What to do about my quasi-lack of heat?
February 8, 2007 6:05 PM   Subscribe

My apartment in Los Angeles has no heat...sort of. What, if any, recourse do I have?

I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles with my boyfriend. Our heating system is in the ceiling, and there are seperate thermostats in the bedroom and living room. In the bathroom is a small heating unit built into the wall, and in the living room there is a smallish air conditioning unit.

When we first tried to turn on the heat last month, it didn't seem to work. As a test, I cranked both thermostats up all the way and left them on for several hours and there was no temperature change in either room. I put in a written request to the manager about having the heating system looked at, and the following Wednesday, I came home from work to find a new thermostat in the living room but not in the bedroom. Turned them both on, no heat. I put in another request, the following Wednesday the bedroom thermostat was replaced, but still neither one worked. Somewhere when all this was going on I had spoken to the manager on the phone and was told that the a/c unit in the living room has a heat setting, and that we should use that in the meantime before the actual heating system is fixed. I tried out the wall unit, and it emits air that I would generously call lukewarm. It doesn't really heat anything beyond a 4 or 5 foot radius, and on top of that, it's pretty loud.

Anyway, after the bedroom thermostat had been replaced, I left the manager another note explaining the situation, and a couple of days later I folloewd up with a phone call. She basically told me that if the problem isn't the thermostats, there isn't really a whole lot that can be done since the heating system is in the ceiling. She said there was someone (a building manager? I can't really remember what she referred to him as) that she was going to call to ask, but this person was on vacation so she couldn't call right away. This was on January 26 and since then I haven't heard from the manager or anyone else regarding the problem. I know I should have followed up by now, but I would like to figure out what to do/say if she tells me that there isn't anything she can do before I talk to her.

I do know that my landlord is under legal obligation to provide me with heat in my apartment. I'm wondering a couple of things: First, do I have heat, in a legal sense? The small heater in the bathroom works, and I guess the wall unit in the living room works, but we're still without heat in the bedroom, kitchen, and some of the living room. If what's going on here would be considered a no-heat sort of situation, what recourse do we have? Should I ask for a rent reduction, and if so, how much (we're paying $1275 per month)? We signed a one-year lease that began April 1, 2006, and while we don't want to live here forever, we don't want to move when the lease is up and we certainly don't want to try to break our lease over this. Thanks in advance!
posted by kitty teeth to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Being on the east coast right now, my reflex reaction to "I have no heat in my L.A. apartment" is "shut up, you pansy, there's people FREEZING over here!" but I guess that's not exactly a best-answer contender.

Landlord/tenant disputes in CA are consumer problems, legally, so you can call L.A. County Consumer Affairs at (213) 974-1452 for free advice / help.
posted by rokusan at 6:21 PM on February 8, 2007

Response by poster: rokusan, I was afraid someone would say that! Perhaps the fact that I have poor circulation will restore your sympathies?

But really, thank you for your post. I will give them a call, but if anyone else has any other advice in the meantime, I'd love to hear it.
posted by kitty teeth at 6:25 PM on February 8, 2007

Heating sucks in L.A. -- every building I've lived in (or have known friends/family to live in) has had thin walls, little to no insulation, and drafty windows. (No storm windows, either -- when I got my first apartment here, I asked the owner if the storm windows were in the closet or the garage, and he looked at me like I was insane.) Most of the year, of course, it doesn't matter -- but when it gets chilly and/or rainy for a few months of the year, it can be really unpleasant. I currently have a great landlord who forces all the heat he can into our 1920s-era floor ducts, and we still supplement with space heaters a great deal of the time. I know people whose only heating source for a one-bedroom apartment is a fireplace.

"shut up, you pansy, there's people FREEZING over here!"

Sure, it's not subzero here -- but it does get into the 40s and even the 30s at night (plus it can get very damp if you're by the beaches), so when you're living in a building with the aforementioned thin walls, zero insulation, and drafty windows, it's miserable. I've felt consistently colder in some of my L.A. apartments than in my Chicago apartments, because there's just less protection from the elements, even if the temps don't get nearly as low.
posted by scody at 6:29 PM on February 8, 2007

I would like to figure out what to do/say if she tells me that there isn't anything she can do before I talk to her.

I would tell her, "You are in violation of the lease and state law." If they can't fix the heat in the ceiling, then they shouldn't be renting out the unit.

I live in a very cold Baltimore, and I don't think you're a pansy for wanting heat!
posted by Airhen at 6:47 PM on February 8, 2007

There is something she can do, but I suspect it would cost her a lot more than she really wants to spend.

In the mean time, electric space heaters are probably your best answer.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:15 PM on February 8, 2007

That's weird. I wonder what I am doing wrong (right?). I live in a crappy apartment in L.A. and it never gets below about 62 degrees in here. I only use my heat for maybe 10 minutes every few weeks to get it up near 70 in the mornings.
posted by Justinian at 7:30 PM on February 8, 2007

I think she's trying to delay you so she doesn't have to spend the money to repair it now. She's hoping to stall you until it's warm enough that you drop the issue.
posted by Malor at 11:33 PM on February 8, 2007

Your landlord is already dragging her feet on this. She probably knows damn good and well that there's a serious problem with the heating. (Perhaps you're not the first tenant to complain). Think about this: how is it possible that the guys who installed the thermostats didn't check to see whether their repair corrected the problem? I mean, why didn't they turn them on and see whether any hot air materialized? Maybe the first time they just forgot. Unlikely, though possible. But twice? I doubt it pretty seriously. Either she sent in total incompetents or she never had any intention of fixing the real problem. Either way, you're getting jerked around.

So what do you do? I can think of two courses of action. One, demand that the landlord fix the actual problem, as others have suggested. Certainly we all have that voice inside that says "Yeah! Strike a blow for the common folk! Go get 'em!" And in a better world, you'd do that and you'd win and it'd be a good thing. I'd certainly applaud you.

But in the real world, this might take too long and cause too much aggravation to be worth it. I mean, given what she's already done, how much more foot dragging, obstruction, and general crankiness do you think you can expect from this landperson? Quite a lot, I suspect. You may end up getting your heat in July. Or just moving out altogether. Historically speaking, landlords often win precisely this sort of dispute with precisely these types of tactics.

So that brings us to the second option: Compromise. Explain that the law does indeed require her to fix the heat, even if it costs thousands of dollars (and it might) and involves ripping out large parts of the wall and/or ceiling. Impress upon her that you're willing to take whatever legal action is necessary to insure that she does this. Then, once she's giving you the "Eat Shit and Die" look and you know you've got her attention, tell her there's a much less expensive option. She can simply buy you a couple of very nice space heaters and deduct, say, thirty bucks a month from your rent to cover the cost of the additional electricity (unless she's already paying utilities). She'd have to be pretty nuts not to take the offer.

I have a heater that looks like this and it totally kicks ass compared to the little electric coil boxes. It puts out more heat, is much less likely to cause a fire, and doesn't smell at all. But you may be able to get something even snazzier. I'm not sure what all is on the market.

At the very least, I think the space heater compromise ought to be one weapon in your negotiation arsenal. Best of luck.
posted by Clay201 at 11:41 PM on February 8, 2007

Oil filled radiators do, in fact, kick ass. It will warm the whole room evenly instead of making one drafty hot spot where you have to keep turning like a pig on a spit. I would guess a couple of those would make you comfy, and they are pretty reasonable on electricity. You need to solve the short term problem here, as it does seem likely the plan is to stall you until spring.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:23 AM on February 9, 2007

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