Do I have any recourse for lack of air conditioning in my apartment?
May 3, 2012 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I've been without air conditioning for the past two weeks in my apartment, and it seems like it will be another two weeks before I get it. My landlord doesn't seem to care, and I don't know if I have any options in this situation.

I've never been in this situation before and I'm not sure what the best course of action would be. I am going to get a copy of the lease (I know I should have one already but I've misplaced it) and see if it has any details about air conditioning in there. Is AC generally something that a tenant is entitled too, or is it just a perk? Since I can't get them to fix it any faster, as they're doing the entire complex, my main goal is to not have to pay full rent to live and sleep in a sweatbox. I'm in Nebraska fwiw.

(Bonus points if you can help me cool down my apartment without having to buy an air conditioner.)
posted by trogdole to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Whether your landlord is required to provide air conditioning will depend on, in this order: a.) the terms of your specific lease; b.) any applicable town or city ordinances defining the habitability of a rental property or a dwelling; c.) any state laws defining the same. (That is to say, start reading at a.) and stop when you get to the part where a landlord is required to provide air conditioning, if any).

Even if your landlord is required to provide A/C by law, it might, or it might not, be the case that your apartment is uninhabitable yet: your apartment might be uncomfortably hot but not, in early May, so hot that the law finds it uninhabitable. You will want to keep records into the summer.

As far as cooling down your apartment / strategies to keep cool without A/C, we just did this yesterday.

Good luck!
posted by gauche at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2012

Could you clarify--is the problem that they won't fix it, or that the entire complex is getting repaired/upgraded AC and they just haven't got around to you yet?

As Legal Aid of Nebraska points out in their tenant handbook, you are entitled to all "essential services" (e.g., electricity). Heating would be an essential service; AC, probably not. Moreover, if they're actually in the process of doing repairs, it's hard to argue that the landlord is ignoring you or being delinquent.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2012

Yeah, I missed the part where they are trying to fix the A/C. This will probably come down to whether the apartment is habitable or not in its current condition, right now. You can always ask for a reduction in rent.
posted by gauche at 11:28 AM on May 3, 2012

This link about landlord responsibilities to maintain units in good order doesn't seem to specify anything about when AC must be on. It does say they're required to keep any available AC in working condition, but it looks like that's what they're trying to do now. [Full landlord tenant act here.]

Not being a lawyer, or even someone who has ever rented in America, I would just write the landlord with your problem, ideally with some measure of the actual apartment temperature. (They may be more inclined to turn on the AC if the letter states "It has been 89 degrees at midnight the past 3 nights, and 97 degrees during the day" vs "It's too hot to sleep". Also, it shows you have evidence to use if you report them to whatever authority.) You could ask them to temporarily supply you with a window AC unit (unlikely they'll do this) or give you a reduction in rent for the affected weeks/months.

As for surviving... fans, lots of fans, especially blowing on your face/torso as you sleep. Lots of popsicles too. Good luck!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:32 AM on May 3, 2012

At the VERY least, if your apartment includes utilities, you should be able to ask for a reduction in rent to reflect an estimate of the cost of AC that you were not using for the month. :(
posted by shortyJBot at 11:37 AM on May 3, 2012

If you live in a complex, go down and speak to one of the leasing agents. While everyone's a/c may be in the process of being updated, is everyone's completely non-functioning, such as yours? If not, perhaps they can move you to the top of the list.

Explore options with them, can you sleep in an empty apartment that has a/c until yours is fixed? Can you get a rent abatement for your inconvenience and discomfort? You dont' get what you don't ask for.

Press your issue, as I find it difficult to believe that everyone in your complex is totally without a/c, there's no reason you should wait until they get around to you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:55 AM on May 3, 2012

(Bonus points if you can help me cool down my apartment without having to buy an air conditioner.)

You can get a fan for $20 at any big box type store. Assuming no record-breaking heat waves, it will probably be getting downright chilly at night in May. An open window at night with a fan placed in it should be totally sufficient. If the high for the day is supposed to be hotter than your apartment is when you get up, close all the windows and blinds. Only open them in the evening when it is cooler outside than it is in your apartment.
posted by geegollygosh at 12:06 PM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: Clarification: Whole complex is without ac at this time. They decided to do a re-roofing of all the buildings and they disconnected everyone's ac before the project started, and they will install new units as soon as every building is finished with the roofs.
posted by trogdole at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: They decided to do a re-roofing of all the buildings and they disconnected everyone's ac before the project started, and they will install new units as soon as every building is finished with the roofs.

This is a temporary disconnection in conjunction with a building renovation. The landlord has concrete plans to fix it.

Sounds to me like you're gonna have a really hard time getting anywhere with this one.

Things might be different if you had A/C and it broke, and the landlord was dragging his heels about fixing it. There, you'd be able to argue that a feature of the property present at the inception of the lease has been removed, and you're paying for something you're not getting. But nothing is broken here, the landlord knows exactly what's going on, and there's no reason to think the A/C won't be back presently.

This kind of thing is more a "vote with your feet" kind of problem than a "legal recourse" kind of problem. The landlord probably isn't really doing anything wrong, they're just giving bad customer service. Buildings need to be renovated, and sometimes that inconveniences the tenants. Would it have been better for the landlord to do one building at a time, or do it before the A/C became necessary? Probably. Can we say that you're entitled to money or other relief because they chose to do them now and all at once? Seems doubtful. Your option is probably to move when your lease is up.

Of course, if you really want to get a definitive answer you're going to need to take a copy of your least to a local landlord/tenant attorney. But don't be surprised if that doesn't get you anywhere.
posted by valkyryn at 12:24 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cool down your apartment by hanging up your laundry to dry all over the place. A fan will move the air and evaporation will take a lot of heat out of the place, even during the day. If the sun is directly on you, of course, shut the blinds/curtains.
posted by Listener at 1:43 PM on May 3, 2012

or do it before the A/C became necessary?

Looks like troglode is in for a few sweltering days, but they're a bit above the average high for May, so the landlord probably scheduled this as well as they could have. It's been a weird year for heat waves around the country so far already, but the landlord can't really be held responsible for that.

As valkyryn said, there is a plan and you've been told what the plan is. I also guarantee you this: the wheels of justice move much more slowly than the nailgun of the roofers. This will all be done by the time you get anywhere in court, and that's really your only effective recourse.

It would be really nice if the landlord offered a rebate or freebie as a way to assuage your discomfort, but that's unusual in the business (my landlord's association newsletter just recommended we try that sort of thing when we have tenants who are disgruntled for any reason).
posted by dhartung at 4:59 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This happened to us last year when the complex was being re-roofed. You could rent a window a/c unit from a rent to own place if you can afford that and you have a sash window you can use. If you can spring for a window a/c unit at Walmart and are somewhat handy, you can create a frame to make it work with casement windows if that's an issue in your complex per Instructables. On a side note, one of my most important requirements for an apartment is a/c and I swear it's gone out every year, so I might be making a frame for our casement windows if it happens again!

Swamp coolers are also an option.

Wetting a bandana and putting it on your neck can also help.

Stay cool, fellow heat battler!
posted by Issithe at 8:17 PM on May 3, 2012

It still gets down to 60-something degrees or cooler overnight -- you should be fine if you run fans all night and when you're home during the day. Open the windows at night and let in all that cool air. Close the blinds during the day to keep the sun from heating up your apartment.
posted by desuetude at 11:00 PM on May 3, 2012

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