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Housing and Homelessness

Shivering In Your LA Apartment? Here’s What To Do If Your Landlord Isn't Providing Heat

Person with light-tone skin heats their hands at home over a portable radiator.
Cold apartment? You a have a right to heat.
(Tennessee Witney/Getty Images
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The weather in Los Angeles is famously sunny and warm — except when it’s not. This week, the National Weather Service issued its first Southern California blizzard advisory since 1983.

L.A. winters do occasionally bring uncomfortably low temperatures. And when the mercury drops, renters in L.A.’s notoriously poorly insulated housing should know that they are legally entitled to adequate indoor heating.

If you’re a renter, here’s what to know about your rights.

What the law says about heat in rental housing

Javier Beltran, deputy director of the L.A.-based Housing Rights Center, said landlords must provide heating in order for a rental unit to be considered habitable under state law.

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“If they don't have heating facilities, or don't have a heater in the unit, then legally they cannot rent the unit out,” Beltran said. This standard is set out by California’s civil code section 1941.1, and it applies across the state.

The city of Los Angeles has rules that spell out heating requirements in greater detail. Under the city’s municipal code section 91.8111.1, all rental housing must be able to maintain “a room temperature of 70°F at a point three feet above the floor in all habitable rooms.”

What renters without heating should do

Beltran said renters who have a broken heater, or no heating at all, should first notify their landlord about the problem in a text, email or letter. Be sure to document the request in writing — don’t rely only on calling your landlord or talking about the problem face-to-face.

After the landlord has been notified, renters must allow a “reasonable” amount of time for the problem to be fixed. The L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs considers broken heating appliances during the winter to be an “urgent” problem requiring immediate repair.

But how long should repairs take, exactly? The standard isn’t very clear, but Beltran said when it comes to a lack of heat during frigid weather, it’s reasonable to expect repairs within a few days.

“If you're not hearing any response within that time period, then I think it would be fair to find other means of trying to get that heating situation resolved,” Beltran said. “That would be by either filing complaints with the city or the county, or both.”

Where to file a complaint about lack of heating

Where renters should file complaints depends on where they live.

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Renters anywhere in Los Angeles County can turn to county’s Department of Public Health about heating-related problems. Here is the department’s link to file a complaint.

Aside from the county’s health department, renters can also contact the agency responsible for housing code enforcement in their respective city. First, renters need to know what city they live in, and they’ll need to figure out which city department handles rental housing-related problems.

In the city of L.A., renters can file a complaint with the L.A. Housing Department. Smaller cities may handle such complaints through a department of building and safety.

Filing a complaint is not likely to resolve problems quickly. Renters may need to schedule a time for an inspector to come to their home. But that shouldn’t deter renters from submitting a complaint, said Jeff Uno, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

“If there are problems that are serious enough, like heating, [local agencies] will notify and cite the landlord and basically order them to fix it,” Uno said. “Which is probably one of the tenant’s greatest tools when they have a landlord who just refuses to engage in these types of repairs.”

Should tenants deduct repair costs from their rent?

Tenant lawyers generally advise renters not to pay out of pocket in order to fix a broken heater and then deduct the cost from their monthly rent. Though renters may be entitled to reimbursement for expenses when a landlord refuses to make repairs, landlords could also pursue an eviction citing missed or reduced rent payments.

Suing your landlord over substandard housing conditions is always an option, but it can be difficult to find a lawyer to take on such a case. Renters can reach out to the L.A. County and city-funded organization for legal advice and services.

Renters should also keep in mind that when summer rolls around, landlords are generally under no obligation to provide air conditioning during hot weather. Some lawmakers are seeking to change that. But until those sweltering summer temperatures return, renters can continue to push for their right to indoor heating.

What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?

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