What would you do in this awkward landlording situation?

38 Replies

I rented out one of my properties a couple months ago. I vaguely remember that I thought there was central air in this one because I had glanced at the thermostat and it had a "cool" option (yeah, they all start to blend together) and that I mentioned this on a couple of the tours.

I must have mentioned it when the people who became my tenants took the place, because I just got a text saying the central air isn't working. (It's very hot in Cleveland right now.) Thinking about it now, I don't think that house actually does have central air. I think it just has a thermostat with a "cool" option. D'oh.

Tenant's text says "we're paying for central air" which isn't really true, they're paying a pretty reasonable rent for the area. I also checked their lease and AC isn't listed as something I provide on it. But I don't want to be a jerk. And they're generally good tenants.

What would you do?

Tell them there was a misunderstanding, do not admit it was your mistake, and ask if they would like to be released from their lease. Point out the lease does not indicate AC and that the rental rate is reasonable in the area for units not having AC.

You are not being a jerk and the fact that they may or may not be good tenants is irrelevant to the issue unless you are ready to pony up and install central AC. 

You could also throw them a bone and offer them a window unit but you will likely be farther ahead if they leave or live with the unit the way it is.

Hello Gwen,

Central Air isn't exactly cheap. How many months will it take you to recoup these funds? I would point out the lease does not state central air unit is provided and buy a couple of window units for them.

@Gwen Fyfe Tell them as Thomas said . It was misunderstanding. If they’d like to buy a window unit that’s on them . I’m an hour and half away it is upper 80’s but not 100 like out west . GEEZ .. They will live ! We only have another week or two of hot weather then cooler fall weather will be milder . Don’t agree to buy them anything . Release them from the lease if they can’t get over it . They can get a used window unit for 40-50 bucks on Craigslist . Do not buy a central air unit !

@Gwen Fyfe

I agree with the other posters....do not buy Central Air and ask them if they want to be released....also....if the tenant walked through the property before moving in, they would have brought up to you that they don't see Central Air here, so where is it....so a small portion of it is on them. 

Beware that they may decide to start being "problem" tenants from now on, ONLY if Central Air was really, really important to them.  

My gut feeling is they are only saying this to try to hustle you on something else or for potentially being late on rent at some point so don't let them hold it over your head. If they are really apt to move they will do it sooner rather than later anyway because nobody wants to move in Ohio in a couple of months because of the cold  and NOBODY in Ohio will be complaining about not having Central Air because ....again....it will start to be rather cold!

You'll be fine.

This is a point at which your tenants will probably either gain or lose a lot of respect for you depending on how it's handled. And that could mean them staying for years and being great tenants or becoming problem tenants. Because if you don't make it right, they'll have no incentive to do you any favors when it comes time to move out. Not that they won't cause problems anyway, but it might be worth investing a little for the sake of being a good landlord in their eyes. 

Whether or not it was your mistake, I've found being a good landlord just comes down to expectations. They expected AC and you didn't. I'd find a way to meet in the middle. People understand that mistakes get made and they don't always expect you to go the extra mile. 

If it were me (assuming they're otherwise good tenants), I'd buy 2 used window units on OfferUp for $80 bucks a pop. That's not a huge price to not be a jerk. 

You promised them X, Y, & Z for your requested amount of rent. They paid that requested amount for rent and you only delivered X & Y. Seems pretty clear cut.

It wasn't a misunderstanding, it was a mistake on your part and as the party who made the mistake, you need to rectify it. Be honest with them and explain what happened. Offer them a rent reduction for the hot months and see if they are reasonable. If they aren't, offer to let them break the lease and consider covering some of their moving expenses.

Ask yourself what would a judge/jury think if they took you to court? Would they think it was just an honest mistake and the tenants should have known better and should just suck it up or would they think you promised something and didn't deliver? The fact that AC isn't listed in the written contract is meaningless. You stated it had AC and based on the thermostat on the wall, a reasonable person would believe the unit had AC.

@Gwen Fyfe an offhand verbal remark doesn’t constitute a legally binding contract, especially in real estate. I would tell them I didn’t recall saying that cImment, but in an case you may offer to let them out of the lease as they are already complaining

Are you saying that you told them the unit has AC when shown them the unit? Your post is as non-comittal as your showing was apparently.

One thing is clear, your tenants believe they were promised, and are paying for, AC. By all appearances, you may have misled them, intentional or not.

Give them window units, reduce the rent and apologize. You screwed up.

Thanks for the input, folks. I'm not interested in brushing them off or telling them to buy it themselves, but also not interested in letting them out of the lease. Right thing to do is to keep this pregnant lady cool, one way or another.

Shopping for a couple window units!

Pretty much all modern thermostats have a cool setting, no AC and it does nothing. I would admit it was a misunderstanding and leave it at that. If you have a window Ac or want to offer a short term goodwill concession do it. If you are buying a window unit you may not find them in stores now.

What would you expect if you were in their shoes?  Everyone thought there was central air and now you find out it isn't.  Temporary fix the problem and look for a long term solution.  Window units are easy to find and you could have one up and running this morning.  Do the right thing and remember it summer comes around every year. 

I'd get some window units or a floor unit. It will increase the rentability of the unit in the future and go a long way towards keeping happy renters. One of my tenants called to ask how to turn on the AC because he saw "cool" on the thermostat. However, I never indicated the unit had AC so I didn't take action, AND there is no realistic way to add AC without converting the heat to a mini split or putting one in the wall, both of which would be expensive. 

@Gwen Fyfe Sorry to say but you are in the wrong here. By your own admission you told them it had central air. This was NOT a misunderstanding. Suggestions by others to say it was a misunderstanding is irresponsible. Own your mistake and address the issue head on. If that means letting them out of the lease then that’s what you should do. I’m not saying you must put central air in but you need to make it right.
Originally posted by @Aaron M. :
@Gwen Fyfe

Sorry to say but you are in the wrong here. By your own admission you told them it had central air. This was NOT a misunderstanding. Suggestions by others to say it was a misunderstanding is irresponsible. Own your mistake and address the issue head on. If that means letting them out of the lease then that’s what you should do. I’m not saying you must put central air in but you need to make it right.

 No need to attack me, as I posted above I'm not interested in brushing them off. I'm buying them some window units.

The investor in me tells me that they should go pound sand.

The human in me says try to work with them. Split costs on a window unit or two. Its an accident, a misunderstanding, but you started the misunderstanding. A few hundred bucks from your maintenance budget will probably cost less than an angry tenant, an evicted tenant, or trying to get the place re-rented.

You blew it. One possibility is install a window unit or get a porta cooler at no charge to them. 

Another one is reduce the rent. But I can not think in Mid America anyone wants to rent a place w/ no ac.

Originally posted by @Sam Shueh :

You blew it. One possibility is install a window unit or get a porta cooler at no charge to them. 

Another one is reduce the rent. But I can not think in Mid America anyone wants to rent a place w/ no ac.

 I actually have quite a few units where there is no AC which still get rented out pretty quickly. Make sure to tell folks that they are welcome to use window units. I feel really bad that in this case I was wrong about the features.

I'll be buying a couple window units for the property.

Pretty unsettling that some people are saying to lie about or disregard what you said. No wonder we as landlords have a bad reputation. I think you are doing the right thing, well done.
I'm with @Greg M. I think a good landlord, while not letting themselves be walked all over, will rectify this in some way. You explained to us that it was your fault by not being aware of the lack of A/C and they were told there was A/C. Personally, I would fix it. There is a thin line between being a tough, stern landlord and a bad landlord.