As a renter, you may have compromised some of your apartment “wants," like a pool and clubhouse, for the more basic apartment “needs" like proximity to work, two bedrooms or affordability.
While some sacrifices can reasonably be made when choosing an apartment, basic needs like fair treatment, a secure door, leak-free roof and access to heating and hot water should be non-negotiable. Whether you live in an apartment, flat or duplex, you want your space to have livable conditions and feel like home. And you also want to have a reasonable amount of control to make that happen.
So, you may be wondering if your landlord can control the utilities, such as your heat. While it may seem like a no-brainer, the answer is complicated and depends on where you live. Let's take a look at the rules and regulations for landlords and tenant rights when it comes to things like heat and hot water in apartment buildings.
Property owners are held accountable for the implied warranty of habitability. Simply put, this means that landlords are required to provide safe and livable conditions for their tenants, and renters have the right to a livable property.
While requirements can vary by city and state, landlords are generally responsible for:
The “landlord must provide heat and hot water to tenants," said Samuel Evan Goldberg of Goldberg & Lindenberg. “The hot water must be a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Landlords are required to provide heat during the months of October 31 through May 31. If the outside temperature is 55 degrees or below between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM it must be at least 68 degrees in the apartment building and between 10:00 PM. and 6 AM the inside temperature must be 62 degrees," Goldberg explained.
So, under the implied warranty of habitability, landlords must provide access to heat. However, they can control it and they aren't obligated to pay for it. Now that we've covered what landlords are required to provide, let's discuss if they can control the heat.
David Resischer, Real Estate Attorney & CEO of LegalAdvice.com said, “Some multiple dwelling units only have a single thermostat and state laws typically do not restrict the ability of a landlord to control the heat in any of the tenant units. However, most state laws do require a landlord to provide and also to maintain heat at a designated temperature, typically at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit."
There are regulations and laws in place nation-wide to protect both landlords and tenants. But, since climate and temperature changes so drastically from one region to another, laws can vary by city and state. For instance, landlords are required to provide heat, but they're not required to provide air conditioning in all states.
Arizona laws require landlords to provide, “reasonable heat and reasonable air-conditioning or cooling where such units are installed and offered, when required by seasonal weather conditions." Because Arizona can reach dangerous temperatures in the summer, landlords are required to provide access to AC for tenant's safety.
While that may be true in Arizona, it's not the case in New York. Scott Stevensen, a New York City renter said, “Because there is no AC in some buildings, the tenant is left to buy an AC unit that fits in the old window frames where one lifts the window frame up and down — not sideways. The whole cost of electricity is almost always borne the tenant."
To see what laws your state has in place, check out your state's laws and regulations to see what landlords can and cannot do.
So, what happens if your landlord fails to provide heat, or controls it in such a way that isn't livable? You have a few options:
“If the landlord fails to provide heat or hot water, the tenant should call 311 and schedule an inspection date for an HPD inspector to inspect," Goldberg said. “Once HPD issues a heat and hot water violation, which would be considered a C violation, it must be repaired immediately. Any other C violations, the Landlord has 24 hours to make the repair. If the landlord still fails to bring back the heat and hot water, the tenant should bring an HPD proceeding in housing court. The proceeding is predicated upon the HPD violation report and the judge will tell the landlord to repair the defective conditions in the tenant's apartment. If the landlord fails to make the repairs, the judge could order civil penalties and in some cases, even hold the landlord in contempt of court."
Ideally, you'll have great landlords who meet your basic needs (and more). While that's the dream, it doesn't always happen that way. So, it's smart to know your rights and fully understand your lease as a renter and know what you're entitled to.
At a minimum, renters should have a clean, safe, well-maintained apartment that meets their basic human needs.