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Do landlords have to provide AC? Here’s what renters should know.

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When the heat won’t relent, officials advise people to avoid the outdoors. But what happens when your home is no respite from the high temperatures? Do renters who lack air conditioning, or whose AC units are broken, have any recourse? We’ve compiled information to help you figure out your right to cool air.

Do landlords have to provide AC?

There are two main factors that will determine whether your landlord is required to provide air conditioning: your lease and your location.

First, check your lease to see if it includes air conditioning (it probably will be under the amenities section). “If it’s mentioned at all in the lease, then you have to go by the terms of the lease,” says Jacqueline Salcines, a lawyer in Coral Gables, Fla., who focuses on real estate and business law.

Landlord-tenant laws vary quite a bit geographically. But most states do not include air conditioning among required essential services such as heat and running water.

Among the states that do require landlords to provide AC? Florida, Nevada and Arizona — all places with very hot climates. “Down here in Florida, AC is a big deal,” Salcines says. If it isn’t working, “it will render a unit uninhabitable.”

But even if your state doesn’t include AC among its essential services, it doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck. You should also check your county’s laws. For example, while Maryland doesn’t have a statewide AC statute, in Montgomery County, “a landlord is required to provide and maintain air conditioning for all tenants,” with a few exceptions, says Carol Ott, tenant advocacy director at Economic Action Maryland.

Do landlords have to fix your AC?

If your unit includes air conditioning and it stops working, your landlord is likely to be on the hook to repair it (the usual caveats of checking your lease and local laws apply here, too).

“Once you rent a unit that includes air conditioning, then the landlord does have an affirmative duty to maintain that,” says Aaron Sokolow, a D.C.-based attorney focused on tenant law, speaking specifically about the District’s rules.

How long can a landlord leave you without air conditioning? How long do they have to fix it?

In many jurisdictions, the law doesn’t lay out a specific time frame for repairs. Instead, landlords are required to fix a situation “within a reasonable time frame,” a phrase that Ott describes as vague and subjective. “For me, on a day like today, a reasonable time frame would be, like, maybe 20 minutes,” she says.

However, some places do impose more specific requirements. In Florida, a landlord must act upon the AC issue within seven days of receiving notice from their tenant, Salcines says. “If the landlord fails to fix it or fails to address it within the seven days, then the tenant has the right to terminate the lease because it will render a unit uninhabitable.”

Regardless of where you live, if you want to complain to your landlord about AC (or lack thereof), be sure to do it in writing, so you have a record of the correspondence.

Can I withhold rent for a broken AC?

A broken AC could definitely serve as a legal defense for not paying your rent. But again, the specific rules vary from one place to another. In D.C., the landlord’s right to receive rent is based on fulfilling all their obligations according to the housing code. So, Sokolow explains, “a judge may say, ‘landlord, you’re not entitled to your full value of rent because you didn’t comply with your obligation to provide air conditioning.’” Of course, that involves going to court over the issue.

Ott says that, despite air conditioning not being a right in Maryland, a tenant could still sue their landlord over the issue, though “you kind of have to be creative,” she says. “If the air conditioning was provided and suddenly stops working, you could make the case that you could sue for diminished services or something.”

In Florida, meanwhile, if your landlord has been unresponsive after seven days, you have a couple options, per Salcines. “Either you can terminate your lease and you would be eligible to get your entire security deposit, as well as any advanced rent,” she says. Or, you can call a repairperson yourself and take out whatever money you spent to fix the AC from your next month’s rent check.

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