Landlords’ responsibilities under a residential rental agreement fall under a doctrine known as the implied warranty of habitability. Each state has its own laws that define the scope of the doctrine, but its overarching purpose is to guarantee that rental units are—at a minimum—in a condition that is fit to be occupied (“habitable”). Habitable means safe, sanitary, and secure. Habitable does not mean comfortable or luxurious.
Common features of state habitability requirements include:
– Doors that lock
– Gas, heating, electric, and plumbing systems
– Operational smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
– Sinks, toilets, and showers with hot water
– Living space free of leaks, mold, lead, asbestos, pests, and other health hazards
In certain areas, such as Arizona and Dallas, the implied warranty of habitability includes a right to air conditioning. And some tenants may require disability accommodations that include operational air conditioning. But for the most part, air conditioning is considered to be an amenity, rather than a necessary condition of habitability. In other words, most states’ landlord tenant laws do not order landlords to provide air conditioning.
Florida’s laws are not unusual in the sense that they do not mandate air conditioning as an element of habitability (oddly enough, heating is required). Miami Dade County proscribes Minimum Housing Standards. Owners must keep their rental units in good structural condition; provide adequate plumbing, hot water, lighting, and ventilation; and provide adequate and safe space heating, among other things. Nowhere is air conditioning listed in the owner responsibility section of the Standards. Other populous counties, such as Broward County, Duval County, and Hillsborough County do not proscribe landlords to provide or repair air conditioning. But other county or city laws may alter this rule.
Is the Landlord or the Tenant Responsible for Air Conditioning Repairs?
Thankfully, many landlords in Florida and across the United States choose to offer air conditioning as a rental amenity. When the air conditioning operates as a fixture of the rental, the landlord is responsible for maintaining the unit in working order. Some states allow tenants to withhold rent if an air conditioning unit is not working; others allow tenants to repair the unit themselves and deduct the cost from rent.
When the air conditioning breaks from the tenant or his guest’s negligence, the tenant is responsible for fixing (or replacing) the unit at his expense. When the air conditioning breaks from wear and tear or causes over which the tenant has no control, the landlord is responsible for fixing (or replacing) the unit at her expense. Once the tenant notifies the landlord of the issue, the landlord has a specified period of time (specified in the lease or by statute) to address the issue.
Landlords are free to structure leases in a manner that releases them from the obligation of replacing an air conditioning system if it breaks. If you’re presented a lease that has this kind of language—or the lease does not mention air conditioning at all—you may be responsible for ensuring that the unit (if there is one) works and/or is maintained. No one should have to suffer through the Florida heat without air conditioning. Make sure you know what your rights are before you move and call us if your landlord isn’t living up to his or her obligations under your lease.