Tenant requesting hvac replacement

17 Replies

Hello,

This is my first time on biggerpockets. We own an investment property and rented it since two years. Our property manager moved on to another job and now we are trying to take over property management ourselves starting this month.

The tenants currently living at the property complained about the hvac not working in August and our property manager had a hvac cmp come in and replace a few parts and thermostat. However the tenants complained that it's not cooling enough on the 2nd floor. This is a townhome with 2 floors and fully finished basement. The 2nd floor has fans in every room. The ac and furnace are both 16 years old. We had a hvac maintenance done in Sep and also called in our home warranty to look at the hvac. Both again replaced several other parts like capacitor, cleaned blowers etc. and mentioned the system is working fine. The maintenance company however did suggest replacing the unit in the next couple years. 

Now its in 50's at night here and the tenants are complaining that hvac is not heating the second floor and basement enough. We called the hvac cmp again and they will probably come out on monday to look at it. They will probably  just suggest replacing parts again or  replacing the whole unit. We already spent almost 2 grand trying to fix the system and the tenant doesn't seem to be happy about it. The system is working but i think it needs to run longer and is probably not very effective as a new unit. Should we have the unit replaced? Since this is our first time we are not sure how to handle such requests. Appreciate any suggestions.

Thank you!

Hello  Mano,

      I would think even with temperature in 50's that the second floor would be warmer than 1st floor, did HVAC crew check to make sure the duct work to 2nd floor vents still connected?  Should be blowing from all vents nearly equally. Sometimes a house will have a damper on duct work to limit air flow to section that may not need as much heating and cooling,  that would need to be check also in this situation to insure it has not closed more somehow. If ductwork is fine and unit keeps giving problems, and since it is aged I would probably replace it.  

Go in the unit and verify yourself that the renter doesn't have the registers blocked with boxes, furnature or something.

Maybe the insulation on the 2nd floor and basement is not sufficient?

Collapsed duct?  Check air flow on the 2nd floor.  Is it less? 

Is the unit sized right?

I would personally verify that the system is not up to snuff.  It may be possible that the AC company stated around the tenant that it needs to be replaced and now they have it stuck in their head.  On a recent incident, I had a tenant telling me that the AC was not working only to find the thermostat set on 70 and the actual temperature was 70.  Sometimes if the thermostat is located on the 1st floor, you will have a temperature variation on the 2nd floor i.e. a few degrees hotter. 

I just can't see replacing a unit if the AC company said it is fine.  What if this is NOT the problem?  You just blew thousands of dollars because it was another issue or because the tenants have unreasonable expectations.  I once had a tenant demand that I replace a one year old AC unit because it made too much noise! FIND THE REAL ISSUE and then everything will work out.

Thank you for all replies! We will have the technician look at the duct work this time. They just looked at the unit the last couple times they were here. One of them did mention the AC unit might be smaller for the size of the house. 

The thermostat is on the first floor so I am guessing the second floor might not be completely cooled or heated because of that? Would it be better if the thermostat was upstairs? Just trying to look for other things we can ask the technician before we look into replacing the system. Thank you!

Any time you have one system dealing with both the ground and upper floor you're going to have inconsistency between the two floors.  Usually the upper floor will be warmer - winter and summer.  In my house, I have to close the registers in the basement in the summer or the basement is freezing and the ground floor is warm.

Go over there and have a look and see how its running.  Air flow should be roughly equal through out the system, and outlet temps should be comparable.  Get a quick-read thermometer (like a meat thermometer) and stick it in each supply register while its running.  Feel the air flow with your hand or by holding a dollar bill in front of the register.  If you have some registers with low flow and higher (AC) or lower (heat) temps, check for something with that duct or set of ducts.  If they all seem low, check the filter.  Try testing without the filter.  If the flow is low even without a filter, its possible the A-coil is clogged.  I've had seen this.  These can be cleaned.  Pets combined with running the system without a filter can cause this.

Also check the returns.  If the return is blocked and the door to the room is closed, it won't get much supply.

My AC guy recommends cheapie filters in the summer in order to get more flow.  If you're using one of those super filtering filters and its dirty, that can be a problem.

Insulation and windows can be a problem.  Have a look in the attic.  Make sure all the windows seal well.

Frankly I can't imagine what you could spend $2500 on for just fixing things.  Get a recommendation for a different HVAC company from someone local and have them give you and evaluation.

Make the effort to visit and inspect the property on several occasions to confirm the system is not heating/cooling properly. You never send in repair services until after you confirm a problem actually exists. Repair tecks will gladly replace parts all day long and gleefully recommend you replace a functioning system. There is a very high probability that your tenants have blocked heating/cooling vents with their furniture and the system can no longer function to capacity.

Bottom line is that in the majority of cases it is a tenant problem not a equipment problem but your first responsibility is a onsite visit to confirm.

Your system is probably working fine.

You probably have duct leakage or disconnected ducts at the plenum.  You need to have a pro HVAC technician do an analysis of the system which entails temperature and flow tests at each register.  You also need to make sure the unit is sized properly for the space.  More importantly, you need to make sure the tenant knows that you care and are trying to fix the problem.  If you don't fix it, the tenant will fix the problem by moving out.  Fix the problem now or pay for it in lost rent later!

Track the temperature upstairs remotely vs what is set. Being too warm during heat and AC seems related to the ducting rather then then the unit. Hot air rises, if it is not working they should be. colder downstairs.
Update: Thank you for all your replies! The current tenant did not want us to fix the hvac and are wanting to move out. We are planning to test the hvac once they move out to make sure everything is working fine. Also looking into duct cleaning to see if that helps.
Originally posted by @Mano G. :
Update: Thank you for all your replies! The current tenant did not want us to fix the hvac and are wanting to move out. We are planning to test the hvac once they move out to make sure everything is working fine. Also looking into duct cleaning to see if that helps.

 Duct cleaning is to help with allergies, but its a waste of money to resolve improper temperature or other HVAC performance issues. Sounds like they were looking for an out and the HVAC provided them with one. You should also verify proper operation of the system once they move out... Skip the duct cleaning as that doesnt get you closer to the root issue which is heat and cool performance for both floors.

Originally posted by @Robert Hudson :

A 16 year old system is beyond its normal lifespan. Any money you spend on it at this point is throwing good money after bad. 

 16 years is beyond normal lifespan for HVAC unit?? What type of units do you normally use? Usually HVAC well maintained and installed and used correctly should last 20 years if not 25 years. Now it may not be the most efficient.