Is my landlord responsible for repairing a broken air conditioner?


Our air conditioner recently broke in the middle of summer and it is near unbearably hot here in Arizona. We've lived here the past 2 years and it was working fine. Our landlord is refusing to fix it and is putting the repair cost on us. Is this legal or does he have to repair it?


Your Arizona legislators are as adamant about the summer heat as you are. They made residential landlords responsible for maintaining not only the usual aspects of a rental (such as the roof and plumbing, electrical, and heating systems), but the air conditioning as well. (Az. Rev. Stat. § 33-1324(a)(4).) If the unit broke through normal use and the result of normal wear and tear, your landlord must fix it. (If you broke it, that's another story.)

If your landlord refuses to repair the unit, you have some options. Under Arizona law, failure to maintain the air conditioner makes the unit "unfit." That's a powerful term—it means that you can avail yourself of any of the following remedies.

  • Repair and Deduct. If the repair cost is less than $300 or one-half the monthly rent, whichever is less, you can notify the landlord of the problem (in writing), and if the problem isn't fixed within ten days, have it repaired yourself. Deduct the cost from the next month's rent, and supply an itemized statement. (Az. Rev. Stat. § 33-1363.)
  • Temporarily move out. After giving written notice, you can move out and stop paying rent. If the "reasonable substitute housing" costs more than the periodic rent, you can recover from the landlord the excess cost up to twenty-five percent of the periodic rent. (Az. Rev. Stat. § 33-1364.)
  • Withhold rent. If you remain but withhold rent and are then sued for eviction, you can defend on the grounds that the unit was unfit (your rent must be paid into an escrow account maintained by the court). (Az. Rev. Stat. § 33-1365.)
  • Permanently move out. When landlords fail to maintain rental premises to the extent that they become unfit, tenants have the right to move out, without responsibility for future rent.

Repairing the unit and deducting its cost from your rent is clearly the best option, because it will not involve a move or the risk of an eviction lawsuit (even one in which you'd have a good defense).

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