Tenant Rights and Hot Water
In just about every jurisdiction, landlords are required to provide tenants with a living space that is safe, healthy, and livable. The definition of what constitutes what must be provided to make the space this livable may vary, but one of the basic items that must be provided in every jurisdiction is hot water. If there is a hot water issue within a home, then it generally qualifies as being a 24 hour emergency repair. If the repair is not made after a written notification to the landlord is made, then the tenant may be able to break the lease without penalty. Depending on where the property in question happens to be, a lack of hot water may also allow the tenant to take the following actions if they choose not to move out without notice.
- Withhold their rent to make the repair on their own if there is no response from their written request for hot water repair.
- Pay for the repair needed to have hot water again and then charge this cost to the landlord through an invoice.
- File a lawsuit against the landlord for not providing conditions as indicated in the leasing agreement.
The reason why a tenant has these options is that landlord-tenant laws have an implied warranty of habitability included with every rental arrangement. Tenants have an expectation to live in a home that meets their basic needs. The structure should be intact, not develop mold, be susceptible to pests, and have hot water available.
What About Hot Water That Runs Out?
The provision that landlords must generally follow is to provide a “reasonable” amount of hot water. This means a tenant can potentially use up all of their hot water and the landlord would not be liable for this fact. For example: if a tenant takes a 45 minute shower every day and leave their child with no hot water for an additional shower, then this would be a tenant issue instead of a landlord issue. Where shades of gray begin to form are in how the hot water is provided compared to the size of the household that occupies a rental property. A single person, for example, could have a 20 gallon hot water heater and probably have their reasonable needs met. If a landlord rents a home to a six person household, however, that 20 gallon hot water heater isn't going to meet needs very efficiently. In the latter circumstance, the 6 person household could have a potential claim against a landlord who doesn't upgrade the hot water system.
Hot Water Is Considered a Major Repair
The problem that many landlords have with hot water repairs is that they tend to be expensive. If the hot water heater fails, then there is the cost of a new appliance and the emergency labor required to install it. There may need to be additional plumbing repairs needed to install the new unit. This type of repair could easily reach $1,000 or more, which might exceed the amount of rent that is paid each month. Because hot water is considered an essential service and a tenant right, it is always considered a major repair because it is needed to provide habitable conditions. Sometimes hot water can be considered a minor repair because it is being provided, but not in a way that is satisfactory to standards or preferences. No hot water would be a major repair. Having hot water that is heated to 5-10 degrees lower than what landlord-tenant laws stipulate would be considered a minor repair. Both would need to be completed, but minor repairs can often be completed in a 10 day window instead of a 24 hour window.
If a hot water heater is leaking, but still providing hot water, then a landlord may wish to consider it a major repair. After notifying a landlord of a leak, the tenant is not responsible for the maintenance of the hot water heater. This means the water can get into the walls, flooring, and other components of the structure and cause additional damage to the structure that may make it eventually uninhabitable. The statutes that govern hot water can vary somewhat from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but there is always a requirement to provide a water supply and a way to heat it up. You may be required to heat it to specific temperatures or provide specific amounts. Check your local laws if you're unsure to determine what tenant rights and hot water regulations must be followed so every rental unit can meet the legal standard.
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