Author Topic: reasonable length of time to go without heat  (Read 4098 times)

oregonian5

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reasonable length of time to go without heat
« on: January 09, 2016, 10:20:00 PM »
We have been renting a house for over three years.  Over the past three years the prop. management company has often been slow to fix things when they come up, but they do get taken care of eventually.  Earlier this week the furnace stopped working.  They sent someone from the HVAC company out that day, who determined it needed to be replaced.  The guy told me it could be get put on the schedule for the next day, as long as the owner approved it.  It has been around 30-34 degrees at night here, but I figured we could tough out one night and waiting till the next day seemed reasonable.  I guess the owner needed some extra time to think about it, because by the weekend it was still not fixed.  On Friday I was told it was scheduled for Monday.  When we pushed back a little about the wait, the prop. manager basically told us they were not legally obligated to do anything for us and that 6 days with no heat is not that big a deal.  They did provide us with a couple space heaters and said if we want anything else we needed to put it in writing.  My husband thinks we need to ask to not pay rent for the days we were without heat.  I feel inclined to just let it go, but I also feel bothered by the fact that they felt in no rush to get the work done the next day.  We have small children here and it has been a cold week.  I feel pretty squeamish asking for them to knock off rent, but my husband thinks we would be pushovers to just let it go.

I'm interested in what other landlords think of this, or other renters who have been through something like this.  What is a reasonable wait for a repair like this?  Is asking for some rental $ off reasonable?

MonkeyJenga

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2016, 10:43:01 PM »
When we pushed back a little about the wait, the prop. manager basically told us they were not legally obligated to do anything for us and that 6 days with no heat is not that big a deal. They did provide us with a couple space heaters and said if we want anything else we needed to put it in writing.

You should put all communication and requests in writing. That is good advice.

You need to research the law/regulations in your particular jurisdiction to determine whether you should pursue a rent reduction or other strategy.

fa

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2016, 10:43:29 PM »
I don't know about the laws in Oregon, but no heat in the winter for 6 days strikes me as completely unreasonable.  I think it is fair to say that you had greatly diminished enjoyment of the property for 6 days.  A reduction of rent seems in order to me.  Why not propose that to the landlord?  Six days rent is a lot of money and worth asking.  Plus that makes it clear to the landlord that his approach is not acceptable to you.

oregonian5

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2016, 10:49:56 PM »
Thanks for the replies!  When I researched the laws I found them to be pretty vague, with no definite time frame for this kind of thing.  I guess it can't hurt to ask for a rent reduction.  I felt a little worried about damaging the relationship with the property management company, but clearly they aren't worried about it with us so I should just get over that.

MonkeyJenga

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2016, 11:10:59 PM »
If they have already indicated that they have no responsibility to speed up the replacement, they are unlikely to grant you a rent reduction unless you show them the relevant statute that they're violating. Is there a city hotline you can call, or website you can submit your question to?

Personally I think you're justified, considering the outside temp and the fact that you have small children, but your management company doesn't care what I think. The space heaters do confuse the situation, though, since that may be considered an acceptable interim solution. I'm not a landlord, never dealt with this situation before.

ETA: When did they provide space heaters? That seems relevant, if you were without any heat for days.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2016, 11:13:55 PM by MonkeyJenga »

dilinger

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2016, 03:31:00 AM »
Take a picture of the temperature on your thermostat or just with a thermometer (maybe include a running space heater in the picture).  If the temperature is at an unreasonably low level while the space heaters are running, you could make an excellent case for rent reduction.  You need proof that it's dangerously cold in the house.

Google for tenant/landlord laws in your city and state.  Here's an example from WA state:

http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=59.18.115

It specifically says that a lack of working heat substantially endangers tenants, and that they must fix it within 5 days.  After 5 days, a tenant can have a state inspector come out to verify the condition to push for civil claims (money) against the landlord.  That inspection must happen within 5 days (so 10 days from the point at which a tenant had notified the landlord about a broken heating system).

Your state will most definitely have different laws and procedures, but the information should be online somewhere.  You may find one set of laws to be vague, while another to be better defined (ie, your county or city may have one set of rules, and state may have another).

Also, do you have contact information for the owner?  It may be worth contacting them directly to stress the urgency of the situation.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2016, 03:37:14 AM by dilinger »

neophyte

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2016, 07:03:53 AM »
I have heard it can be worth talking to the fire department for advice because they don't like situations where people are relying on space heaters to heat their homes. They might be willing to put some pressure on your property manager.

justajane

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2016, 07:14:38 AM »
This is completely unacceptable IMO. A rent reduction is in order, or, at the very least, a reduction to account for you having to run a more inefficient source of heat like a space heater. There's also the issue of safety that someone mentioned. Relying on space heaters for your primary source of heat is indeed dangerous.

I can't imagine that Oregon doesn't have some sort of regulations regarding this. Hopefully Cathy will weigh in and provide you some direction.

pbkmaine

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reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2016, 07:17:59 AM »
https://www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1259_Habitability.htm

Not Cathy, but this is an "essential service" and the landlord must fix it. What county are you in?
« Last Edit: January 10, 2016, 07:23:06 AM by pbkmaine »

oregonian5

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2016, 09:45:01 AM »
We are in Washington county.  I did find that page about habitability but I didn't think it said how many days this could go on.  It looks like we should talk to a lawyer.  It bothers me that it has to come to this and they won't just do just what's right instead of focusing on what they legally can get away with, but I guess that's their job to make as money as possible off the rental.  We don't have contact info for the owner.

dilinger

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2016, 11:00:02 AM »
Make sure you read https://www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1256_GettingRepairsMade.htm

It specifies 7 days for various things, and 48 hours for emergencies; without looking at the actual legalese, I'm betting based on that that you could make that the assumption for what a "reasonable" time frame is according to the law.

If it was me, I would probably stay in a hotel and then take the landlord to small claims court to pay for it if I feared that it was too cold for my kids or was concerned about the safety of space heaters.  We're talking about a serious burn hazard for young kids!

I wouldn't be too concerned about hurting the landlord's feelings.  While it may be personal for you, it's just business for them.  If they try to retaliate somehow (by not fixing things in the future, or something like that), you're probably better off finding a different rental in the long term.
 

Cathy

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2016, 11:03:46 AM »
I cannot and will not comment on the specific situation of the original poster, but I will post some general information about Oregon law that may be of interest.

Under the law of Oregon, a tenant can generally recover damages against a landlord if the premises are uninhabitable. ORS 90.360(2). A dwelling unit is considered uninhabitable "if it substantially lacks ... adequate heating facilities that conform to applicable law at the time of installation and maintained in good working order". ORS 90.320(1)(d). This statutory cause of action is analytically distinct from a claim of negligence. See Waldner v. Stephens, 200 P 3d 556, 562 (OR Supreme Ct 2008). Under a special statutory cause of action such as this one, "[n]egligence is irrelevant" and the only issue is whether the elements in the statute are satisfied. Doyle v. City of Medford, 337 P 3d 797, 825 (OR Supreme Ct 2014) (Walters, J, concurring) (quoting Chartrand v. Coos Bay Tavern, 696 P 2d 513, 517 (OR Supreme Ct 1985)). Furthermore, the courts may not supplement the statute by adding requirements not found in the text. See ORS 174.010 ("[T]he office of the judge is ... not to insert what has been omitted").

In 1998, the Supreme Court of Oregon took the above principles to their logical conclusion and held that a residential landlord is liable for uninhabitable premises even if the landlord was not aware of, and was never told about, the problems. Davis v. Campbell, 965 P 2d 1017. The Legislature of Oregon was displeased with that holding and overruled it by amending the statute to specifically state that a landlord is not liable if "[t]he tenant knew or reasonably should have known of the condition and failed to give actual notice to the landlord". ORS 90.360(2)(a). However, the Legislature did not overrule the more general principle behind the Davis ruling, which is that, as discussed above, for the purpose of the statutory cause of action, it does not matter whether the landlord is negligent; it only matters whether the dwelling is uninhabitable as defined in the statute.

Court decisions from other states are not binding on Oregon judges, but it is still instructive to observe that California has a similar statutory scheme and, under that scheme, the California Supreme Court has expressly held that "where ... a landlord has notice of alleged uninhabitable conditions not caused by the tenants themselves, a landlord's breach of the implied warranty of habitability exists whether or not he has had a 'reasonable' time to repair". Knight v. Hallsthammar, 29 Cal 3d 46, 55 (1981) (emphasis added). See also City of La Grande v. Public Employees Retirement Board, 586 P 2d 765, 782 (OR Supreme Court 1978) (Tongue, J, dissenting) (noting the value in Oregon decisions being "consistent ... with decisions by the courts of other states", where possible).

From the above principles, we see that "What is a reasonable length of time to go without heat?" is the wrong question. The right question is: Are the premises uninhabitable as defined in ORS 90.320(1)(d)? If the premises are uninhabitable, the landlord is generally already liable for damages, regardless of whether the landlord has been negligent in resolving the problem.

As mentioned above, a dwelling unit is considered uninhabitable if the heating facilities are not continued in "good working order" as defined by "applicable law". ORS 90.320(1)(d). The "applicable law" presumably includes residential and building codes governing the provision of heat in residential buildings. At the moment, I don't have time to delve into those codes to figure out what the "applicable law" governing adequate heating facilities might be in this case, but hopefully the above information is nonetheless of some assistance.


Make sure you read https://www.osbar.org/public/legalinfo/1256_GettingRepairsMade.htm

It specifies 7 days for various things, and 48 hours for emergencies ...

The part of the page that you are looking at is describing the conditions under which a tenant is entitled to end the tenancy prematurely (commonly referred to as "breaking the lease"). The requirements for that are more stringent than the conditions for the landlord being required to compensate the tenant financially, as described above.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2016, 12:48:41 PM by Cathy »

arebelspy

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2016, 02:31:04 PM »
Is asking for some rental $ off reasonable?

Yes.

Before further speculation occurs, you getting a lawyer, etc., talk to the landlord.

Ask about a rent reduction.  Give your reasoning why.  And give it in writing.

I have discounted rents before when A/C isn't working in Vegas, and HVAC companies are backed up.  I've even offered to put people up in hotels until it's fixed.  A rent reduction isn't unreasonable, but before you spin in circles too much, talk to the landlord.

Communication is the #1 key to good landlord-tenant relationships.
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Papa bear

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2016, 03:04:42 PM »

Is asking for some rental $ off reasonable?

Yes.

Before further speculation occurs, you getting a lawyer, etc., talk to the landlord.

Ask about a rent reduction.  Give your reasoning why.  And give it in writing.

I have discounted rents before when A/C isn't working in Vegas, and HVAC companies are backed up.  I've even offered to put people up in hotels until it's fixed.  A rent reduction isn't unreasonable, but before you spin in circles too much, talk to the landlord.

Communication is the #1 key to good landlord-tenant relationships.

+1. Talk to the landlord first and then if they don't remedy to your liking, then seek a lawyer. 

A rent reduction for the time without heat would be very reasonable in my opinion. 


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Blonde Lawyer

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2016, 04:58:56 PM »
I agree that they should be moving faster and that you should get some compensation for the trouble if it's actually costing you anything - like your electric bill is going up because of the space heaters or because you stayed in hotel.  If you were able to just live through it then I'm not entirely sure a rent reduction is appropriate.  I would also want to know what the delay was.  Was it because of the repair company or the landlord? Sometimes it can legitimately take a couple of days to get a service person out. 

I disagree that space heaters are dangerous unless we are talking about the old fashion gas ones.  The modern day electric ones that turn off automatically if tipped are very safe and I can't think of anyway one could burn themselves on it. 

accolay

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #15 on: January 10, 2016, 10:03:57 PM »
+1 to arebelspy

Check your local statutes. Communicate with landlord. Consult lawyer if landlord not forthcoming. Google says there are tenant's rights associations in Oregon that may be able to help with that.

How cold does it get there? Isn't your landlord worried about freezing pipes? If a landlord went without fixing the furnace ASAP in the winter here he'd have a flooded basement. Where I am, not having heat and anything under 60 degrees is an "emergency situation."

Legally, I have no idea what "reasonable" in your area is, but I'm betting that a tenant without heat for that long is against your states tenant laws. My own opinion and experience says it's unreasonable to go without heat in the winter for more than 24 hours (more like 12), something that a reasonable person would want fixed ASAP. I'd ask for the rent back for the days without heat because having heat is an essential service making the place unfit to live (by my own reasonable standards-check the law, bet it agrees with me.)

Could you follow up? I'd be interested in the result of your communication.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2016, 05:56:42 AM by accolay »

gliderpilot567

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2016, 10:22:24 AM »
I disagree that space heaters are dangerous unless we are talking about the old fashion gas ones.  The modern day electric ones that turn off automatically if tipped are very safe and I can't think of anyway one could burn themselves on it.

Contact burns and tipping are not the only hazards with these things. As a landlord I would be very hesitant to give out electric space heaters, because there's no way to control where the tenant puts them, or how many extension cords he uses. The additional hazards that these things pose are risk of igniting nearby materials (paper, bedding, curtains/drapes, etc) due to bad placement; or the risk of electrical fire in the cord/plug/extension cord/service wiring.

Next time you use a space heater, after letting it run for a bit touch your fingers to feel the cord and the plug. The cord itself and plug will be very warm - there are a LOT of amps flowing through there. This means the electrical socket and the wiring inside your wall all the way back to the distribution point, are also getting this warm. I don't like warm wires inside my walls. Not only that, but the wires inside the wall are carrying the load of any other things plugged into the same circuit, making them even hotter.... which is why multiple space heaters in the same plug are an especially bad idea. In theory, the wall wiring is rated for the amperage, and in theory, the breaker or fuse will protect you.... but you've got to have a lot of confidence that everything is reliable and has been built to code.

dilinger

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Re: reasonable length of time to go without heat
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2016, 09:35:09 PM »
I disagree that space heaters are dangerous unless we are talking about the old fashion gas ones.  The modern day electric ones that turn off automatically if tipped are very safe and I can't think of anyway one could burn themselves on it.

Contact burns and tipping are not the only hazards with these things. As a landlord I would be very hesitant to give out electric space heaters, because there's no way to control where the tenant puts them, or how many extension cords he uses. The additional hazards that these things pose are risk of igniting nearby materials (paper, bedding, curtains/drapes, etc) due to bad placement; or the risk of electrical fire in the cord/plug/extension cord/service wiring.

Exactly. I have a tenant who complained about lack of good heat circulation (forced air), and I discovered that he was using a space heater to make up for it.

I bought and installed a through-wall heat pump unit instead.  It was worth $600 for the peace of mind of knowing that he wasn't going to accidentally burn down the house, for his comfort (he's much happier/warmer now), and the reduced electricity costs.