Phoenix officials rarely fine landlords despite rise in broken AC unit complaints

The City of Phoenix Requires that landlords keep air conditioner temperatures under 82°F.
Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 7:56 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The City of Phoenix is used to getting calls from tenants about air conditioning problems this time of year. But these last four weeks – temperatures exceeding 100 degrees have meant even more calls. But Arizona’s Family Investigates has learned few of those calls have resulted in landlords being cited and, ultimately, fined.

The city says it receives nearly 80 calls a day and tries to work with landlords. Phoenix officials say their goal isn’t to issue fines but to get the problem fixed. However, renters like Andres Reyes, with ongoing air conditioning issues, disagree with the city’s stance. Reyes argues more needs to be done.

“This has been going on for too long,” Reyes said. He says that the AC in his Phoenix apartment has been on the fritz since May. “It is blowing, but if you feel it, it doesn’t feel cold. It just feels a little cool,” Reyes said. Arizona’s Family Investigates saw firsthand as Reyes’ thermostat increased from 81 degrees to 84, a violation of the city’s cooling ordinance.

“I can’t go through two more months of staying in the heat. Like I have to have a proper home for my kid,” Reyes said. “It’s unbearable. It sucks because it’s me, my baby momma, and my daughter, and my daughter is only six months old,” he continued.

Stefanie Nader, a program manager with the City of Phoenix, says she advises tenants and landlords on their rights under state law. The first step for renters is to put their complaints in writing. “When it gets this high of temperatures, it’s dangerous. It’s life-threatening. So the landlord has 24 hours in which to respond,” Nader said.

Options For Renters

City officials will usually advise tenants to continue paying their rent in full and issue an invoice to their landlord for the repairs and other related costs to a unit.

Ken Volk with Arizona Tenants Advocates has been helping renters for 30 years. “It ranges from obtaining the service yourself, for example, renting an air cooling unit and taking the cost out of the rent,” Volk said. A renter can also stay at a hotel, according to Volk. The amount you’ll be reimbursed depends on how much you pay each month. If the problem continues, you might also be able to break your lease.

Caseworkers like Nader can also refer landlords to the city’s Neighborhood Services Department, which opens cases and conduct inspections. City inspectors can also issue a notice of violation, which could lead to a fine. The city says they’ve opened 40 cases just in the last month. “Those repairs do need to be made in a timely manner,” Nader said.

Reyes had a message for the property owner. “I appreciate your help and everything they’ve done to me so far, but I really just kind of want to terminate the lease,” he said. Phoenix officials say once a citation has been issued, the case goes before a hearing officer to determine if a fine should be given. They range from $100 to $2,500.

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