DennisBeaverAugust 9, 2018 • By Dennis Beaver

It’s March. You have just moved into a cute little rental house in California’s Central Valley, where summer temperatures are routinely – dangerously – well over 100 degrees. Within days the air conditioner fails, and a frustrated repair technician says, “I have been warning the owner and property manager for the past four years this entire system needs to be replaced, but they just have me putting Band-Aids on it.”

Anyone who has lived in this part of the country long enough has thought, “What if it fails in July or August?” Fear is the operative word. For families with young children and the elderly, properly functioning air conditioning is a “Keep out of the hospital” pass.

Your kids are 8 and 3.

Now, it’s July. Temperatures have been over 100 for days and the A/C quits. Not sensing any urgency, the property manager brings one window unit – one window unit for an entire house? What. This gal wasn’t just behind the door when common sense was handed out, she wasn’t in the building. Stamped on her forehead are the words: Uncaring incompetent.

With the house unlivable, your children are tearfully sent to live with relatives. The property manager is taking her sweet time looking for the best deal for a new A/C, and in reply to your request for a partial rent reduction, states, “The owner is thinking it over.”

“Thinking it over?” What’s to think over? If you rent a home with A/C that can’t be lived in due to a preventable failure, obviously a rent reduction of some type is in order. And the failure to treat tenants the way they deserve to be treated is exactly why many landlords and property managers are hated.

What should she have done? What would a competent property manager do? Finally, what choices should a tenant be offered?

 ‘You must care about the welfare of your tenants – Don’t pass the buck’

Pasadena-based property manager Anthony Dolan described a similar incident facing renters in a home located in the San Fernando Valley where temperatures exceeded 105 degrees for days.

“You must care about your tenant’s welfare. This was a family with both young children and elderly grandparents who were not in good health. The home was clearly not habitable, creating a dangerous situation. We treated this as a true emergency giving the owner the choice of putting the family up in a hotel, or installing window air-conditioners in each room while the entire system was being replaced.

“Dennis, just like the situation you describe, the middle of summer with a failed A/C isn’t the time to go shopping for the best price. Within two to three days, any home system can be replaced, and that’s what a competent and caring property manager should work towards,” he points out.

Property managers have authority to act but often pass the buck

Dolan has little respect for “so-called property professionals” who refuse to act in a tenant’s best interests when emergency repairs must be accomplished, and who give as an excuse, “We can’t reach the owners,” or “We don’t have that authority.”

“Property management companies have the legal authority to make necessary repairs, and, as they receive rent on behalf of the owner, usually have adequate money on hand. It’s not just legally required to properly maintain a rental, but it makes good business sense. A happy tenant pays the rent on time, doesn’t give you any trouble, and protects the owner’s investment. Just think, as an owner, you are entrusting real property worth thousands of dollars to this tenant. Treat them right and they will treat you right,” Dolan emphatically states.

A problem-solving, fair lawyer enters the scene

As I’m sure you have concluded, we are talking about readers who contacted You and the Law when the kids were with family members and both mom and dad were literally sweating it out in the house, confined to the one room with a window air conditioner.

We phoned the property management company, asking for their help in a rent reduction pending the home A/C system being replaced, but were bluntly told, “Speak with our lawyer, Mr. X.” and then hung up on. Nice.

As luck would have it, “Mr. X” is a rare breed of lawyer, a fair man and dedicated problem solver.

He agreed this was no time for anyone “to think over” a rent reduction, as fundamental fairness demanded it. We arrived at a figure and within days of our conversation, a new A/C system was installed.

“A/C up and running. House cool. Kids home!” texted our reader.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.