How cool is cool enough?

July 26, 2011 4:24:25 PM PDT
The best place to beat the heat is inside the air conditioned comfort of your home. But if you live in an apartment, you may be surprised to learn just how cool is cool enough. The city of Houston actually has an ordinance on the books that regulates how cold an apartment must get and it may not cool you down.

Do you know anyone who keeps their air conditioning set at 80 degrees? Well, that's how cool city apartments must be when it's 100 degrees outside. If the AC breaks down, don't be surprised if it takes time for it to be repaired.

Shawn Foster has to fix his car, so he has no choice but endure the summer heat.

"It is too hot, man, unbearably hot," he said.

When he goes home, Foster says the cool air is already waiting for him.

Foster said, "I like to keep it on 70, you know what I am saying, during the day and then at night I like to crank it lower."

While that will keep Foster cool, Houston apartment dwellers may be surprised to learn their complex air conditioner only has to cool a certain amount.

"What the city ordinance says is basically 20 degrees below the outside temperature," explained University of Houston law professor Richard Alderman. "So if the high temperature is 94 or 95 and the air conditioning will cool to 74 or 75, that is sufficient."

Alderman says it may be hard to believe, but the city of Houston does not require AC units in apartment complexes at all.

"If you can believe it, a landlord does not have an obligation to provide air conditioning, assuming the tenant agrees and assuming the landlord provides windows that open and shut and screens," Alderman said.

Of course, everyone has the right to not lease an apartment without AC and most complexes do provide air conditioned comfort, according to the Houston Apartment Association. So if the AC goes out, what should renters do about it?

Kim Small, president of the Houston Apartment Association, advised, "Pick up the phone and send something in writing stating that there is a problem with their air conditioning, that way you have got both of them covered."

While complexes do fix broken units, the law gives landlords a reasonable amount of time to make repairs.

"Sometimes they are really backed up, there are a lot of requests that go out because all of the ACs are running full blast and things do break down," Small said.

So how long is a reasonable amount of time? If it takes a few days to get a part, and then a day or two to make the repairs, it could be a week. The key is as long as the complex is making every effort to fix the problem, it's considered reasonable.

If your landlord is not making the effort, you can make the repairs on your own and then go to court to recover the repair costs.

Most of this is covered in your lease, so be sure to read it over. If the AC does break down, then let the complex know in writing.

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