Tenants Keep Calling AC Company Directly

21 Replies

Tenants moved in and in first month called me to complain about the air conditioner. I sent out the AC guy and he repaired it. Second month the tenants call the AC guy directly and he goes there and repairs it and they send me the bill for a service call. I call the company and say DO NOT DO ANY WORK for that tenant again unless you are going to charge them. They call the company a third time and the AC guy tells them the unit is old and should be replaced so they call me and tell me to replace it. To be fair it was old but that is a discussion that belongs between me and the AC company. So I replace the unit. Month four I get texts that the brand new unit is "broken" and that they have once again called the AC company and once more the AC company went out there. They did not even give me the chance to call the AC company myself. They told the AC company that I was a bad landlord and that I would not call them to get it fixed ! They told me they had a sick child they had to take to the doctor because it was so hot and they had pictures of the thermostat to prove it. Once more I called the AC company and told them NOT to go out there without calling me first. I am a loss as I feel I am being set up and they are trying to blame me for their child being sick because of the heat. I always acted as fast as I could to accommodate them but if they are in cahoots with the AC company I don't know what I can do ....of course they are using it as an excuse not to pay rent. How can I make the AC company stop running out there every time they call? 

What does your lease agreement say?

Our says  All request for repairs must be in writing and delivered to the landlord.

 Ordinarily a repair to the heating or air conditioning system is not an emergency.

 Also  our lease says tenant may not repair cause to be repaired any condition regardless  of the cause without landlord prior permission. All decisions regarding repairs, including  the compensation of any repairs with whether to  repair or replace the  item, and selection of contractors will be a landlord sole discretion.

Check and see what your lease agreement says. iIf you have a clause like this I would inform the tenant if they ordered any repairs in the future without your permission that they'll be responsible for the bill and in violation of their lease agreement.

Its time for a new A/C company. Call the owner of the company and tell him that his employees are not authorized to do any work at your property. If they get called by a tenant and they do any repairs, you are not responsible for the payment. 

Hi Zana,  First -- be prepared to fire your AC company.  You already told them that in order to be paid the order has to come through you first and that somehow got ignored.  Tell the AC company good bye.  

Second -- fire your tenant.  It sounds like you have done whatever you can to address the situation.   It also sounds like they are never satisfied.  Sit them down and explain that you have done everything you can but you cannot do anything more.  Clearly this is not working and so if they can get everything out and leave the place as they found it, you will return their security deposit in full, give them a nice reference to a new landlord and let them out of their lease.  

Sometimes it is simply better to start again.  

Best, Teresa

What does your lease say? Is there anything saying who makes service calls, who the tenant notifies for problem/concerns?  Also side note to avoid future problems have you looked into a company that handles home warranties?  A monthly payment covers service calls and minor problems to your property.  Not sure if this is offered in your area.

First step, is to quit using that HVAC company.  Consult your LL Tenant Laws, most states have very specific rules for when/what/how repairs are to be reported and addressed.  Also, in most states of which I'm aware do not provide any terms in which rent can be withheld, but rather provide for termination of the agreement if the Landlord does not uphold their requirements.  Typically, water and heat are the only items that are considered to be an "emergency" that if unattended could be cause for action agains the Landlord.  

If they continue to withhold rent, I would file eviction, if you have everything well documented.  As for the HVAC company, as the Owner of the property, if you did not authorize the repairs you could simply refuse to pay the charge or take your lumps, pay the charges and lose their number.

If you're adhering to the LL Tenant Laws and have good documentation you will have the most leverage but I'm not specifically familiar with Florida laws.

My advice would be to get it in writing. From both the A/C company and the tenants.

That way if you don't have it in your contract you at least have something in writing that a court will uphold. A/C units should not be breaking this fast you need to tell that to both your tenants and your A/C repairers. 

Either the tenants aren't taking care of your A/C or your repair service sucks.

When the A/C company sends the bill , send it back and tell them to send it to the person who called them . 

The last service call should have been warranty work if you just replaced the unit .

If needed, send a certified letter to the A/C company stating all repair calls must be originated by you via email. State any unauthorized visits/repairs are not your responsibility and that you will not be held liable for them. That will give you proof if they do a service call without your permission. Your other option (which I would consider a better alternative) would be to fire the A/C company for disregarding your instructions as the property owner. Last, if the unit it new, there should be some warranty if the company is reliable, honest, and wants to stay in business long. My leases clearly state that any repairs MUST be authorized in writing. I had one tenant get a repair with my approval and that tenant ended up paying the bill.

Agree you need to check what your lease says about repairs, and you need to see if the state law requires you to fix the A/C, and what a reasonable time frame to do repairs is.  If it's a habitability issue, you still usually have at least a few days, if not 10 days, from what I've seen of different state habitability laws.

And if it's not a requirement under state habitability laws, normally the landlord can have even a month to take care of something.

Then, you might want to print out that law and provide it to the tenant when you talk to them about following your procedures.

Then, depending on the above, your next step is to put in writing exactly what the tenant is supposed to do if they need a repair done.  

Then, you need to write to the A/C company and tell them that you communicated on such and such a date to whomever it was, that they were absolutely not to do any work without your personal authorization, and since they did not honor that, you are not paying that bill. And if they decide to try and collect from you, you will be suing them and asking for punitive damages and your court costs, too.  

Be sure and make it clear to the tenant that you will not pay for any bills they generate on their own. That they absolutely must call you to take care of things, or the bill is theirs.

Then, you may want to offer them the "happy clause."  Which is, you tell them they don't seem to be happy in the unit, so if they want out of the lease, you're happy to let them out without penalty, as long as they leave the place clean and undamaged.

And follow that offer up in writing.  

Sometimes a tenant behaves this way when what they really want is to be let out of a lease.  But, they won't come straight out and tell you that.  Or they want a rent reduction.  If you just offer to let them out of the lease without penalty, it often takes the wind out of their angry sails.  They will check for available rentals and they may move.  But, in my experience, they usually stay and don't complain as much, believe it or not, once they know they can move whenever they want to.  Even after you hold firm on a rule.  I've had to do this several times.  "Nope, I can't let you do that, but if you're really unhappy here, I'll let you move out."

But, with this tenant, if they know they're supposed to call you first, and they aren't, you need to stop this bullying behavior.  So, when they start going on about a sick kid, you can say, "Well, it appears that following my lease is a problem for you, but I can't afford to let you call people directly and just send me the bills.  So, if you are not happy with the unit or the repair procedures you agreed to in the lease, maybe we ought to just terminate the lease.  You can move out without penalty, and you'll get your full deposit back as long as you leave the place clean and undamaged. I can even give it to you on your move-out day, if it passes inspection.  I'll be happy to put that in writing.  Why don't you think about it and let me know by next week."

I wouldn't let them suck me into anything about the sick kid.  The issue is how they handle needed repairs.  Regardless of the reason.  And if following your rules is not something they are willing to do they can pay the bills themselves, or move out.

And as far as how you approach them, you can be amiable, but with a firm message.  "I know you're worried about your sick kid, and I'm really sorry your kid is sick.  But, I am not made of money.  It would be great if I could afford to let you call people to do whatever you want and just send me the bill.  But, I can't.  So, I'm afraid that if you call people to do work directly from now on you will have to pay those bills.  And if that's not going to work for you, then I will work with you so you can move out as soon as you find another place."

The message is that you are not going to let them bully you.  And giving them an "out" should take most if not all of the wind out of their bullying.

At least, this has worked for me.  

@Sue Kelly 

Interesting.  I've been reading your posts for the last month or two, since I joined BP and we are ALWAYS on the same page when it comes to handling tenants.  I'd like to think that I've learned a few things over the last 10+ years and when I read your posts Sue, my head is continually nodding up and down in agreement as I read.  

Best part of your post (although all of it is spot on imo) was the reply to the sick child.  Let them call a lawyer now.  The lawyer will ask, "How has the landlord responded to your complaints?"  When the tenant says, "She said that we could terminate our lease without penalty and move out."  The lawyer will respond with, "Then why didn't you do that?  You are wasting my time."  "Instead, you decide to continue to live in an environment, according to you, that is making your child sick and now you want to sue?"  The lawyer should, at that point, pick up the phone and say he is calling child protective services.  

I don't know why landlords want to hold tenants HOSTAGE when they are not happy where they are living.   The only conclusion I have is, the apartment is a dump and they have a really hard time getting a body to live in it, which equals a lousy landlord and thus the headaches that they encounter, vacancies, calls from tenants complaining, calls from lawyers wanting to sue them etc.  

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Raymond

Originally posted by @Rob Beland :

Its time for a new A/C company. Call the owner of the company and tell him that his employees are not authorized to do any work at your property. If they get called by a tenant and they do any repairs, you are not responsible for the payment. 

 I'd go further on this - send the owner a certified letter afterward restating the entire conversation ("as we discussed today, your company is prohibited from performing work on my property"). You best have it in writing to protect yourself. In my experience, unless they reply that the conversation was not as such, the court should view your letter as a truthful account of the conversation. 

Look at it as if your neighbor called an AC company because your unit was making too much noise by their window and the company fixed it - would that be your bill? Of course not. They need to bill the caller, then it is the caller's responsibility to bill whoever the responsible party is to them (tenant to landlord in some cases). As others stated, look at your lease for that issue. But since you didn't call the AC company out there, don't pay them.

Originally posted by @Zana Blue :

Tenants moved in and in first month called me to complain about the air conditioner. I sent out the AC guy and he repaired it. Second month the tenants call the AC guy directly and he goes there and repairs it and they send me the bill for a service call. I call the company and say DO NOT DO ANY WORK for that tenant again unless you are going to charge them. They call the company a third time and the AC guy tells them the unit is old and should be replaced so they call me and tell me to replace it. To be fair it was old but that is a discussion that belongs between me and the AC company. So I replace the unit. Month four I get texts that the brand new unit is "broken" and that they have once again called the AC company and once more the AC company went out there. They did not even give me the chance to call the AC company myself. They told the AC company that I was a bad landlord and that I would not call them to get it fixed ! They told me they had a sick child they had to take to the doctor because it was so hot and they had pictures of the thermostat to prove it. Once more I called the AC company and told them NOT to go out there without calling me first. I am a loss as I feel I am being set up and they are trying to blame me for their child being sick because of the heat. I always acted as fast as I could to accommodate them but if they are in cahoots with the AC company I don't know what I can do ....of course they are using it as an excuse not to pay rent. How can I make the AC company stop running out there every time they call? 

 Is there not a law in Florida that a tenant cannot withhold rent in lieu of repairs not being done? That is the law in California, so I would check it out. Also, sounds like you need to deal with a different AC company; there is no way their tech should be talking to your tenants about the condition of the AC and his bosses need to know about that. Good news is that now that you've replaced the system, it must be under warranty, no?

Most importantly, it does seem like your tenants might be gearing up to take some action against you; taking photos and going behind your back to set up repairs is a definite red-flag for me. You may want to think about replacing your tenants before you get stuck replacing parts of your property that probably aren't broken in the first place. Best of luck!

How long did it take you and the company to respond to the service calls originally? Did you ignore calls or were you unresponsive? I just had the AC go out in my personal residence during heat wave with a sick 1 year old and it was a miserable experience. It took my warranty company 4 days to get someone out there. It was miserable and I would have been lighting up my landlord if I had one.

First of all, no reputable A/C company will work without the owners permission on a property.  Fire the old company and hire a new one.

Second, if you replaced equipment recently shouldn't it be under a warranty?

Third, communicate with your tenant.  If they are not willing to work with you, then ask your tenant to move, but in the nicest way possible.  Because you do not want it to look like it's a retaliation for complaining about repairs.  Protect yourself and your investment. 

Everyone is pretty much stating the same thing. Look at your lease. If it says all requests must be in writing then you have grounds to start the eviction process after delivering a 3 Day Notice and it expires, if they withhold rent. They did not submit requests in writing but took it upon themselves to repair the AC. Also, I would be asking the AC company if the filters were ever changed. You will be amazed at how clogged the filter can get after one month and it will freeze up the AC unit. This is again the residents fault.

Personally as a Property Manager in Florida I would contact the AC company in WRITING to only conduct business when you give permission, not the resident. I would also ask to receive in writing what the problems were and what work was done on the AC.  Lastly, I would start the eviction process immediately if they withhold the rent payment. These tenants will not be happy no matter what you do.

my first thought is to find a replacement AC company..or, if they go out there again without your permission, don't pay the bill..since you didn't authorise the service call! You can also write them an email explaining the fact that you will not pay any invoices that don't have your approval.

I actually work for an HVAC company and your problem is not with the company. Its impossible to know and check the ownership of every service call that comes in. If you fire them, the tenant will just call another company and you'll have the same problem. Our company must get approval from the landlord before performing work, and we don't discuss the condition of the equipment with the tenant unless its a health issue. That said, if an owner tells us not to go out without approval, we know that because of our computerized records..... Not all companies have record keeping programs of any kind. Ultimately your issue is between you and the tenant. Dont pay the bill and the company 'could' put a mechanics lean on the house. And any good company would warranty a new unit for at least a year on their labor and not charge a service call either. Adam
Originally posted by @Adam Morgan :
I actually work for an HVAC company and your problem is not with the company. Its impossible to know and check the ownership of every service call that comes in. If you fire them, the tenant will just call another company and you'll have the same problem. Our company must get approval from the landlord before performing work, and we don't discuss the condition of the equipment with the tenant unless its a health issue. That said, if an owner tells us not to go out without approval, we know that because of our computerized records..... Not all companies have record keeping programs of any kind. Ultimately your issue is between you and the tenant. Dont pay the bill and the company 'could' put a mechanics lean on the house. And any good company would warranty a new unit for at least a year on their labor and not charge a service call either.

Adam

 In Florida at least, you do not have a hopes chance of putting a lien on the house, unless the landlord authorized the repair and didn't pay.

If you do repairs to a house that the tenant authorises and the tenant doesn't pay, you are SOL, as they say.