What are NC tenants’ rights when it comes to air conditioning problems?

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Local housing groups and FOX8’s On Your Side office have gotten several calls from tenants concerned their air conditioning units are broken.

Many are asking what the law is when it comes to requiring a landlord to fix the A/C.

North Carolina housing code requires a dwelling to have a heating system so that at least one habitable room can be heated to 68 degrees in the winter.

However, there’s not a numerical threshold defined for hot temperatures in the summer, said Greensboro Housing Coalition Executive Director Brett Byerly.

If a property owner provides an A/C system to a unit, he or she is required to maintain and fix it “promptly,” according to state law. But how many days is considered “prompt?” It’s a bit fuzzy.

“In court cases like this, most of the time judges require that the landlord has been making some sort of 'reasonable effort' to make repairs,” said Byerly.

So while a tenant may want a fix immediately, landlords may say they need time to get quotes, get an appointment with a company during the busy summer season and secure funds.

In the meantime, it can feel unbearable to a tenant. “Excess heat is a strong respiratory irritant that might send somebody’s who’s otherwise healthy into the hospital,” Byerly added.

As soon as a tenant notices any repair needs, he added, “Have the conversation with your property managers. Do it verbally. ‘Hey, my A/C isn’t working. It’s an emergency.’ Then follow up with a written request. Keep copies of that. Take pictures of it. If it’s an online submission to the property management company, take screen shots. Documentation will be extremely important if it ever goes to court later on.”

But don’t assume your landlord will pay you back if you pay for repairs or go to a hotel to escape the heat. They aren’t required to reimburse you for such expenses.

The Attorney General advises never to withhold rent, even if you believe they’re failing to make proper repairs. The only exceptions are if the landlord or judge gives you written permission.

GREAT RESOURCE: LANDLORD / TENANT RIGHTS BOOKLET FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

Lastly, Byerly said most landlords he’s worked with really want to do the right thing. His advice for property managers is to have some mobile cooling units on hand as a backup. Make sure to get A/C and heating units evaluated before the busy, hot season for any repairs. And consider hiring maintenance workers who are A/C certified. That way you can save a lot of time and money sending them out immediately when problems arise.