Please help! What to do about tenants leaving windows open?

18 Replies

Hi everybody! 

I have an issue that I need help figuring out how to address. I have an apartment that’s attached to my house and I’m renting it out to two tenants (a brother and sister). They’re pretty good tenants overall, quiet and don’t cause trouble. But I’ve recently noticed an issue; they leave windows wide open for hours (if not days) on end in the middle of winter. This is a problem because we have a gas heated house and it’s very expensive. We didn’t include heat in the utilities we’re charging them for, which was one of the appeals we used to find tenants when initially listing the posting. But they’re wasting all the heat and letting it escape out the open windows. Since they’re not paying for it, I’m assuming they’re not considering it an expense of theirs but it is an extremely large expense for me. 

I’m not sure how to address this; it’s not exactly like I can force them to keep their windows closed. So I don’t even know if it’s something I can even bring up. I’m considering adding the heat to their existing utilities charges this coming fall (since winter is basically over at this point for my area) and just letting it slide until then. 

I’m also experiencing another issue with them that I’m not sure how to address. 

I can smell a very strange odor coming from their upstairs rooms (again, their apartment is attached to my house) and it's so strong that it's coming through my guest bedroom and even into my landing. It doesn't smell quite like marijuana and I know the male tenant smokes but he's kept it outside, as required by our lease agreement. I can't figure out what the odor is and I'm not sure how to bring it up. Is it just my nose being sensitive to their smells? I know everybody's house/furniture/bodies have their own unique scents but this is far too strong to be anything like that.

Any input to either issue would be greatly appreciated!! 

Sincerely,

Emily

I would address it directly. Ask them if it is too warm in their place, since you noticed their windows are open even when it is cold outside, and your gas bill has increased significantly, and offer to turn their heat down.

What are their vents like- can they close them?  We close some in our house (in our large closet and unused bedrooms), and I even put a large magnet over them to help seal them where we don't need heat.  If the vents are able to be closed, get some that are asap.

Are there ways to turn off certain heat runs?  Sometimes there are dampers (I think that is what they are called) that can block warm air from going down some legs of the ductwork.  If you don't have them, consider putting them in to help distribute the heat better.

If you are not prepared to address the issues directly with your tenants non renew their lease when it is up and establish stricter lease language with new tenants to address the issues.

It may take some time to stream line your system to cover as many negative situations as possible. Your rental rate, if it includes utilities, must be adjusted higher to cover tenants irresponsible actions. 

Originally posted by @Sam Hopkins:
@Emily Cole call an A/c guy and have him install that side as a separate zone. That way they can adjust the heat/cold to their liking without you needing to buy a second furnace.

OP hasn't said if they're even on a separate thermostat. And a 2nd furnace won't help without a separate meter. Included utilities always includes this kind of hassle, I have 3 family where the top floor complains about the heat but the dude wears shorts all winter from what I can see. Fortunately the thermostat is not in their unit.

Originally posted by @Kelly N. :

I would address it directly. Ask them if it is too warm in their place, since you noticed their windows are open even when it is cold outside, and your gas bill has increased significantly, and offer to turn their heat down.

What are their vents like- can they close them?  We close some in our house (in our large closet and unused bedrooms), and I even put a large magnet over them to help seal them where we don't need heat.  If the vents are able to be closed, get some that are asap.

Are there ways to turn off certain heat runs?  Sometimes there are dampers (I think that is what they are called) that can block warm air from going down some legs of the ductwork.  If you don't have them, consider putting them in to help distribute the heat better.

Well my house is very old and the heat comes through radiators. There’s no current way to separate it or lower the heat in just their side of the house. We also do tend to keep the thermostat a little low. Plus they did complain about the cold during the winter so we turned it up for them. Of course now I know that it’s probably because they’re letting all the frickin’ heat out through the windows. So. I’ll probably just address it directly, my hesitancy is more on the legal side of things ie how do I enforce them keeping the windows closed. 

Originally posted by @Sam Hopkins :
@Emily Cole call an A/c guy and have him install that side as a separate zone. That way they can adjust the heat/cold to their liking without you needing to buy a second furnace.

I don’t currently have the funds to do that, and they were complaining about the cold initially so we turned the heat up for them but they’re still leaving windows open regardless. 

Talk to them. "You complained about the cold, so we turned the heat up, and now you're leaving windows open. What's the deal?"

As for the smell, are you doing regular maintenance inspections? If not, start.  You may find out what is stinking.

@Emily Cole

I have a clause in my lease that states I can fine the tenant $25 per occurrence when a door or window is left open for more than 5 minutes during heating season or when it would be reasonably expected that the heat would be on.

Originally posted by @Ryan Murdock :

@Emily Cole

I have a clause in my lease that states I can fine the tenant $25 per occurrence when a door or window is left open for more than 5 minutes during heating season or when it would be reasonably expected that the heat would be on.

that’s a great idea! When I renew the lease with them, I’ll see if I can add that in. Thank you so much! 

I find that any issue worth addressing is best done in person! However, with that being said with the situation of the windows it’s a behavior although there are several indirect ways to address! Once you set up how you will communicate I would ask if texting is acceptable? If yes, I would text them a picture of the windows open with $$ signs and kindly remind them that if this doesn’t end they will see an increase due to utilities bill jump! In addition, then you have a time, date, stamp of how many times you’ve had to address and frequency.

It’s very easy to get yearly print out and if heating costs have increased it is not unreasonable for you to expect more in renewal increase- if renewing is an option.

Finally, smells. . .

It’s best to address at time of incident instead of assuming anything once you notice it - knock on door and address. That is a situation whereas; it’s best done at time of incident so that there are no accusations just facts. I smelled this at this time do you have a minute for you to come and see what I’m talking about so we can resolve!

Just my two cents!

No no no. No way I would tolerate windows being left open for days. The heat is the small issue, the big issue is water. Neglect and disrespect of property plain and simple.

If you are too stupid or lazy to shut the windows, you are not living in one of my units. If I pay the heat and you leave the windows open, you are too disrespectful to live in one of my units. Buh bye.

I had this happen to me, where they were leaving the back door open for ventilation. Of course it rained (duh) and then the unit below had water dripping through the ceiling. I just looked at them with the "how can you be so damn stupid" look on may face and said "no. you don't do that." The very last thing I would do is be nice about it. That crap does not get a second warning, and maybe not even a first.

All tenants will need a certain degree of tolerance we often afford. The stink issue for instance. There are other things that just can't be let go. Nothing is higher up on that list than potential property damage for me.

Their behavior is nothing but a big middle finger right to you.

This doesn't answer your question, but make sure its legal to have a rental where the tenant has no control over temperature. I have heard of areas where it is illegal not to give tenant control over the heat.

Now for your problem, since it is not in the lease, your only option is likely to send empty threats. As it is not a lease item, agreed to before tenancy, you cannot force them to keep windows closed. Since they have no control over the temperature, this should be almost expected. You can and should address it directly with them, but just know you have no real leg to stand on, legally speaking. Now, what you can do is let them know that you will make every effort to maintain a comfortable temperature, and if they continue to leave windows open, you will have to increase rent to cover the extra utility cost or even non-renew their lease.

Best case scenario is to save some money and get separate meters. Save yourself headache and trouble in the future.

@Emily Cole

When it’s time to renew, I would raise the rent $50-75/month and when they ask why, explain to them how your heating bill went up and they leave windows open.

My vote would be they probably smokin something (crack?) and opening windows to vent it out, then forgetting to close them.

Ok so you turned the heat up for them and now they leave the windows open. Tell them I turned the heat up because you complained you were cold but now I am turning the heat down now since I noticed you are leaving the windows open and I assume you are now too hot.  In general I  do not consider it acceptable to leave the windows open in winter.  (I don't know if you have radiators but you can shut them off or keep the door to a room closed to regulate heat.)  After you do this you need to start door knocking if the behavior continues.  Fining is a good option for this too. 

 For the smell ask them if they noted it and know what it is? are you sure it is not growing pot?  growing and smoking smell a bit different from each other.