Is she a slumlord landlady or am I just a delicate flower for needing a hotel room for a broken A/C in Phoenix?
May 30, 2012 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Is my landlord liable to pay for the cost of a hotel and pet boarding when the air conditioner broke due to lack of maintenance in Phoenix, Arizona? The law seems incredibly unfair to tenants and I'm wondering if I'm misreading it.

My partner and I returned home from a long weekend away and discovered that our air conditioner had stopped running. It has broken before, and the other tenant in our duplex had her unit break last summer and it took 4 days to repair. The repair folks say it hasn't been properly maintained, although we have been diligent in doing our part with changing the filters here in the dusty desert. We notified the landlord Monday night that it had gone out, extended our cat's stay where he was being boarded from our vacation, and went to stay in a hotel. She didn't respond to us on Monday, and when the repair folks found several major problems on Tuesday, didn't authorize them to replace it and wanted to think about it another day, so here we are on the third day without A/C and on the second night in a hotel.

Today she's having them diagnose the problem again (?) so it won't be fixed by tomorrow at best, and it will probably take until Friday for it to be fixed, according to the company doing the repairs.

The law that I could find covering A/C is here: AZ Renter's Rights. Our rent is $800 a month, so as far as I can tell, she only has to pay us the prorated daily rate (about $27) and then $6 on top of that for our alternate lodging. (Also, sidenote: we pay electricity, and since the 22 year old A/C is presumably inefficient and only cools down half our place, anyway, do we have any way to force her to replace the unit rather than just fix it, since it's costing us an unreasonable amount of money?)

She's being uncommunicative (she lives in another state, she's failed to pay the water bill she's responsible for on four occasions in a year to the point of them coming out to the house to turn it off, and she may or more not be in foreclosure...basically, she's sketchy) and I've been having panic attacks for the past few days, because even though we're staying at a reasonably priced hotel, not being able to cook at home and having to board our cat (we have a dog, too, but he can stay with my partner's mother) and the general inconvenience is infuriating and eating away at my meager, pathetic savings. It's slated to be 107 on Thursday and it's been hot enough that even though I grew up without air conditioning and consider it a luxury, it's intolerable in our house. (I have seen the previous thread this month for ways to stay cool, so don't need any tips on that, just tips on what my legal rights are to get back the money we're spending on not being able to live at home.)

YANML, but does anyone know if we can expect/demand our landlady to pay for more than $32? That's only $10 more than it's costing for us to board the cat! Obviously we could suck it up and stay at home, try to stay cool and try to find a sympathetic friend to take the cat in, but he has a tendency to run away and he had a fever, so I'd rather him stay where he's being boarded with our vet, and it's HOT out. Any advice, any laws I'm missing? Is small claims court an option? Am I being unreasonable for wanting to be reimbursed for the hotel? (It's $100 a night with taxes, and is the cheapest option unless we stayed in a sketchy motel downtown.)
posted by thesocietyfor to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The ACLU of Arizona has a list of local resources - scroll down until you get to the correct section. There are several organizations with phone numbers and a couple hotlines you could call. I'm not sure if they can provide legal advice, but they may be able to provide legal information and answer your questions.

I'd also check out the Tenant's Rights Handbook - there is a link on this Landlord / Tenant AZ government website, as well as a variety of other resources.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:16 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is Arizona, so I wouldn't hold my breath.

I'd just send a check for the difference with a copy of my (and my cat's) hotel bills.

If she's sketchy, and this isn't rectified by Friday, make arrangements to move out.

Life is too short and there are too many places to rent in Phoenix.

Your APS/SRP must be a fortune! Take that money and get a newer place with more energy efficiency!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:21 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Both U of A and ASU have free landlord / tenant legal clinics... This site is a pretty good place to start.
posted by ph00dz at 12:57 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding insectosaurus. The landlord lobby here in Arizona is incredibly strong. (See this past legislative sessions bill allowing landlords to enter an apartment without the tenant's permission.)

I had my AC go out twice in my previous unit and both times, I had to print the AZ statutes and show them to my landlord before she reimbursed me the pittance the law allows.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 1:11 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd just send a check for the difference with a copy of my (and my cat's) hotel bills.

Withholding rent is often a very bad idea. Check with a lawyer first.
posted by grouse at 1:27 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should definitely check any resources you have available to see what recourse you have.

Meanwhile, you need to make your immediate plans under the assumption that she has no money. No credit card to pay for your hotel, no cash to send you a money order. Because she either actually doesn't, or is going to play like she doesn't. You can sue or get a lawyer to write a letter or whatever, but that does you no good today.

I don't think there's actually any state that considers air conditioning mandatory. Heating is, in some states - you can report non-functioning heat to the health department (and you could certainly call your county to find out).

I'm a landlord, and I would certainly make a reasonable effort to get this taken care of as expediently as possible if it happened to us, but I would not offer hotel reimbursement beyond what's in the lease. I'm also a tenant, and have had to make my own arrangements when things broke, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to be responsible for that. It sucks, and it especially sucks when it's crazy hot outside and you're panicking (god, I know the Hot Day Panic, it's why I left the hot state we still own a house in), but it's part of the choices you make when you choose a free-standing residence over a building with contracted maintenance or a co-op's purchasing power.

Can you ping your network to see if anyone has a portable swamp cooler? When I have had HVAC emergencies, I have hunkered down in one room with the pets and a window unit. It'll get you through a couple of days.

Obviously, if you're getting crappy service from your landlord you should move on. If she has no money and is about to lose the house, she has zero incentive (and may have no ability) to help you.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:48 PM on May 30, 2012

At what point would the hotel+cat boarding fees end up costing more than a window A/C unit?

I'd really consider purchasing one (new or used, though I'm not sure how good used ones would be/how to tell whether they work well), and then 1.) trying to get your landlord to reimburse you for it (she's probably not legally required to do this), or 2.) selling it/taking it with you.

If things are as bad with your LL's finances as you think they are, chances are you aren't getting reimbursed for your hotel stay anyways. It might make more sense to be spending money that you probably won't get back on something tangible that you can take with you.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:00 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Why would they pay for your hotel? If your rent is being refunded, where you stay is your business. You're choosing to stay at a hotel instead of, say, a friend's house. You made that choice before speaking with your landlord or knowing your legal rights.
posted by hermitosis at 2:15 PM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Also, I agree with sparklemotion that buying a simple window unit would probably make things bearable in the short term, and you'd have a MUCH better chance of being able to simply deduct that (practical, one-off) cost from your future rent than an on-going hotel stay.
posted by hermitosis at 2:19 PM on May 30, 2012

Do you have renter's insurance? I'm not sure what policies usually cover, but it can't hurt to ask them if they'll reimburse you for the hotel costs above what you're legally allowed.
posted by sbutler at 2:23 PM on May 30, 2012

Am I being unreasonable for wanting to be reimbursed for the hotel?

Do you want validation or do you want to know if you're going to prevail?

You're not going to prevail, based on standards in pretty much every state. Typically the place needs to be "livable" and 107 in AZ, while unpleasant, doesn't pass into the realm of unliveable.

It's shitty of her not to be more on top of this but being better than a horrible person isn't required to be a landlord.

That said, I'm with the above on a window unit. The smallest - which will make a single room at least tolerable - can be had for around $100. Why are you spending that, repeatedly, paying for a hotel room?

If a window unit isn't an option how about this idea: look into a rolling unit. They're usually around $500. Offer your landlord a compromise: $100 off your rent for the next five months and you'll leave the unit behind when you move out, giving her a buffer against this sort of problem in the future.
posted by phearlez at 2:23 PM on May 30, 2012

Hey everyone, thanks for the answers so far! I just want to say that yes, air conditioning is a legal right here in Arizona (check the link I posted in the orignal question) so I know that I am absolutely covered to get back the rent on the days it was out. No questions there.

I had already checked out all the laws that you folks are linking to, and was just incredulous that they ONLY cover the rent, not the additional expenses, but I really appreciate the information about the strong landlord lobby here, nubianinthedesert. That explains a lot, and basically answered my question about whether I was wrong to assume I was missing a law that would entitle me to more reimbursement.

I get it; we aren't going to get the money back for the hotel. You don't need to tell me again or tell me that we should be staying with friends (I'm an introvert without many friends, and really, REALLY value privacy, hence we decided on the hotel). Unless you have an experience that would tell me the law does indeed cover the cost of finding alternate lodgings, I'll consider this case closed and lesson learned—the most amazing location, for the right price, definitely was too good to be true, but it was good while it lasted. We live in a fantastic safe and vibrant neighborhood with great neighbors, but we're already planning on moving because of this incident.

(As far as the window unit goes...our windows don't open in our bedroom, and the rest of the house is set up in a way that it just wouldn't work. I don't want to try to explain it any more, but I appreciate the suggestion and want to say again that I was only asking about the laws as they cover a hotel stay. Thanks!)

I don't need any suggestions on how to cool down a house, as I mentioned, that was very thoroughly covered in a recent question here. Thanks again, everyone, knowing that this is just how it is calmed me down, and now I can focus on the next step of finding a new place to live and asking for a raise so I can build my savings again!
posted by thesocietyfor at 2:41 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

our windows don't open in our bedroom

I don't know about AZ, but where I live that's a fire hazard.
posted by sbutler at 4:15 PM on May 30, 2012

Also, sidenote: we pay electricity, and since the 22 year old A/C is presumably inefficient and only cools down half our place, anyway, do we have any way to force her to replace the unit rather than just fix it, since it's costing us an unreasonable amount of money?)

Presumably this is the unit that was in place when you moved in so yes expecting an upgrade is unreasonable.

Also a bedroom without direct egress (IE: no opening windows or a door) is straight up illegal pretty well every where in the US and has been practically since the invention of building codes. If you move out and want to make trouble for the landlord you could register complaints about the illegal bedroom.
posted by Mitheral at 5:24 PM on May 30, 2012

Good point about the window, and we'll let the landlady know about that, too. (The joys of Google brought me to this website which seems like it could tell me all kinds of things wrong with this house.)

They're casement windows that only open two inches before stopping for reasons we never investigated, and I couldn't fit through them anyway (as I am a fattypants), but I appreciate knowing this, although I don't want to "make trouble for my landlord" out of spite, so I'll just let her know and see if she does the right thing.
posted by thesocietyfor at 5:45 PM on May 30, 2012

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