Landlord and Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

questions & answers

Question: How much time does a landlord have to repair a heater in an apartment complex in the winter?

Answer: Under A.R.S. 33-1324 of the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, landlords are required (among other things) to “comply with the requirements of applicable building codes materially affecting health and safety” (including the requirement of “adequate heat” under A.R.S. 9-1303); to “make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition”; to “maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances […] supplied or required to be supplied by him”; and to “supply […] reasonable heat and reasonable air-conditioning or cooling where such units are installed and offered, when required by seasonal weather conditions...” A tenant whose landlord is in violation of A.R.S. 33-1324 may deliver to the landlord a signed and dated letter describing the problem in detail and requesting that the problem be fixed as soon as possible. Sending such a letter, and having proof that it was received by the landlord (for example by having a witness present or by sending it by certified mail, return receipt requested), and keeping a copy for the tenant’s own records is an important first step. If, even after receiving this letter, the landlord does not fix the problem, then the tenant has various options. If the tenant wishes to continue to live in the dwelling, then the following statements apply: If a landlord is not in compliance with A.R.S. 33-1324 and the problem can be fixed for less than $300 or an amount equal to one-half of the monthly rent – whichever is greater – then the tenant may deliver to the landlord a letter notifying the landlord of the tenant’s intention to fix the problem at the landlord’s expense (by having the work done by a licensed contractor and, after submitting to the landlord an itemized statement and a waiver of lien, deducting from the tenant’s next rent payment the actual and reasonable cost of the work) if the landlord fails to do so with ten days (A.R.S. 33-1363). If a landlord is not in compliance with A.R.S. 33-1324 through a deliberate or negligent failure to provide reasonable or adequate heat, or any other essential service, then the tenant may provide written notice to the landlord identifying the problem and informing the landlord that the landlord is in breach of the rental agreement. If, after what Arizona law describes only as “reasonable notice,” the landlord still has not restored the essential service, then a tenant who wishes to continue to live in the dwelling has three options (A.R.S. § 33-1364): Option One: The tenant may arrange for the required utilities on the tenant’s own (if such a thing is possible) and deduct the cost of those utilities from the tenant’s next monthly rent payment. Option Two: The tenant may file a claim in court to recover damages based on the decreased fair rental value of the dwelling during the period in which the essential service was absent. Option Three: The tenant may find “reasonable substitute housing” (an inexpensive motel, for example) until the landlord restores the essential service. What this means is that when the tenant pays his/her rent for the following month, the tenant may pay a “prorated” amount. (So, for example, if the monthly rent is $900 (or $30/day), and the tenant is forced to stay in a motel for 5 days, then the tenant may reduce the next month’s rent payment by $150.) If the cost of this substitute housing exceeds the amount of the tenant’s rent for the period, then the tenant also may recover up to 25% (but no more) of the additional expense from the landlord. It is important to remember that these last three options apply only if the landlord has acted either deliberately or negligently. (The tenant must decide whether a judge is likely to agree that the landlord’s conduct was either deliberate or negligent. Unfortunately, the law does not provide a precise definition.) If the tenant wishes to terminate the rental agreement and vacate the dwelling if the problem is not fixed, and the problem is affecting or threatening to affect the health and safety of the tenant, then the tenant may deliver to the landlord another written notice stating that if the problem is not fixed within 5 days after the landlord receives the notice then the rental agreement will terminate (A.R.S. § 33-1361). Tenants who exercise any of these options must be sure that the problem truly is serious and that they have documentation to prove it, should the landlord later take the dispute to court. If you would like to discuss your specific situation with an attorney, there are links to free and low-cost legal services on this website (at http://www.azlawhelp.org/accessToJustice), and the LegalLEARN Helpline toll-free telephone number is 1-866-637-5341.

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