A tenant informed me that his steam heater was not working. The plumber found no problem with the heater, but did find that the heater was covered in dust and that the tenant’s curtains were conveying the heat toward the window. With the dust and curtains removed, the heater worked fine. Since there was nothing wrong with the heater and the “malfunction” was entirely created by the tenant, can I pass the plumber’s bill on to him?
You probably cannot pass this cost onto your tenant. State housing codes require all residential dwelling units to have heating systems capable of heating habitable rooms. San Francisco has adopted more stringent rules regulating heat.
The San Francisco Housing Code, Section 701(c), also known as the Heat Ordinance, requires residential units to be heated to at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit at a point midway between the heat source and farthest wall and at 3’-0” above the floor. Heat capable of maintaining a room temperature of 68 degrees shall be made available to each occupied habitable room for 13 hours each day between 5:00 AM and 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM. A time clock set to provide the amount and hours of heat should be installed at or nearby the heating source, and a centrally located thermostat shall be installed in a habitable room in the building. Boiler type heating systems usually take about one hour to reach minimum requirements, and this warm-up period does not count towards the heating time requirements. Habitable rooms include rooms used for living, sleeping, cooking and eating; conversely, bathrooms, closets, hallways, storage rooms and similar spaces need not be heated.
Individual heaters must be permanently attached and properly wired in accordance to the City’s Electrical Code to be considered a legal heat source. As such, portable heaters/space heaters cannot be used to heat an apartment.
The Housing Inspection Services Division of the Department of Building Inspection places the burden of maintaining an operable heating system squarely on the owner. If a heater is not working, a Notice of Violation is issued immediately to the owner or property manager, requiring that heat be restored within 48 hours of the Notice’s issuance. If it is cold outside or the tenant is elderly/sick, the City can issue an emergency order and perform the work itself, in which case the owner is billed for the work and the DBI’s administrative costs. Where the owner does not cooperate, the City Attorney’s Office may sue the owner, and, in extreme cases, the owner may be criminally prosecuted by the District Attorney (a violator can be fined up to $500 per day or be imprisoned for six months or be both fined and imprisoned).
In sum, the owner bears full responsibility to ensure that the unit’s heating system is compliant with the Heat Ordinance. If the heater does not work, the owner is expected to make, and pay for, the repairs. Certainly the willful destruction of a heater by the tenant would give the owner legal recourse to terminate the tenancy and to recoup repair expenditures, but in instances where the tenant simply failed to clean or place drapes in a better position, the owner assumes the cost of remediation.