TEMPE, AZ (3 On Your Side) - Outside, the heat has been brutal. Inside Micah Ramirez's Tempe apartment, it's been downright dangerous. "It's been over 100 degrees upstairs," she told 3 On Your Side. "Downstairs, even with our portable air conditioner and three fans going, it's 84 degrees in the morning, and at night it hits about 93 or 94 [degrees]."
Last week, the air conditioning in Ramirez's apartment stopped working. She put in a work order, and a maintenance crew from the complex showed up to look at the problem. Days passed, and Ramirez says she wasn't getting any information about when it would be fixed. "It's ridiculous," she said.
3 On Your Side has received several similar complaints as temperatures in the Valley have soared.
"This is not just uncomfortable. This can be life-threatening," said Laura Bramnick, an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant issues. She says renters have rights when it comes to air conditioning. By law, landlords must have a reasonable amount of time to fix an air conditioner if it breaks, but it does have to be fixed.
"Air conditioning is considered health and safety, and among a lot of other things that landlords have to provide, they have to provide air conditioning," Bramnick said.
For tenants, the very first thing to do when the air conditioner goes out is to give the landlord a five-day notice. "You have to put it in writing, and that's the biggest mistake tenants make," Bramnick said. It's important to make the emergency phone call to get maintenance assistance as quickly as possible, but it's also critical to write a formal complaint. If there is a leasing office on-site, Bramnick recommends hand-delivering it and taking a video or photo to prove you did. If there's no office, she suggests sending an email and a certified letter through the mail as a backup.
"Once the five days has passed, if the landlord doesn't do the repairs, the tenant has a couple of options; they can terminate the lease and move out," Bramnick said. "They can also apply to the court for injunctive relief, and injunctive relief means that the court or the judge can force the landlord to fix the air conditioner."
Tenants might also be able to get a hotel room until their air conditioner is fixed, but there are limits. "The statute says that the landlord can pay up to 25% more than the rent is for the hotel," Bramnick explained. "Let's say your rent is $1,500 a month. That's basically $50 a day. If you add 25% on, that goes up to $62.50. You're not likely to find a hotel for that amount."
Ramirez and her family stayed put in their apartment. While 3 On Your Side was there, a repairman showed up to work on the air conditioner. "I just hope he can fix it," Ramirez said. "I'm frustrated."
Within a couple of hours, the unit was working. After almost an entire week without air conditioning, Ramirez and her family are finally comfortable again. But they say they're still stressed about the cost of the portable AC and fans they had to buy.
Arizona law does allow tenants to seek relief for repair costs incurred under a "self-help" rule, but Bramnick says that relief is capped at $300 unless a judge decides otherwise.