Any laws about heating provided to tenants by landlord?
March 27, 2011 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Are there any laws that require landlords to provide efficient or modern heating units for tenants?

I rent an apartment in Michigan. The heating unit is so old and crappy that I am paying $300 - $400 a month to keep my 700 square foot apartment "heated" to approximately 50 degrees. It simply won't get any warmer.

I have complained to management and they basically said everything is fine, and that type of heat bill is typical. I know it isn't, but I am not sure what I can do, as they have been very dismissive.

I am looking for any type of law that would force them to replace the heating unit and perhaps insulate the building better than it is, but I am finding that most of the landlord/tenant laws I can find are a bit general and focus mostly on terms of eviction. Any help would be so appreciated.
posted by waywardgirl to Law & Government (10 answers total)
I think dfriedman's answer is way too dismissive.

The fact that you can't get the place heated to any warmer than 50 degrees is the real concern. It looks like certain cities in MI have ordinances re: minimum temps for heating. For example, Ann Arbor requires a min. of 68 degrees.

I would suggest contacting a local tenants' rights org. They can guide you to applicable state and local laws. If you google "[your city] tenants rights," you should come up with the applicable organization, if there is one. Often these groups' websites have information for self-help without even having to call.
posted by elpea at 7:03 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most states or localities require some kind of minimum heating requirements, but there's no requirement that the unit be modern as long as its not dangerous. From some quick Googling, it looks like it depends on the city or town in Michigan. In Ann Arbor, the heater must be able to heat the apartment up to 68ºF when you turn it up. If they can't come anywhere close to that and your landlord refuses to fix the problem, you call the building department. If you tell us where you are, we can try to find out for you. You can also call a local tenants rights group or just call the local building department directly to get some answers.

Realistically though, moving when your lease is up next is going to be your best bet. Even if you force the issue and get your landlord to kick in some money for a space heater and its electricity usage, you're still dealing with a crappy place to live where they dismiss your concerns. That doesn't mean you shouldn't complain, but sticking around for another winter is probably not a great plan unless the situation dramatically changes in your favor.

When you look for a new place, be sure to ask about typical heating costs. In some areas, you can get the amounts of past bills from the local utility company, which will tell you what the previous tenants really paid, though you can't tell if they preferred their place freezing or boiling.
posted by zachlipton at 7:06 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The short answer is no, there isn't much that you can do to compel them to get a better heating system.

The more accurate answer is that uncomfortable temperature is a legally recognized reason to break a lease. You might need to contact a lawyer, but you can get out of this lease, or threaten to, if they don't fix this heating situation. Given what heat is costing you, it might be best for you to just move.

(How I know: I live in MI, and went toe to toe with my last landlord over heat. Assuming that the law hasn't changed since 2003, this is what my then-roommate's paralegal aunt came up with.)
posted by Leta at 7:11 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

this is slightly veering Offtopic, but have to at least ask that you are using plastic on the windows and other such DIY heat saving measures. Living in MI I suspect you are, just checking though. (In Northern MN we pay about $250 a month for 1800 feet in a house that is almost 100 years old and has only so-so insulation)
posted by edgeways at 7:36 PM on March 27, 2011

Wait, are you saying it is IMPOSSIBLE for it to heat higher than 50 degrees, or it is TOO EXPENSIVE for you to keep it higher than 50 degrees? If it's the former, then yes, they are not providing you with a habitable living space. Contact the appropriate authorities in your area. If it's the former, I'm not sure what to tell you. My husband and I keep our heat at around 60-63 degrees in the dead of winter so that the bill isn't >$300. We have a big 'ol house though. Sucks to be poor!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:41 PM on March 27, 2011

Response by poster: It is impossible to heat it past 50 degrees.
posted by waywardgirl at 7:43 PM on March 27, 2011

Yeah, if it's impossible to heat it past 50 degrees, then there would definitely be a law against that. I had a similar issue in an apt. in Boston. You should call your city hall and ask for the Inspectional Services department. Explain that you have insufficient heat. What usually happens is that they'll come out with a device to measure your heat, if it's not 68 degrees, or whatever the standard is, they will give your landlord a timeframe to fix it.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:00 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fifty degrees is way below any minimum standard I have ever heard of. (It's 60°F here.) The city inspector will definitely take an interest and may even be incensed.

It may be that your heating unit is malfunctioning or something, but it's more likely a matter of poor insulation. What you probably need is a blower door test to tell you[r landlord] where insulation and weatherstripping need to be installed. There are tax credits and HUD grant programs for this, bolstered by stimulus funding at the moment, so the city should be able to point your landlord in the right direction. If you can't get action there, you might be able to get your landlord to agree to let you do some work on the place in exchange for a break on the rent (i.e. he pays for materials like weatherstripping or expanding foam).

That said, one thing you may want to do in the future is get a written statement from the landlord on heating costs, or even see prior heating usage (the utility may be able to supply you with this as the customer), before renting where you're responsible for those costs.
posted by dhartung at 9:55 PM on March 27, 2011

It is impossible to heat it past 50 degrees.

When I've lived in places with Real Winters, this is the kind of thing landlords get into trouble for with the health/housing/building inspector. Document it. Call the inspector and have them come out on a cold day. If the weather is still cold, your landlord will have to fix this right away (and, if they can't provide a temporary solution, may even have to pay for you to stay elsewhere).
posted by zippy at 12:09 AM on March 28, 2011

When you are looking for "a law that requires" that you be able to heat your home, you may not be able to find one. There may not be a statute or regulation that specifically says so. Rather, the law is more general. It requires that the landlord provide a dwelling that is "habitable". The interpretation of that word will vary from situation to situation, but I doubt any judge would have a hard time finding the inability to heat the apartment beyond 50 degrees meets the test.

But your remedy is not to force him to do anything. Your remedy is to move out. The law on habitable premises gives the tenant to end the lease before its term.
posted by yclipse at 4:17 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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