Hopefully you’ll never have to wonder if it’s illegal not to have heat in your apartment. But if your heat stops working, or doesn’t exist in the first place, here’s what you need to know.

All states have laws and regulations to ensure safe, habitable living conditions in rental housing properties––that includes providing heat. So in most cases, landlords are required to provide adequate heating. But the laws differ when it comes air conditioning.

To find out what laws apply to your situation, read your state’s landlord-tenant laws, as well as any laws pertaining to rental housing habitability and safety, to find out what a landlord’s statutory obligations are, and what tenants can do if their landlord doesn’t make the necessary repairs.

When the heat or air conditioning fails

When the heat or air conditioning fails in a rental unit, the landlord must repair the problem within a reasonable amount of time. In Arizona, for example, landlords must repair the AC within two business days, as long as the failure wasn’t caused by a tenant or their guest.

If the heating or air conditioning fails, a tenant should:

  • Send the landlord a dated, written notice with the date the heat or air conditioning failed.
  • Call the landlord or the maintenance department noted in the rental agreement. Be sure to include the unit and your contact info for the repair person.

If the landlord doesn’t address the issue in a timely fashion, or doesn’t respond at all, a tenant has several options:

  • Withhold rent
  • Repair or remedy the problem themselves
  • Take legal action
  • Move into a hotel and deduct funds from the rent payment

Tenants who stay in a hotel because their home is uninhabitable cannot deduct the entire cost of the hotel stay. Consult your state’s laws to find out how much you can deduct.

If the landlord makes no attempt to make repairs after multiple days, the tenant is legally allowed to withhold rent in some states as long as they’re current on their rent payments.

Avoid eviction

It’s always risky to withhold or deduct funds from the total rent amount. If a landlord disagrees with a tenant’s actions, they could terminate the lease and attempt to evict their tenant. In most states, landlords cannot legally evict a tenant, raise the rent out of spite, or cut off essential services (such as electricity or heat) once a tenant has filed a habitability-based complaint. This is called “retaliation,” and it’s illegal in almost every state.

If a tenant wrongfully withholds rent, the tenant will probably be responsible for repaying the missing rent and the landlord’s legal fees related to eviction.

If a tenant is served an eviction notice, as a result asking for a repair to the heating or cooling system, the tenant must file an answer in court stating that they’re standing up for their rights as a tenant due to habitability issues in the unit. Tenants should be ready to provide as much written proof as they have, including the original written notice sent to the landlord.

To sum it up

Landlords are required to provide heat in every state, but the laws vary when it comes to AC. Tenants should check their state’s laws before they start withholding rent or move into a hotel expecting reimbursement.