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What to do if the air conditioner unit breaks in your rental

When a Valley woman couldn't get her apartment community to help her with her air conditioner. She turned to On Your Side's Susan Campbell.
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 10:28 AM MST
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GLENDALE (3TV/CBS 5) - Outside, the sun is scorching. Inside Toni Davis’ Glendale apartment, it’s hot and getting hotter. “It’s 95 degrees in my apartment in the middle of the day,” she told On Your Side.

Davis’ air conditioner broke three weeks ago. “Later on in the week it’s supposed to be 114 degrees, and I have no sign of a date for a fix,” she said. Fans and even a portable air conditioning unit that her apartment complex provided can’t keep up with the heat. “I have a kidney transplant. I take transplant medications every day. I’m not supposed to be in extreme heat,” Davis said. “It’s sweltering.”

With dangerous temperatures in the forecast, a broken air conditioner can quickly become a serious health hazard. “It’s 100% an essential service,” said Yash Pahwa, a Phoenix attorney who specializes in renters’ rights and consumer issues. “Courts have acknowledged that in Arizona, air conditioning is an essential service.” While renters have rights under Arizona state law if the air conditioner breaks, the process takes time. It begins with a notice to the landlord.

“Send it via email or the portal because those are the quick ways to get a hold of them, but also make sure you send a copy certified mail or hand-delivered to your leasing office just so you’re in compliance with the statute,” Pahwa suggested. If the landlord does not resolve the issue within five days, renters have a couple of options. “You can choose to terminate your lease and leave, which honestly isn’t really that great of an option, because where are you going to go,” Pahwa said. “The other option is you can hire your own contractor to come and do the work.”

There are limits to that option. Whoever you hire must be licensed to do the job, and they must sign a waiver of lien. “Make sure you keep your receipts,” Pahwa said. “The other thing to keep in mind is you can only self-deduct up to half a month’s rent, so if your rent is $1,000 a month and you spent $600 fixing the thing, you can only deduct $500 from your next month’s rent.”

Renters can also go to a hotel or temporarily rent somewhere else, but there are significant limits to that, too. “The landlord only has to reimburse you for 25% over what your rental rate is,” Pahwa said. “So divide your rent by 30 days. If your rental rate is $50 bucks a day, you’re only allowed 25% over that, so if the hotel is $200 a night, you’re only going to get maybe a third of that, and the rest is out of pocket.”

That’s not an option for Davis, so she stayed put in her apartment. After On Your Side reached out to Rise48 Communities, which manages the property, the company provided a second portable air conditioning unit and promised Davis her air conditioning unit would be repaired or replaced as early as Wednesday. “I don’t think I would have gotten this far without you guys,” Davis said.