Who is Responsible for the Air Conditioning? The Tenant or the Landlord?

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Living in South Florida, we all cherish our air conditioning. There just isn’t any way to live without it, especially during the brutal summer months. A central AC unit is something that has become a must have appliance in any rental that is large enough to be able to accommodate it.

But who is responsible for maintaining this appliance? What happens when it breaks? Is this something that the Landlord should pony up for or should your tenant be held responsible? After all, they are the ones using it and suffering the consequence of the steaming hot box that forms when the AC goes bust in the middle of August.

The short answer is that, in most cases, the Landlord is on the hook for ensuring that this most holy of appliances is in working order, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t hold our tenants responsible for general maintenance and care of the unit.

Sadly, the Florida Bar Association approved lease that all Realtors use tends to be very vague and mostly favors the tenant in cases related to maintenance of the property. This tends to create certain expectations by tenants that the landlord is going to cover all maintenance issues, which then leads to lots of deferred maintenance on the tenant’s part. Any half decent property manager will realize this, ditch the FARBAR approved lease, and design a new one from scratch–one that is rooted in the realities that come with caring for rental properties. Yes, it is the responsibility of the Landlord to provide a safe, clean, decent place to live but it is also up to the tenant to take care of their home and minimize the amount of wear and tear to the rental property–air conditioning unit included!

The lease agreement that we have developed over the years and that we require all of our tenants to sign is very specific when it comes to AC Maintenance and reads as follows:

Tenant is responsible for maintaining all HVAC systems. This includes changing all filters once per month, cleaning the outside AC unit with a garden hose to keep the coils free of dirt and debris and the unit functioning properly, pouring 2 ounces of bleach into the AC handler pipes to prevent clogging of the unit, changing batteries in the thermostat. Any service call charges for HVAC maintenance that is determined to be a result of Tenant not complying to the above-mentioned maintenance requirements will be billed 100% to the Tenant.

This of course does not absolve the Landlord of having to provide an AC unit that is in decent condition. If the AC unit is 30+ years old and hasn’t been serviced in years, it is almost guaranteed that it will not last, and should be replaced immediately, at the landlord’s expense. However, if the AC unit is only a few years old and has been properly maintained and kept clean throughout the years, it could last up to 30 years and any tenant living in the unit should be expected to continue to care for it to ensure it’s usable lifespan is maximized. This is what we strive for in our lease agreement and expect from all of our tenants.

This article is not meant to come across as a holier than thou edict against entitled tenants wanting to have everything done for them. The point we are trying to make is that we are all on this planet for a very short amount of time and entrusted to be the stewards of all our possessions until our time on earth is finished. There is an implied responsibility that we should be taking care of and cherishing all of our possessions. If a tenant is going to be using an AC unit and benefitting from it, then part of the responsibility of caring for it should fall back on them, regardless of who the “owner” is. Their name may not be on the deed but as the users of their appliances, they have the responsibility to care for them. This creates a healthy balance in the Tenant-Landlord relationship.

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