Friday, June 26, 2009

I Need Your Advice - Landlord Problems

Help! I could use some advice from all you smart folks out there. I have a bit of a dilemma and would love some feedback. Okay, here's the scoop:

My tenant complained yesterday that her apartment is too hot. You see, we've been having some mighty hot and humid temperatures here in Michigan lately and her apartment is on the second floor and as we all know, heat rises. Actually pretty much everyone I've talked to is having the same problem, whether they have air conditioning or not. It is just the nature of 90+ degree days.

However... my ex is the one who rented her the apartment. She moved in April 2008, when he was still living in the house, before I had taken possession. When he rented it to her, he told her that the air was controlled by the owner's unit, but that the apartment temperature would always be comfortable. Sigh.... I could just kick him for telling her that. After all, comfort is a very relative term.

So here's the problem, my a/c unit is just not powerful enough to completely cool the upstairs. We knew that when we bought the house - the housing inspector told us. So, why my ex told her that is beyond my comprehension. It's an old, old house (100+ years) and big as a barn, so no matter how I set the air, in this weather the exterior temperature is going to warm up the interior air faster than the a/c can cool it. Even if I were to run the a/c at 50 degrees 24/7, it wouldn't cut it, at least not in this weather. So, what is a good landlord to do???

Here's the way I see it....

I don't think my tenant has lived in my neighborhood before. My neighborhood is made up of old Victorian homes like mine, that are mostly fun, hip, artsy rental units. Hers, for example, has hardwood floors, French doors, vintage cabinets, and a huge walk in cedar lined closet. However, the downside of living in these old beauties is that they frequently have some quirks - no air conditioning and funky heat are two of them. It is not the same as living in an apartment complex at all. Most apartments in these old houses don't have any a/c at all, so past tenants have just been grateful for whatever they got and knew they would need a window unit and some fans... it is just the way it goes, but no, my ex promised this one that it would be comfortable.

My house is 3/4ths mine and 1/4th her apartment. I have the whole downstairs and half of the upstairs. So, I have gone through and closed several of the downstairs vents, in an attempt to push the air upstairs. Then I closed all my upstairs vents, to then push it into her unit. See, I am used to living without a/c - I don't really need it, so I don't care if it goes to her.

Then I wrote her an email explaining the problem with the a/c. What some people don't realize is that it doesn't matter what temperature you set the air conditioning to, the air coming out of the unit is the same temperature. In other words, whether I set the air conditioner to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 7 degrees, or 7 below zero, the air coming out of the grate is still the same. The unit will pour out that cold air until the ambient temperature in the house hits the setting on the thermostat, and then it shuts off. However, if the weather is hot enough, the space big and drafty enough and the a/c unit not powerful enough, then it will just keep running continually, but never be able to lower the temperature all the way. That's what's happening. Now, what do I do about my sweating tenant? I have already gently explained the problem and closed the vents on my side of the house - I could just leave it there, and maybe I should. However, she has been a good tenant and I would like to keep her around. She's quiet, pays her rent on time and keeps the apartment in nice condition. Do I:

1.) Hope that what I have done is enough and be grateful that the temperatures should be getting cooler next week? (Although July and August are going to be hot, I am sure.)

2.) Buy her a fan for the apartment? I did that with a supplemental heater this winter. Fans are cheap and it would show that I care.

3.) Investigate a separate a/c unit for her apartment. Although remember, I have limited funds. I would be interested to know if there was some kind of stand alone or wall mounted electric heat/air conditioning unit though. That would solve a lot of problems.

4.) Investigate a better house-wide a/c system? Again, limited funds here.

5.) Something else????

What would you do if you were the landlord? What would you want done if you were the tenant?

Photo by: molamoni


Anonymous said...

I think you should get her an in window unit...
I am frankly surprised AC is included in her renting at all...I am in Boston, where no-one I know in the city or in the suburbs has central air.
Any place I have ever lived, growing up and as as adult, if you wanted AC you bought your own window unit, shut the doors so you cooled only one room and laid in front of the window unit..ha.

I think by buying her a $100 window unit you could solve the problem.

but then again I am amazed that she would even complain since houses like yours usually do not have AC.

Anonymous said...

What about those units that they have in motel rooms? Heat, cool, go through the wall. It might lower the value of the home, though, to punch a hole in the wall. A window air conditioner might be a better choice, to use in the summer and she can use the heater you already bought in the winter. I do think it would be nice of you to buy her a window A/C unit. And let me tell you - your landlord problems are nothin'! :D

Dawn said...

Anonymous - You are right. I wouldn't have included it at all. Had it been up to me I would have said something like, "You see these nifty vintage cast iron grates? Some a/c from the downstairs will come up through, as will some heat, however, for extreme temperatures you may want a window a/c unit, a fan or small space heater." Like you, that is how 98% of apartments are in my neighborhood - any a/c you get would be a huge bonus. When I was a renter I remember sleeping on the living room floor in front of the window a/c unit!

If I can find a window a/c for $100 that might be an option. I checked at Lowe's and they were all running $200+ yesterday, but we are in the middle of a heat wave, so maybe the lower price ones sold out. Hmmmm...

Dawn said...

Anonymous - I was thinking something along the same lines. I wouldn't mind putting a hole through the wall, as it might increase the value of the apartment, as in the next renter would want it more because a/c is such a huge rarity where I live. So, I could increase the rent. I don't know where to get one of those though, and I am a bit afraid of what they might cost! Still, it would be an option to consider...

Michelle said...

Does the tenant have her own electricity bill? If it's still your bill, I highly advise keeping the temp downstairs at your comfort-level and buy an energy star window unit. I can almost guarantee your whole-house unit is about 25% as efficient as the newer energy-star models. You can get a 10,000 btu unit that will cool 500 sq. ft. with a programmable thermostat (like, off during the day, comes back on when tenant comes back from work) for less than $400. And if it is a long hot summer, you could prevent your electricity bill from going up a commensurate amount over the two months trying to meet the tenant's expecations! And, you're prepared to offer a perk should you decide to keep renting that part of the house out after this tenant leaves.

Dawn said...

The tenant does pay their own electric. However, I don't have $400 right now. I would like to look at options like that for the future, but for now I need to keep my options as low as possible. Thanks for the thoughts!

Divorced Lifestyle said...

I would tell her the steps that you have taken, and if she is still not comfortable, she will have to buy an air conditioner.

Unless she has the "comfortable" clause in writing, it is a verbal agreement between the past landlord and her, and I doubt that you would be bound to it.

Kari said...

a renter in MI, I have only been in one apartment that didn't have central air.

Now I will not rent an apartment that doesn't have it, it isn't fun to sleep in the living room especially with a kid that will stay up all night if you do.

One of the things you run into if you buy that window unit is that you are rersponsible for maintaining it if it breaks... yikes!

Moonblossom said...

I'm a renter and honestly I would never tell my landlord its too hot buy me a fan or a/c! We bought our own window unit for our rental house for days when it too hot and we have fans all over our house. I would say I'm sorry old houses don't have a/c you are free to buy a window unit if you want to and if she leaves let her take it with her.

jc said...

As a renter (who most recently rented a small room in a 100+ year old house) I always had to provide my own AC so I think she has it good to begin with using some of yours. I'm in New England so here the biggest problem is humidity.

If you had slightly more cash (and it's humid out there as well) I would suggest doing what I did. I got one of the AC units that sits in the room and just a tiny hose goes out of the window, it has a dehumidify feature that barely uses any electricity (I think running it all month just on dehumidify my bill went up $20 compared to $200 for the AC setting) and it made my apartment absolutely freezing. It is a Whirlpool and I got it a few years ago so perhaps you could find one used on Craigslist for the apartment?

You might also remind her to pull the blinds on the south side of the apartment.

Since she pays her own electric bill though, it may be easier to just get her a cheap window unit.

Catie said...

I am with Divorced Lifestyle; you didn't want to be a jerk about it but the "comfortable" nature of her apartment is somewhat beyond your control. It is comfortable except in extreme situations. Politely remind her it's an olddddd home. You have been a great landlord to her. I don't feel it's your responsibility to provide a window unit. And indoor stand alone units are really expensive.

One thing you might check into - aren't there 'boost' fans that you put in the duct/grate area to pull more heat/air up? Seems I have heard of this.

Dawn said...

Divorced Lifestyle - Good point! I'll glance through the lease again to be sure, but you are right - I am sure it was a casual comment made by the past owner of the house.

Kari - very, very good point! I don't want to be responsible for that - especially since window units can fall out of windows.

Moonblossom - See, I am the same way! I have lived in apartments for years. I just added sweaters in the winter and fans in the summer. That's why this is so weird to me.

JC - Good point about the south side curtains - she has windows on that side and it does heat up. I did look at those air cooler options and those were really interesting. Thanks for the tip!

Catie - Actually, my boss (who I also talked about this with) suggested putting fans over the a/c vents to help pull cool air up. That's what he does in his home. So, I think I am going to take some advice that I got here and tell her some inexpensive options (lowering blinds, fans over vents) and also what you said about comfy in all but extreme temps.


Miss M said...

A window AC unit would be nice, but it might not be as easy as you think. Can your electrical system handle the additional load, I know it can't in my old house. My window AC is running off an extension cord to the basement cause it's the only other circuit in the house! The house circuit blows if I try to plug it into a house outlet. Also you will need to build a support or bracing for the AC unit, not easy on the 2nd floor. I'd offer a fan instead, less hassle.