in my apartment, but it did nothing. Anyway, check your city ordinances and/or contact a tenants group.
posted by desjardins at 7:15 AM on July 3, 2012


when the utilities are included in the rent, I think it's typical that tenants don't have control over the thermostat.

I've never heard that. I don't pay for heat, but I have full control over my thermostat.

Contact your local tenants' rights group and/or a housing attorney.
posted by valkyryn at 7:15 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


rbf1138: "I am able to slip a thin object into the box to change the temperature myself, which I am prepared to do because it appears to me that I have that right."

What "right" would that be, exactly?

Just have a conversation with your landlord about what settings (one for day, one for night) you're comfortable with. Your jurisdiction may have laws regarding this that can be your guidance. FWIW here in NYC there is a lot of old housing with radiator heating systems that predate thermostats, and it's totally common for the landlord to control the heating settings. I haven't lived anywhere with a thermostat since I left home.

Look at it from his side- he doesn't know you. Odds are he's not trying to be a jerk, he's just protecting himself against tenants racking up his heating bill because they crank the thermostat too high.
posted by mkultra at 7:19 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anecdotal: not having control over your heat is not uncommon in bigger an/or older apartment buildings here in NYC. Nothing so fancy as a 'thermostat' to lock though.

I would not choose to die on this hill, or risk my relationship with the landlord unless it turns out that the landlord keeps it unreasonably cold or hot (i.e. depending on your jurisdiction, potentially illegal).
posted by wrok at 7:22 AM on July 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Would you feel better if there was no thermostat and you paid a $100 flat fee for utilities?

In my state, and, so far as I can tell, in North Carolina, there is no requirement that the tenant have control over the temperature so long as at least one room is heated to at least 68F (this is section 160A 443.1(a) in North Carolina). In other words, you don't have the right to change the temperature. It sounds like you've been given an awesome deal by your landlord; all you have to do is call him when you want the temperature changed.
posted by saeculorum at 7:25 AM on July 3, 2012


I should clarify a few things:
1. Utilities as in water and AC/heat.
2. Telling me that some places don't even have a thermostat in them doesn't mean much to me in this situation. I was never told in any way that due to the included utility fee/higher rent that it was out of my control. It's the principle here.
3. I'm trying to be very cordial and non-argumentative with the landlord. He's older and foreign, and I realize he has some comprehension issues. I also am not trying to give him a hard time or make him pay some exorbitant fee in air every month. However, he's been renting long enough that I would have expected this to be mentioned in this lease.
4 "Look at it from his side- he doesn't know you. Odds are he's not trying to be a jerk, he's just protecting himself against tenants racking up his heating bill because they crank the thermostat too high." Absolutely. I am being very conscious of that, but again, he should have added it to a lease that already includes many provisions about what a tenant cannot do. It was most certainly a landlord-friendly lease to begin with.
4. I'm in Atlanta, Georgia.
posted by rbf1138 at 7:51 AM on July 3, 2012


I would absolutely not be willing to allow someone else to decide the appropriate level of a/c for me in the summertime in Atlanta. I would definitely contact a local tenant's rights group and see if they have any advice or experience with this kind of mishegoss.
posted by elizardbits at 7:58 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


rbf1138: "I am able to slip a thin object into the box to change the temperature myself, which I am prepared to do because it appears to me that I have that right."

"What "right" would that be, exactly?"


Well, the thermostat is inside the apartment I'm renting and the lease doesn't say I am not to touch it, have control of it, etc. Do I not have a right to open windows, either?
posted by rbf1138 at 8:03 AM on July 3, 2012


No way. I am always hot and cold and would need acces to the thermostat. I've never heard of this situation before. Whats it set on? Does he come and change it everytime the weather changes?
posted by KogeLiz at 8:05 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ask the landlord outright for the key to the thermostat.

When we hit 106 last weekend, no matter how low you set the thermostat, the coolest it's going to get in that extreme is 86. A/C here in the South is not rated to cool more than 20 degrees from the external temperature.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:10 AM on July 3, 2012


When you looked at the apartment before renting it, did you see the thermostat? And did it not have the glass thingie around it at that time?
posted by parrot_person at 8:15 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I too would find this intrusive and bothersome. You are not crazy.
posted by jsturgill at 8:17 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


From what it says in this PDF put out by the GA goverment it appears that if the locked thermostat was visible during the initial viewing than you'll have to live with it (though there may be basic temperature requirements). Also it's unlikely that you have a legal "right" to select a room temperature setting. Many rentals lack individual unit thermostats.

Does he come and change it everytime the weather changes?

The whole point of a thermostat is it maintains a consistent temperature. You shouldn't have to adjust it based on weather. IE: if you like a room temperature of 68F it shouldn't make any difference if it's 30F or 130F outside.

When we hit 106 last weekend, no matter how low you set the thermostat, the coolest it's going to get in that extreme is 86. A/C here in the South is not rated to cool more than 20 degrees from the external temperature.

This shouldn't require fiddling with the thermostat though. If your A/C is only capable of dropping the temperature 20F (which is pretty marginal, most Central A/C should drop the temperature at least 30F below ambient) selecting a lower set point on the thermostat won't make any difference.
posted by Mitheral at 8:27 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, control over temperature matters to me. And the logic here -- that he pays, so he controls it -- doesn't make great sense. Most landlords pay for water, but they don't, like, fill up a big cistern at the beginning of the month to control someone's total monthly water use. But to actually answer your question, you might try googling things like "renters' rights Atlanta temperature," "renters' rights Atlanta thermostat" and things like that.
posted by salvia at 8:30 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Georgia Landlord/Tenant Hotline: 404-463-1596 metro Atlanta or 800-369-4706 toll-free within Georgia

Call them. They'll know the answer. Have your lease handy so you can read any section dealing with utilities to them.
posted by erst at 8:37 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a part in your lease saying that you both inspected the premises and all utilities/appliances/fixtures in said premises? Did you actually do that before you signed? Was the thermostat locked or did he lock it after that?

I obviously can't guess what the rest of your lease says but that's where I would think your legal rights in this matter are since you say there is nothing else expressly written.
posted by zephyr_words at 8:40 AM on July 3, 2012


> "In my state, and, so far as I can tell, in North Carolina, there is no requirement that the tenant have control over the temperature so long as at least one room is heated to at least 68F (this is section 160A 443.1(a) in North Carolina). In other words, you don't have the right to change the temperature."

The existence of a duty on behalf of the landlord to maintain a minimum temperature in no way implies the absence of the right of a tenant to change that temperature, at least not without further (and explicit) qualifications to that effect.

More specifically, in the absence of a duty not to change the temperature, the OP would in fact have an implied privilege to do so (even if not a right). The absence of a duty to the contrary all that really matters in determining what one is (legally) at liberty to do.

In fact, subsection (c) of the statute you cite gives a good example of this sort of relationship: a landlord in your jurisdiction has a duty not use kerosene heater as a primary source of heat, but is not in violation of that duty if a tenant elects to use a kerosene heater in just such a way.
posted by matlock expressway at 8:59 AM on July 3, 2012


when the utilities are included in the rent, I think it's typical that tenants don't have control over the thermostat

Just as a data point, that's been my experience across several apartments. I think this is pretty common.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:13 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, your jurisdiction may vary, but if they are paying for it I think they have a legal standing to control it, as long as it's within defined comfort ranges.

I've lived in a few places where, when they pay for the heat, they've controlled the heat (the AC was electric and I've always paid electric). I don't believe any of these places ever specifically mentioned the thermostat control (but it's been a while so I don't have the leases on me). It's always been kind of silly to me, because they've tended to keep it overly warm (and I LOVE the warmth) - so if anything allowing me to control the thermostat would SAVE them money, but oh well. If that's the case, could you talk to him and say something like, "gosh, it's just so warm and I don't want you to be running the heat while I have the windows open or I'm running the AC - would you mind unlocking the thermostat?" Perhaps even make a deal with him that you will pay for any increase in utility costs.

If this isn't the issue and it's simply not warm enough through heating or cold enough through AC for you, then I think you'll have to sort that out yourself, because now turning up the heat (for example) would push him beyond what he's already allocated for heating, which I don't think would be fair. Buy some space heaters, or a window AC unit or something.

"I am able to slip a thin object into the box to change the temperature myself, which I am prepared to do because it appears to me that I have that right."

Well, the thermostat is inside the apartment I'm renting and the lease doesn't say I am not to touch it, have control of it, etc. Do I not have a right to open windows, either?


If something is locked, it's pretty clear you're not to tamper with it. You are leasing the apartment, you do not own it. Sure, you can open the windows if they are not permanently locked. But when I move into an apartment that has "sealed", viewing only windows, this doesn't give me the right to fiddle with them until they do open, does it?

I don't have the lease in front of me, but most things are supposed to be left in an "as is" state. Things that can be moved back and forth (doors, windows, faucets) can be moved back and forth. Things that are bolted down or locked are to stay bolted down or locked - especially when unbolting/locking them can cause additional charges for the landlord.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:21 AM on July 3, 2012


TL;DR above - to the best of my recollection I've never had it mentioned in a lease that I would or would not control my own thermostat, and the end result has gone either way - I don't think your landlord is out of bounds.

From experience, now, if gas is included in the rent I've learned to ask if I'm in control of the thermostat.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:27 AM on July 3, 2012


If you put a damp cloth over the locked box, it will cool down the thermostat, causing it to warm the apartment.

Not an ideal solution, certainly, but perhaps something that could help for a short span of intolerable cold.
posted by sindark at 11:15 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your lease not saying whether you can control the thermostat is not the same thing as your having a right to do so. I think your best bet is to call the Tenant Rights hotline but I'm curious as to what you will do if they tell you that you don't have a right to control the thermostat. I am fairly sure that the landlord controls the thermostat but I hope you will update us to let us know what they say.
posted by sm1tten at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2012


The hotline mentioned by erst closed more than a year ago (July 1, 2011). I'm not aware of any other similar service in GA.
posted by dd42 at 3:28 PM on July 3, 2012


OP, perhaps try this:

Atlanta Legal Aid Society
151 Spring Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404)524-5811
www.atlantalegalaid.org

Atlanta Legal Aid Society also includes:
Home Defense, Tenant Hotline
posted by sm1tten at 3:55 PM on July 3, 2012


Does your utilities fee include electricity and/or gas? I ask because when I've been in situations in which the temperature controls have not been available to me, I've exerted my own temperature control by opening/closing windows and utilizing space heaters and fans as needed. It's not optimal, and it can be wasteful in terms of energy, but it can work, especially if your landlord is paying your electric bill. You doing this could also facilitate a conversation about this arrangement with him.

The thermostat in my home has to be switched from heat to cool seasonally. I would be annoyed if my landlord had to come in and do that for me. I do think it's worth clarifying this with him and contacting some of the organizations suggested by others to make sure you understand your legal rights here.
posted by pupstocks at 10:05 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been in a similar situation, and I live in ATL! I rented out a basement of a dude's house (like an in-law suite type thing---separate entrance and all) and it wasn't until after I moved in that I noticed there was NO temperature control down there. Lucky for me he kept it fuh-reezing in the summertime, to the point where I was actually cold. Which worked for me, because I fuckin' hate summer. In the winter, he kept it steamin' hot, so much so that I'd have to open my windows sometimes. He was often not home, I'm pretty meek sometimes, and my rent was cheap, so I never made it an issue. One time I rented another basement apartment (well, half a duplex) and it wasn't until I moved in that I noticed there was only one window unit, and it was far away from the bedroom. That was utterly terrible.

ANYWAY, I feel your pain. If I were you I'd probably just ask the landlord, "How much would I have to pay extra to be in charge of the thermostat?" because if the summer so far is any indication, it'd be worth the extra money to me to have some control. From his perspective though--my previous house (just bought one in Feb, yay) was a rental, and we did control the temperature. Our GA Power bill last summer in August was nearly $400 for an 800 sq ft house, and we used the a/c sparingly. If our utilities were included, I bet our landlord would have freaked the fuck out (because I know I sure did). So I'm sure he's trying to CYA (er CHA) in case he gets a renter who, like me, cannot stand to be hot.

TLDR; just talk to the guy and see if you can strike a deal!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:37 AM on July 8, 2012


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