Boiler Service and Maintenance – What Every Landlord Should Know

By Guest Author | proptech | April 21, 2021

Nobody likes to wake up in the morning and discover that they only have icy cold water to shower with. That would ruin anyone’s day, no matter how prone they are to looking at the bright side of life. If you’re a landlord and this happens to one of your tenants, it’s safe to assume they won’t be too happy with the situation.

Sure, they can heat some water on the stove and take a sponge bath, but this isn’t a long-term solution. They’ll most likely call you in hopes that you’ll get it sorted out as soon as possible.

As the landlord, you are required by law to make sure the properties you rent provide your tenants with a safe and healthy environment. If they no longer have access to hot water because of a broken boiler, it’s up to you to fix it. This falls under the implied warranty of habitability along with:

— Following building codes
— Regular plumbing inspections
— Regular electrical inspections
— Regular fire inspections
— Providing garbage bins
— Providing running water
— Reliable heating
— A reasonable degree of protection against criminal intruders
— Performing repairs to maintain vital services like heat, running water, hot water, electricity, or gas.

Regulations can vary by state, so you should make sure you know which ones apply to your area. Usually, you can get this information from the local building or housing authority, as well as the local health and fire departments.

The implied warranty of habitability is non-waivable, so you can’t absolve yourself from this legal obligation by asking for lower rent, for instance. Any agreement in this regard will not be upheld in court.

If your tenant calls you and complains that they don’t have hot water, you’ll have to arrange an appointment with a technician. If your boiler is still under warranty, you can call the number provided in the warranty since the technician has to be approved by the manufacturer, or you risk having your warranty invalidated. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure your tenant doesn’t try to fix the boiler themselves, or you can lose the warranty.

The lack of hot water might not even come from the boiler, but from the pipes, in which case, you’ll need to call a plumber.

If the boiler is more than eight to twelve years old, it may not make financial sense to have it repaired since, in the long run, the cost of repairing it might exceed the price of a new one. Newer boilers last much longer and come with a warranty. With that being said, boilers aren’t cheap, so if you want to find a solution quickly but can’t afford a new boiler, nor do you want to keep investing repairs for an old boiler that will keep causing problems, you might want to look into some boiler rental companies.

How Long Do I Have To Fix the Boiler?

If a broken boiler prevents your tenants from having access to sufficient hot water, it breaches the implied warranty of habitability, which means that it needs to be addressed as soon as possible. It’s unacceptable to leave your tenants without access to essential utilities for more than a few days without doing anything to remedy the problem. As long the problem was not caused by the tenants themselves, it’s your legal obligation as the landlord to make sure your rented properties can provide hot water at all times.

Keep in mind that while heating might now be considered essential outside of the cold season, hot water is necessary during all seasons. Your tenants might be able to access hot water through alternatives like heating it on the stove, but that doesn’t mean you can hold out on making the necessary repairs.

However, even if you have the best of intentions, fixing a broken boiler or replacing it can take more than a few days, in which case you might want to consider offering to pay for temporary accommodation until the repairs are done.

If you fail to repair the boiler in a reasonable amount of time, your tenants have several options.

One would be to withhold rent until you make the required repairs. There are, of course, specific protocols they have to follow, which include giving you a formal notice and then filing a complaint. Then the rent they would pay you will be deposited in another account withheld by the court. The protocols vary by area.

For example, if your property is located in New York City, your tenant would have to file a complaint with 311. This would trigger an inspection from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to see if they really don’t have hot water. If that is the case, you’d be issued a violation.

In some states like, for instance, Connecticut, tenants have the right to arrange for the repairs themselves. They’ll have someone come and fix the boiler and deduct the fee from the rent. They’d first have to notify you verbally and in writing, and if you fail to respond to their request, they can hire someone.

As a last resort, your tenants can choose to break the lease, move out of the property and file a constructive eviction lawsuit against you. To win the lawsuit, they would have to prove that you had been notified of the issue but failed to make the repairs and that they also notified you of their intention to break the lease, vacate the property and file a constructive eviction lawsuit against you.

If you can’t put up a strong defense, you may have to pay penalties and damages to the tenant for the discomfort the situation caused them.

In regards to your right to enter the property to make the repairs, as you may already know, you are required by law to notify your tenants that you intend to enter the rented property 24 or 48 hours in advance, or they can sue you and claim harassment.

However, when it comes to emergency repairs, you are allowed to enter without giving notice. In some areas, you may also enter the property if the tenant is away for an extended length of time if you have to inspect the rental unit to make sure that it still complies with the implied warranty of habitability and make repairs if needed.