Landlords across the U.S. are responsible for making sure that their tenants have livable homes—including heat during the winter. Depending on where exactly you live, local law may even require your landlord to keep your rental heated to a specific temperature during the winter months. Choose your state from the dropdown menu above to learn more about the rules where you rent.
Are there exact temperature requirements for rentals?
There’s no country-wide law that specifically says how warm your apartment needs to be. However, every lease in the U.S. (with the exception of those signed in Arkansas) includes something called the warranty of habitability. This guarantees you the right to a safe and comfortable home—including heat when it’s cold. If your heat is broken, it’s your landlord’s job to repair it. Several cities have exact temperature guidelines, like New York, where the temperature inside your rental can’t fall below 62 degrees.
What should I do if the heat is broken in my rental?
If your heat is broken, your first step should be to let your landlord know. Give them a heads up through whatever channel you normally use, whether it’s via text, email, phone call, or an online portal. But make sure to follow up with a letter (sent by registered or certified mail) that proves you alerted them when you did.
When you write the letter, it’s best to include some documentation of the issue. Record the temperature inside your apartment and include the date and time. Also, mention what you’re planning to do if the repair isn’t made. Some states, like Illinois, allow tenants to repair and deduct or withhold rent until a problem is fixed. Check your state’s laws to see what next steps you’re able to take.
How long does my landlord have to fix the heat?
The law generally requires your landlord to make repairs in a “reasonable” amount of time—but what is considered reasonable changes based on the severity of the situation. Broken heat during the winter is considered an emergency by many states, and should be addressed ASAP.
Some city and state laws lay out specific timelines for repairs. In Chicago, for instance, your landlord is required to fix your heat within 72 hours of receiving written notice. In New York City, your landlord has to fix it immediately.
What if my landlord won’t fix the heat?
So, you’ve informed your landlord about your lack of heat and given them a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem—but nothing’s changed. You may need to take further action. Most states allow tenants to repair and deduct (that is, fix a problem on their own and subtract the cost from their next rent payment). The downside is that most states limit repair costs to the equivalent of one month’s rent, and a broken boiler might cost more than that to fix.
Another option is to withhold your rent payments until the heat is repaired. Fewer states allow rent withholding, and if you go this route, you have to be very careful to do it the right way. If you don’t follow the steps laid out in the law exactly, you could be evicted. The other downside to this strategy is that you’ll likely have to live without heat for much longer.
Your final option is to leave and claim constructive eviction, which means you’ll no longer be on the hook for rent payments. But constructive eviction is a tricky legal manuever, and if you don’t do it right, you can end up with an eviction on your record—so proceed with caution.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.
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