Part of your legal responsibilities as a landlord is to make sure your property is “fit and habitable” for your tenants. While electrical and plumbing issues, as well as safety, are included in this definition, the one that gives most owners headaches is HVAC maintenance. In the summer, the temperatures rise to unbearable levels, and overheating is a real risk. Once winter hits, rain and cold are new concerns that can make people sick.
Even if the risk to your tenants wasn’t an issue, a property without a well-functioning HVAC system is subject to mold, damage, and other problems that can lower the value of your property. It’s important that you understand what happens if you neglect HVAC maintenance and how to avoid any potential problems.
How to Handle HVAC Maintenance
Because of the health and structural risks of a malfunctioning HVAC system, you will want to be more diligent with your rental property’s heating and air conditioning systems than you probably are with your own home. You don’t live in this property and aren’t there to check for small problems before they become big ones.
Here is a list of what you’ll need to do to maintain a working and efficient HVAC system in your rental property.
Schedule seasonal maintenance in spring and fall. After a summer of working hard, it’s important get the system checked for any wear and tear or potential problems. Once winter is over, especially if it was a cold one, you want to have it serviced again so you catch any problems before the summer heat arrives. This will save you the headache of tenant calls and the cost of repair bills later.
Make timely and full repairs when a problem is found. Putting a “band-aid” on an HVAC system almost guarantees you’ll be faced with a bigger repair bill later. Making your tenants wait for a repair to have a safe and habitable home can lead to legal problems. When your tenants call to report an issue, jump on it, get it fixed, and communicate with your tenants so they know what’s going on.
Replace and upgrade the property’s HVAC system as needed. Ideally, “as needed” won’t be once it dies and you have no choice. Instead, keep track of it’s age and what the service company tells you about it’s performance and when it should be replaced. It’s much better to schedule an upgrade and replacement when you and your tenants can prepare for it instead of being surprised and rushed.
What Happens If You Neglect the HVAC Maintenance?
While you should have every expectation that your tenants will take care of the basic upkeep and day-to-day maintenance of your rental property, you have to take care of your responsibilities as well. This includes making quick repairs and replacing the HVAC in a timely manner when necessary.
If you don’t meet your responsibilities and your tenants are left in an uninhabitable rental, they may have some legal recourse against you.
- They may be able to move out before the lease is up without having to pay any additional costs for breaking the lease.
- They could pay for the repair itself and deduct the cost from their rent payment.
- Your tenants might even withhold the rent until the problem is fixed. In order for this to be legal, they would have to place it in an escrow account and so that the rent is “paid” just not to you.
- Renters could and may contact local health and safety inspectors who could fine you for that and any other safety and health violations they find.
- You could be sued.
All of these situations could only happen in very specific circumstances, but if you keep the HVAC system in your rental properties maintained and working as much as possible, this won’t be something you have to worry about.
The easiest way to avoid the worry and hassle is to work with a property management company who understands the legal responsibilities and requirements of being a landlord. They should also have the resources to take care of problems while keeping you informed of what your options are. ERA American Real Estate has the vendor contacts, the legal knowledge, and the ability to help you take care of your rental properties and tenants. Give us a call today!