QI returned home recently to discover that my air-conditioning unit had stopped working. I called the management office at 6 p.m. and the staff had left, so I left an urgent message with the answering service. I called soon after they opened the next day, Wednesday, and spoke with them. They called a plumber that day, but he said he needed a part. They ordered a part, but no one came by to install it Thursday. The next day was a national holiday, so no work was done. On Saturday, the plumber came and informed management that they hadn't ordered some wiring he needed, so nothing happened Saturday or Sunday. On Monday, six days after I reported the problem, it finally was fixed.

What irks me is this: They could have bought the wiring on Saturday at the closest building supply store, but wouldn't because they use a special vendor. Their authorized plumber didn't want to work the day before the holiday and they have only one vendor. I think it is exceptionally unfair that they took six days to fix my air conditioning in the middle of the summer, and I could not sleep in my home for that time. It ruined my life for most of a week, including my holiday weekend. Is there anything I can do?

ALandlord's attorney

Smith replies:

Generally speaking, tenant-landlord or rental-unit habitability laws do not require landlords to supply air conditioning. Air conditioning does not rank up there with the essential services of heating, plumbing and electricity. Thus, landlord-tenant law would not classify your lack of air conditioning as an emergency. Under these circumstances, you would be well advised not to withhold rent based on claimed habitability violations. Also, you should not take it upon yourself to pay for such a repair and deduct it from the rent. This would be a misuse of the "repair and deduct statute" found in many states.

Your landlord may be sensitive to your discomfort and annoyance. Given your concerns, it may be possible to resolve the matter; perhaps your landlord will give you a concession.

Tenant's attorney Kellman replies:

Air conditioning may be an optional amenity to some, but it's absolutely essential to others. High heat and humidity can be dangerous to the health of some people. To these individuals, a working air-conditioning unit is as important as heat in the winter.

Therefore, I do not agree with landlord attorney Ted Smith that air conditioning is not a habitability item. In some cases, it surely is. When it is a habitability issue, the landlord must take all reasonable steps to repair that unit as quickly as possible.

The delays that were caused by your landlord using the "special vendor" were clearly avoidable and therefore unreasonable.

Six days to fix an air-conditioning unit is simply too long. If it were the landlord's own home, it would have been fixed in six hours.

If the conditions warrant deeming the air-conditioning unit a habitability issue (i.e., health concerns and high heat), then you would be able to use the repair-and-deduct remedy, if it's available in your state. You may also be entitled to collect for any damages you suffered for the long delay.

I live in an apartment building that allows cats, but not dogs. My daughter wants to visit me for two days. She has a little dog and needs to bring it. My manager says she can't have it on the property, even if she is just visiting. Can they do that?

Landlord's attorney Smith replies:

The no-dog provision applies to guests and it is not unreasonable to prohibit pets on the premises. Further, it is unfair to other residents to allow your daughter to have a pet, even though it's only for two days.

While I am sure you anticipate no difficulties, there could be barking, nipping and other problems.

Please have your daughter keep her dog in a kennel for two days.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold and San Diego lawyers Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant's Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords. E-mail your questions to Griswold at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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