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Renting With No Heat? What Should You Do?

If you rent an apartment or freestanding home, you’re likely prohibited by your lease from engaging in any repairs or installations without prior consent from your landlord. However, your landlord’s failure to maintain your home’s heater in good working condition can literally leave you and your family out in the cold. Can you purchase and install your own heater without running afoul of your lease? What are you options?

Read on to learn more about your heating rights under state landlord/tenant laws, as well as steps you can take to ensure you stay warm this winter even if your landlord refuses to make basic repairs.

What should you do if your landlord refuses to repair your heater?

In some situations, your landlord may not be responsive to concerns about inadequate heat. If you live in one of the northern states (or any other state with low winter temperatures) there may be laws requiring your home or apartment to be at or above a certain temperature while outside temperatures are falling. If your landlord fails to repair a heating issue, causing your home to frequently dip below this minimum required temperature, you could possibly have a cause of action under state law.

Because state laws vary on this topic, you may want to contact an attorney, your congressperson, or someone else with the power to make a change for assistance in understanding your state’s laws and helping force your landlord to repair your heater. In some situations, you may be able to engage in “self-help” — repairing the heater yourself and then deducting these costs from future rent checks.

When can you purchase and install your own heater?

In most states, if you’ve followed the required steps to notify your landlord and permit him or her time to repair a non-functioning heater, you can purchase and install your own working heater — using your rent money to do so. Although you’ll want to consult an attorney before taking this step (as in some situations it may be a violation of your lease), if this is the only option to keep your home warm, you’re likely in the clear.

If you do deduct the purchase and heating installation costs of your new heater, you’ll be unable to uninstall it or take it with you when you change residences.

What type of heater should you choose?

The type of heater you’ll want to install in this situation depends largely upon your landlord’s reaction to your requests to repair the heater. In some cases, you may just need a temporary fix to keep your home warm while repairs are being performed. In other situations — and particularly if your landlord is absent or uncooperative — you may want a more permanent method.

  • Temporary

For a temporary heating method that can quickly be uninstalled or transported to a different home, you may want to invest in a space storage heater or kerosene heater.

A space storage heater is a type of space heater that operates to take advantage of off-peak electricity times (for homes with peak and off-peak billing) and stores electricity during off-peak hours to use for heat creation during peak hours. A kerosene heater uses a pilot flame and kerosene gas to create a combustion, and a fan to diffuse heat throughout the room.

Both heaters are able to be removed (or even hidden in a closet) at a moment’s notice, and are relatively inexpensive to purchase.

  • Permanent

If you’d like a more permanent heating method, you may want to simply replace your existing natural gas or oil heater with a more modern and efficient one. In most cases, these heaters can be installed for as little as $2,000, which you may be able to deduct from your rent until the full amount is recouped.

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