Does a Landlord Have To Provide Air Conditioning in California?

18 Apr, 12:43 pm

California may be the land of ocean breezes, but it is also a state that has been struck with heat waves.

The temperature can get so high during summer that ditching the AC isn’t even an option. 

So, before you lose your cool, discover your rights regarding air conditioning systems in California in this article.

The Basic California Landlord-Tenant Law: Landlord Obligations for Habitable Premises 

According to the California Civil Code, landlords must ensure their rental property is habitable and safe for possible tenants. [1] 

With that, they must meet certain conditions, such as ensuring proper gas, plumbing, and electric utilities and installing locks and security systems. 

If the landlord doesn’t comply with these rules, the lessor can deduct the cost of repairs from his rent or leave the property without constraints. 

A landlord may likewise be held liable for breaches of security that may occur on his rental property if the unsafe act or condition could have been prevented or foreseen. These rules are meant to protect the safety and physical health of the tenant.

So, Does a Landlord Have To Provide Air Conditioning in California?

Apartment blocks with aircons in California

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No, landlords are not required to provide air conditioning systems in California.

While they must comply with California’s habitability laws, it doesn’t cover providing tenants with a cooling unit. At the very least, they must equip their rental properties with proper ventilation.

And proper ventilation means that all rooms must have vents, a fan, or at least a window that measures 20 by 24 inches at a minimum and opens at least halfway unless a fan provides mechanical ventilation. [2] 

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The Law If Your Rental Unit Already Had an Operable Air Conditioning System When You Moved In

If your rental unit already had a working air conditioning when you moved in, your landlord may be required to pay for the cost of its repair, depending on how the damage occurred and the type of AC.

The main determining factor is when the air conditioning system is included in your lease contract if it’s something the landlord provides. The good news is some landlords in California provide what is considered as an optional “cooling unit,” such as a portable AC or a window.

In this situation, the optional cooling unit will be considered an optional amenity not included in the lease agreement. So, if it needs repairs, you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket.

Tenant holding aircon remote

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Handling AC Repair: Normal wear and tear

Another determining factor will be how the damage happened

If a functioning air conditioner is covered in your rental agreement and it breaks down because of negligence on your landlord’s part or due to normal wear and tear, the landlord is responsible or shall cover the cost of repairing it.

Handling AC Repair:  Neglectful behavior by the tenant or tenant’s guests

Conversely, if the air conditioner is damaged because of the fault of the tenant or one of their guests, the tenant should handle the necessary repair.

On the part of landlords, they can release themselves from A/C maintenance responsibility in the agreement by putting it in writing – that the tenant is responsible for or shall handle the cost of fixing it.

When a Broken Air Conditioner Breaches the Warranty of Habitability

Although landlords don’t have to provide an air conditioning system in California, tenants can argue that a broken A/C system leads to unbearable heat that breaches the warranty of habitability.

An exception to this rule is when you have a heating-air conditioning system at the beginning of the tenancy.

Still, landlords face competition to attract tenants. That’s why they wouldn’t usually hesitate to provide an air conditioning system in their unit.

Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, ensure that the terms in your lease agreement regarding AC replacement and repairs are fair and legal between both parties.

Documentation is key for landlords dealing with a broken air conditioner or anything regarding a tenant. Keeping accurate documentation ensures your cash flow is under control and will also provide protection when an agreement is breached.

Landlord-tenant relationships are typically very casual until things go wrong. It ends up as a he-said-she-said argument without documentation. 

It’s always better to be prepared in case a dispute arises, and it goes all the way to court, something that landlords want to avoid. A good lease agreement will indicate the landlord and tenant’s obligations in case the AC gets broken and how the tenant can wait for a repair.

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Disability Accommodations

What if you or someone in your family has acquired a disability involving an allergic reaction, requiring them to live in an environment with highly regulated air quality?

In that case, remember that the Federal and California State fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on handicap and disability. A landlord’s refusal to allow the render to reasonably modify the living space to make it comfortable and safe can be considered discrimination against people with disabilities.

For disability accommodation, the renter must ask approval from the landlord before modifying their operational air conditioning system. 

That’s when the landlord can ask for a reasonable description of the air conditioning units. The landlord must also request proof that the unit or units will be installed efficiently.

California law also allows landlords to seek validation for such disability accommodation. For instance, they may ask for a letter from a physician that the air conditioning system is necessary for the enjoyment and use of the apartment. 

Yet, both federal and state laws prohibit landlords from asking about specific disabilities or even divulging medical records. If the air conditioning modification infringes too heavily on the landlord’s business concerns or interests, they may refuse the tenant’s request for modification.

Length of Time To Fix Air Conditioning California

When the air conditioning breaks from natural forces, normal wear and tear, or other causes over which the tenant has no control, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it and cover the costs.

In this case, landlords have 30 days to fix the air conditioning when the tenant notifies them of the damage. Landlords can consider implementing the following rules when it comes to notifying them of inoperational AC:

  1. Tenants must call the landlord or the maintenance department when the AC fails.
  2. Tenant must provide contact information and their address or unit number to schedule a repair time.
  3. Tenant must send a written notice, such as an email, detailing the current date, the date when the air conditioning unit breaks, and other related information about air conditioning maintenance. 

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Having the air conditioner inspected by maintenance professionals before the hot weather, once a year, or at the end of a lease, can make a difference. These preventative measures can help landlords and tenants avoid costly damage in the future.

If landlords don’t make the repairs quickly enough, tenants can take the following course of action:

  • Abandon the unit – If the repair would cost more than a month’s rest or the problem is making the property unlivable, the tenant can abandon the unit.
  • Repair and deduct – Tenants can hire contractors themselves and simply deduct that cost from their next rental payment.
  • Sue – It’s the landlord’s job to fix the air conditioning units, that’s why.
  • Withhold rent – They don’t have to pay until the problem is fixed, especially if it is considered dangerous.
  • Call state or local health inspectors – This is the last resort of law in communal living situations.

Other Landlord Legal Responsibilities in California

Now that you know about the laws on air conditioning in California’s rental properties, let’s learn more laws that affect landlords and tenants.

1. Comply With Anti-Discrimination Laws

California landlords are legally allowed to reject potential tenants based on negative references from past behavior or previous landlords, such as paying rent late and a bad credit history. 

However, they should not discriminate based on the prospective tenants’ race, familial status (for example: having children under 18 years old), religion, national origin, and physical or mental disability. These are considered protected categories under the 42 U.S. Code § § 3601-3619 and 363. [3] 

2. Prepare a Legal Written Rental Agreement

Problems in landlord-tenant relationships when landlords include illegal clauses in the rental agreement or lease, such as waiver of responsibility to keep the property habitable or failure to make legally required disclosures.

So, it’s important to prepare a legal written agreement to set out the contractual basis of your relationship and the full business details. These include how long the tenant will occupy the property and the cost of the rent.

The agreement must be taken together with the local, state, and federal landlord-tenant laws.

rental agreement tenants california

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3. Respect Tenant’s Privacy

California landlords must provide a 24-hour notice before entering a rented property to present it to other potential renters or make necessary repairs. They should also give a 48-hour notice for a move-out inspection.

Landlords can include in their agreement a clause about their right of entry and to let tenants know about it. Keep these written records of your requests when entering a rented property.

4. Don’t Retaliate Against a Tenant Who Exercised a Legal Right

It is illegal for a California landlord to retaliate against a tenant who only exercised their legal right, including:

  • Complaining to a government agency, like a health or building inspector, about illegal or unsafe living conditions;
  • Complaining to the landlord about illegal or unsafe living conditions;
  • Exercising a legal right allowed by local or state laws, like withholding the payment until repairs are made; and
  • Assembling and proceeding their views collectively, like organizing or joining a tenant union.

The kinds of retaliation covered by the California law include filing an eviction lawsuit, terminating a tenancy, decreasing services (for example: prohibiting the use of the laundry room), and increasing the rent. The state law presumes it as retaliation if the acts are done within 180 days after the tenant exercises a legal right.

5. Follow Procedures for Evicting a Tenant

California law specifies how and when a landlord may terminate a lease agreement. For instance, landlords must provide tenants enough time (three days) and notice to tenants who engage in illegal activity on a rented property.

You Deserve a Cool and Safe Home

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We hope this guide has helped you understand your legal rights to a livable space in California. On the part of landlords, we hope this helped you become a better and more successful property owner.

TL;DR: California rental laws provide that all rental units comply with habitability requirements, including plumbing, heating, electrical, and gas systems. Landlords are not required to provide a new tenant with heat and air conditioning systems.

As you may already know, landlord-tenant law varies between cities and states. To avoid the hassle of lease agreement conflict, consider working with a trusted property management company that is well-versed in your area’s landlord-tenant laws beyond the rules surrounding the AC unit.

Their professionalism, expertise, and experience can save you time and money and garner more profit without working so hard.

Lotus West Properties is a premier property management company in the greater Los Angeles area. 

If you’re looking for a property of any size or searching for someone to take care of your building in California like their own, please give us a call. We’d be more than happy to assist you.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice. Please consult an attorney licensed to practice law in your area if you have specific legal questions.

Article Sources:

[1] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes

[2] https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/California-Tenants-Guide.pdf

[3] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/chapter-45