TEXAS, USA — Not long ago, when North Texas was looking at a very hot forecast, we received a message from a local apartment tenant living in a unit that was a stuffy, humid 81 degrees inside at night because the air conditioning wasn’t working.
Yet the forecast they were getting from the maintenance person didn’t look promising–basically a dismissive message that said it didn’t look like anything was really wrong with the A/C, despite the fact that it was blowing warm air.
The person asked us to let everyone know about a renter’s rights. We are not identifying this person in any way, to protect them from possibly being singled out by their apartment complex management, even though one renter’s right in Texas is that it is “Illegal for a landlord to retaliate against you for complaining in good faith about necessary repairs for a period of six months from the date you made such a complaint”, according to the renter’s rights page from the Texas Attorney General’s office.
A few other things tenants should know: You shouldn’t withhold rent if something needs fixing. You should put complaints in writing. You are expected to give the landlord a “reasonable” amount of time to fix things—usually 7 days—depending on the severity.
When reporting an item in need of a fix, you should be specific. When possible, put the complaint in writing, send it in a dated letter by registered mail or by certified mail with return receipt requested. Save any written responses (or voicemails), and make notes of verbal conversations. Note: Many items are not considered required repairs—like a dishwasher—unless your lease says they are.
Generally, issues that threaten your health or safety are considered must-fixes. So there is some interpretation to be done there. Some people would argue that a broken A/C with a hot forecast affects health and safety.
The Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas publish a Tenants' Rights Handbook. In addition to that, there is a landlord/tenant law guide book in Texas that contains a lot of information, including guidance on what should be considered mandatory maintenance and what might not qualify. It does say A/C “sometimes” qualifies.
Check with your city as well. Air conditioning is a mandatory maintenance item if it becomes, "Inoperable April 1st - November 1st and no window screens are provided” according to the city of Dallas, where this tenant lives.
After months of complaining about the same maintenance item, the renter who contacted us also reached out to the code compliance department at the City of Dallas. After that, the apartment complex management finally fixed the air conditioning.