Tenant used Space Heaters Causing a Problem

14 Replies

Yesterday my tenant texted me to tell me that she didn't want to turn on the central heat so she plugged in a space heater. When she did this tripped the lights.  She flipped the breaker and the lights came back on but she's informed me that 3 plugs in the living area where this happened no longer work and the ceiling fan and can lights are also not functioning. I spoke with a retired electrician who stated that space heaters can pull LOTS of juice/electricity.  He didn't think it was a major repair but I need to get someone experienced with electrical work to come and check each plug. I am going to have this repaired but I wanted to get advice on who she be responsible for paying for this. Me or her?

I would say you have to pay.  Space heaters and window ACs can bring out the weak spot in wiring.  If the wiring was all correct, these high power devices would simply pop the breaker.  What happens is a weak connection heats up and loosens and has now come apart.  You need an electrician to find the one with the problem and fix it.  Not a big repair, probably one of the ends of the three outlets that are not working.  So, while she should cautious when using a high power device, your wiring should not have come apart when she did.

It could be a few things. Space heaters are notorious for causing these kinds of problems. If she must use a space heater plugging it into a 20A outlet (garage, kitchen, bathroom... with extension cord) will work better. If the circuit was overloaded maybe the blame could be hers, but obviously there is something strange happening with the wiring that is likely not her fault. Really though, why not use the central heat? 

hello everyone, I'm having similar problems that I can relate too. my duplex doesn't have split utilities and so I have the temp set at 73.0 degrees. while one of the tenants claims to still be cold she continues to plug up space heater which in turn trips the breaker. then a call is placed to the good old mange yourself landlord. oh that me right, right, to come and reset te breaker. I don't allow my tenants to have access to my furnace or hot water tank. but we're  re-thinking this issue and trying to fix it...... I know your pain.

@Val Jaz My question would be what kind of heat you have available in the unit. Based on your location, I'd assume it's a heat pump, but if not, is it an oil or gas furnace? If it's a heat pump, there's absolutely no reason for the tenant to use a space heater, as the heat pump runs off electricity as well. I will say that unless your lease requires the tenant to use the house's heating system, she'd be within her rights to use a space heater. As @Jon Holdman said, a space heater pulling too much juice should only pop the breaker, not cause outlets and lights to fail.

If you have an oil or gas furnace, the tenant just may not want to pay to have oil delivered, or set up an account with the gas company. Again, unless your lease specifically prohibits space heaters(I'm unfamiliar with Texas LL-Tenant Laws, you may not be able to put this in a lease), she'd be within her rights to just use a space heater if it hadn't gotten a little chilly, but not enough to warrant an oil delivery or setting up an account with the gas company.

Tenants leases should include a clause preventing the use of axillary heating/space heaters. They are dangerous not only in regards to overloading electrical circuits but also a heat/fire source.

Tenants should never be allowed to use space heaters.

If you are in an area where auxiliary heating may occasionally be required landlords should be wiring a outlet that is properly rated and have a dedicated breaker. To prevent tenants from moving it to another outlet it would be prefered to install a hardwired base board heater.

It is important that the electrical utilities be in the tenants otherwise they will abuse the use of th eheater.

All these questions about type of heat and who pays for heat and whether or not the tenant should use space heaters are irrelevant for the question at hand  - who pays for fixing the electrical system.  If the electrical system was correct to start with then plugging in the space heater would have tripped the breaker.  Once it was unplugged and the breaker turned back on everything should have been fine.  The fact that there are non-working outlets and lights means there is a problem in the wiring.  The owner pays to fix this.

I have had problems with space heaters in fully rewired houses. There are many of those products that come in from China, which are cheaply made and can cause all kinds of problems. Most house fires in Winter are due to space heaters. 

Often tenants also use more than one space heater and then they overload the system, but they never admit to having had more than one plugged in. 

Originally posted by @Arthur Sullivan :

hello everyone, I'm having similar problems that I can relate too. my duplex doesn't have split utilities and so I have the temp set at 73.0 degrees. while one of the tenants claims to still be cold she continues to plug up space heater which in turn trips the breaker. then a call is placed to the good old mange yourself landlord. oh that me right, right, to come and reset te breaker. I don't allow my tenants to have access to my furnace or hot water tank. but we're  re-thinking this issue and trying to fix it...... I know your pain.

 Could you not attach a flat fee for service call.....? 

Not sure what you mean when you say attach a flat fee for service. Charge them for having to come out to reset breakers? Or do you mean charge more for heat so that I can raise it to the temp that the tenants think is comfortable for them.

Thanks to all who replied with your opinions.   The problem was 2 bad breakers in the electrical box. Once these were replaced everything came back on.  Many of you asked about the heating source. There is central heat and air in the house and it's an old house but I had it rewired when I remodeled after purchased in 2016. The tenant simply didn't want  to turn on the central so she chose to use space heaters I guess because the family was in that one room and it's been pretty cold here and maybe she was trying to save on her bill. We all have been experiencing high heating and electric bills. : (  This happened Saturday and the day had been pretty warm but turned slightly cooler in the evening. Not really enough (IMO) to turn on a heater but I guess everyone has their own measure of tolerance. I would'v e turned on the central heat and warmed up the house and then perhaps turned it off.  She has used the stove for heating as well causing me to replace 2 stove elements since she's been there Oct 2016. I have informed her that I will replace the stove element again but next time it will be her expense. The electrician stated as many of you have that space heaters shouldn't be used because they pull so much electricity and they could cause damage to the wiring.  This tenant is on a month to month lease, btw. Going forward I hope she chooses to use the central heat and not the stove or space heaters. As Michaela G said. The do one thing and all you otherwise.

Every space heater I've ever seen has a max power consumption of 1500 watts.  that's only 12.5 amps at 120 volts.  Every outlet in your house should be capable of that without doing any damage beyond tripping a breaker if something else is plugged in on the same circuit.    The repair is going to be yours, educate the tenant to make sure not much else is plugged into the same breakers circuit.  NEVER< EVER < EVER use an extension cord with a space heater, a lot of the cheap cords you buy at Wal Mart can't handle the current and will melt the insulation in short order.

@Val Jaz what brand of box do you have?

There are a couple of breaker boxes known for having issues with the breakers.

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