tenant says AC not cooling house enough and upstairs hot

34 Replies

Hi BP community!

I purchased a house in metro Detroit, MI area that was unoccupied.

The house rented in May and now it's July and and the tenants are complaining that the AC doesn't  cool the house enough. At first they said that the it would go below 70 when set at 68 and they say that the upstairs of the bungalow is unbearably hot.  

I had an AC guy out there who said that the AC was working. He told the tenants that putting a window unit upstairs would be an option for upstairs.

At this point I paid for someone to come out and basically do nothing and now the tenant is asking me to provide a window unit. I let him know that I would give him $50 toward a window unit if he wanted to buy one himself, but to pay for someone come out to tell me the AC is find after being told that it was fine during the inspection of the house when I purchased it doesn't make sense to keep spending money.

Tenant is now saying that the AC guy didn't do anything they asked him to go upstairs, but he wouldn't. He told them that Bungalow houses are old and the upstairs was meant to be an attic. If they want the upstairs to be cooler they would have to put a window unit in. He also told the tenants that the house had no insulation. 

The tenant said that the the unit isn't big enough for the house.  I'm not sure if the AC guy told them that though.


Would you buy window unit?

If the AC unit isn't big enough for the house shouldn't that be mentioned in the inspection during purchase?

Since the house doesn't go below a certain temperature when set on 68 degrees are there any suggestions?

Any help with this is much appreciated.

@Fernando Domingo   You had an AC guy go out and inspect the unit.  How much is a window unit?  If it is $200 or less, tell them you will buy one, but it stays with the unit.  I like your idea of them buying it with you contributing to it as that way if it breaks, it is their problem and they can take it with them when they go.

Just because the AC is working doesn't mean it is cooling the house properly. The AC guy should have been able to give you more details such as is the unit undersized for the house, does it struggle in the afternoons maintaining temperature.

Ask the tenants to send you a picture of the thermostat next time they complain. If it is at 70F then that is not a problem.

They may be able to partially close some downstairs vents to force more air upstairs.

I would buy them a window unit for upstairs. They aren't much money at Walmart or Homedepot and it will help keep the peace.

I believe this is common for properties whose attics are converted into living space for the new area to be more difficult to keep cool. Usually the roof absorbs alot of heat from the sun, but they are usually vented helping to dissapate some of the heat out of the house plus the insulation between the attic and conditioned space prevents the heat transfer. When you build an attic, you are basically putting conditioned space right up against the roof surface and there is less room for venting to naturally let the heated air escape. You're only options are to beef up the insulation between the roof and the conditioned space to prevent heat transfer or add an additional AC unit to help keep that area cooler. The previous owner probably converted the attic into the current space but was too cheap to also upgrade the AC unit. Regardless, the thermostat being downstairs is difficult because the cooling setpoint will be reached downstairs much faster than the upstairs resulting in that being hotter all of the time. Your cheapest option is to get a AC window unit from craigslist for less than $100, lowes or home depot and then move on:)

Go to the house and inspect it yourself. The A/c is either cooling the upstairs or it is not. In fact, this should have been done before sending out a repairman.

Its possible the a/c is working properly as designed, but there are other factors at play. Does the ductwork go upstairs? is the unit not powerful enough to cool the whole house? It sounds like the unit is operating properly, but for some reason unable to properly cool the whole house. If you advertised it as a unit with a/c but the a/c is not properly cooling the house then you have an obligation to rectify in some way

Other than the troubleshooting recommended here, I'd add that creating a barrier between upstairs and downstairs can make a massive difference. Install a door at the top or bottom of the stairs, and when it's closed the heat won't rise to the upstairs as fast and thus it will be more evenly distributed.

This is how we did it growing up in my parents' house. 

Here’s how I would handle this in Florida. Get everything in writing from the AC company. What they did, when they did it, what the issue is & what they suggest. This way I’m protected in case the Tenant tries to withhold rent or go to the courts. Then I would see if it’s an insulation issue, because that could solve the problem. Or maybe a ceiling fan could help. The problem with a window unit is they can use up a fair amount of electricity & the Tenant may come back to you & ask for reimbursement on their next few electricity bills. Also, down here if it’s 100 degrees & if a Tenant puts the AC on 68 degrees it still will not go to 68, because the system can only do so much. Hope this helps.

Hi @Fernando Domingo , just some thoughts....

If it's one zone cooling the whole house, it's not surprising that there are issues. That's the case in any house I've ever been in that has one HVAC unit and one zone for two floors. Changing to a dual zone is expensive since you have to re-duct the upstairs, so probably not something you'd want to do. 

I agree with the previous statements, check the insulation in the attic and make sure that is up to par. If it is, then just buy a window unit for the upstairs and state it stays with the house. Likely the next tenant will want it as well.

Overall though if it's 95 degrees outside, any unit would struggle to cool a home. It comes down to whether you want to fight over a $200 window unit to keep tenants happy. Vacancy is what really eats into your profit, so keep that in mind. Best of luck!

I actually live in one of these style houses, and several of my rentals are like this. The 2nd floors are just ovens in the summer. The original ductwork usually was for heat only systems so may have smaller ducts than necessary for cooling the 2nd floor. Also these were built when energy was cheaper than insulation, so they are usually very poorly insulated too.

A window unit is usually the only feasable option. You can usually find them used on craiglist or used appliance stores for 50 bucks.

Without knowing details on your house the odds are that it does get very hot up there. 

1) that style of house is just like that. Its a 1 1/2 story house so there is no typical attic to trap the heat above the living area. 

2) I'm guessing its a older house so the A/C was a retro fit/addition. Odds are it is not size appropriately for that type of house and can't keep up. 

3) Since it was an addition I'm guessing that its a single zone unit that has the thermostat on the main floor. Thus the thermostat is reading the main floor temp and shutting off before the up stairs gets cool (if it could even do that to begin with).

You have two options. Tell them to go buy a window unit and take it with them when they leave. That way you hold no liability for fixing/replacing the unit if they break it or over work it. The other is you buy it or split it with them but it stay with the house when they leave. BUT this adds the liability of it now being your piece of equipment. So if it breaks you are up to fixing/replacing it.

Hello @Fernando Domingo .  You have received some good advice.  I dealt with one just like this recently.  One piece of advice is tell your vendors to not say anything to your tenants about the issues.  They can tell the tenant that they will provide the owner with a detailed report.  Too many times I've seen things get crazy because a vendor said things they shouldn't. 

There are HVAC engineers that you can pay to help divert more cooling upstairs.  The report I saw was pretty detailed and I'm sure it was not cheap.  My suggestion would be to buy a new 6K BTU unit for $200 and have it installed properly with safety strap (liability).  If they buy and install, they could do it wrong and you will pay the price with rotted window sills, cracked window pane, etc.  If it gets cold up there in the winter, invest another $100 in to a unit that has heat function.  Make sure tenants clean the filter regularly.  It will last for 5 years or much longer.  Just be prepared if tenant complains because the energy bill will be high due to using an additional appliance, LOL.  Best of luck.

@Fernando Domingo for an AC unit to be deemed working properly, it needs to cool 14 degrees cooler than the outside air. If you have a newer unit you could maybe get it to 20.

Google tells me the high in Detroit today was 81. So maybe your unit is older or not working as efficiently as it could.

But generally speaking, this doesn’t sound like a big deal. I just bought and had installed a new window unit, cost was 200 bucks. You can buy a used one for 80 and install it yourself if you want. So yes I’d do that.

Tell the tenant the AC is working, you’ll buy a window unit and that’s the end of it. This stuff happens. BTW, even with a new AC, expect about 1 AC call a year. Happens all the time. Most AC issues are easy to fix and cost 150 or less.

My house was built it 2002....2400 sq ft 2 stories...... tons of insulation...... I put in a brand new HVAC that was bigger than recommended,,,,,guess what? The upstairs still gets way hotter than downstairs ...... its physics and thermodynamics. Unless you have a 2 zone system, there is only so much an HVAC can do. If you want it 75 upstairs, be prepared for it being 65 downstairs.....and a huge bill.....

In an older house, the laws of physics and thermodynamics are even more a factor since the house was not build with modern technique and technology....short of a huge remodel to do that, it is what it is.....

Fans and a window unit.......

Get exact written details from the HVAC company....DO NOT rely on what the tenant says.....

Buy a window unit for a few hundred dollars and move on with life. The window unit will stay with the house when the current tenant moves out. Look at it from the tenants perspective - who wants to use a space that is unreasonably hot? 

@Fernando Domingo

1 st .... I would get a PM ASAP

and mean NOW.

2 nd ...Do you trust the your AC

Man ?

If he says the ac is working as it should...then believe HIM NOT YOUR TENANTS

3 rd. DUUUUU HEAT does raise

If there is a window in the attic

Why should you buy them the unit ?


If they want one, they buy it ...

Distance yourself from your tenants

If you have HOA, make sure they are not going to tell you to take the window unit out after you install it for the tenant...i learned that lesson recently.

@Fernando Domingo we had the same problem. We got a second opinion. AC’s are one of those things that cannn(doesn’t mean always are)be so complicated, sometimes one company can figure it out and another company can’t, and visa versa.

Even my own personal ac unit needed a second company to figure out the problems. Lol

Get a second opinion

@Fernando Domingo I personally would avoid window units or stand alone ac units like the ones you see for 300/400 at Home Depot. Mini splits are expensive. You can get in the wall units with their own lil system going for a not too bad of a price. I’m working on getting one now for a back room of mine. I’ll let you know how it goes

Sounds like the system probably wasn't originally designed to cool the upstairs section of house. Check to see if there's ducts upstairs. 

couple of things a good HVAC guy should've tested: 

i would use a psychrometer to test the humidity in the air. A properly setup air conditioner is supposed to remove moisture from the air. With moisture being removed from air it is much more comfortable even at a higher temp. 

they should've checked airflow cfm of ducts. A lot of tennats do not change air filters ever and that causes a major restriction on air flow.

check condenser (outside coil) alot of the times they end up getting filled with leaves grass clippings etc. That makes the unit work harder to reject heat. There are special cleaners just for condensers. 

Lastly it sounds like your HVAC guy didn't even put his refrigeration gauges on the system. To see the whole picture of what's going on with a system, gauges are absolutely necessary. As well as superheat and subcooling. Otherwise you're acutally guessing if the system is charged and working correctly. 

I think you should find a better hvac company

I live in a great big 100 year old house. Our upstairs is just like that. Do you have vents running upstairs at all? We have 2 vents running upstairs. Make sure those are completely open, and maybe close some downstairs. We have a Mitsubishi Mini-Split up there, but it's right at the top of the open staircase so the cold air goes right down the stairs anyways, so we never use it. We have lots of fans up there. One thing to do is open the windows before bed and blow the heat out one window while sucking the cooler outside air in another. You can also to put fans at the bottom of the stairs and blow them up the stairs. Another is to turn the AC down during the night and close any doors to the main floor or basement. We are thinking about putting vents on the roof and ends to help get rid of the heat. Sometimes we just turn the furnace fan on and leave it on. The basement is very cold and recirculating that air helps.
If a window unit would work it might be worth it, but then they'll complain about the electric bill, lol! Just make sure you don't put it near the stairs like our previous owners did :)

My primary is a 1950’s split level. HVAC system is 5 years old. We have to have ac units in all bedroom despite having central air. Buy them a window unit and be done.

@Fernando Domingo

Like many of the other comments, this is common in small two story houses. The upstairs just traps heat. I have a few rentals like this and I just buy a window unit and a fan for the upstairs and everyone is happy. Nothing wrong with the AC unit, AC guy, or tenants. All are being honest.

@Fernando Domingo Think about it this way. If the house was vacant and I visited at this time, and it was hot and sweaty upstairs, I would put in a window unit, just to get it rented. And then make an agreement with tenants, that they have to maintain it. $200 fix for landlord is nothing compared to $150-$200 additional in electric bills per month operating it, that renter will be incurring. The house needs to be viable to keep renters in it long-term. 1 month of vacancy can wipe out profit for whole year, depending on rent. Or thought another way, if you were the renter would you expect a window unit?

When we lived in Milwaukee, this was pretty typical of bungalow style homes that were older. A lot of them were converted into upper/lower duplexes and most didn’t have central air, just window units. A lot of times it’s just a single controller for the radiator on the wall and you’re lucky to have a window unit. We usually used ours for like two months of the year.

Here in Florida, the second floor is ALWAYS hotter, it’s just a matter of how hot it gets. South and west facing windows can increase temps by a good 10° no matter what floor. It’s just a fact of life since heat rises and the afternoon sun is stronger.

For you, get the window unit and call it a day. It stays with the house, make that clear. There likely aren’t even ducts up there for the central unit.

Your HVAC guy could have handled it better both with the tenants and in his explanation to you. I’d find a new one.