When do I tell tenant they dont control the thermostat

34 Replies

I am a new landlord with one up and down duplex. The building has separate electric meters, one gas and water meters. For that reason I am responsible for water and gas bills and tenants pay their own electric. Because of having only one gas meter, there is single HVAC hence singe thermostat as well. The downstairs unit already has a tenant and I am getting ready to rent the upstairs unit. When is the right time to notify my prospective upstairs tenants that they do not have control of the thermostat, it will be controlled by the tenant who rented downstairs?

This will be a problem. You should get a seperate gas and water meter.

The other option is to have a damper installed and seperate thermostat for upstairs. I still would not want to be paying for unlimited gas and water for my tenants.

@Frank Mwaisaka

We also have a couple small multi family properties that are on one gas meter. What we do is put a lockbox over all thermostats and set them to 68-70 degrees.

We also rent these properties to college students by the bedroom so this is probably a little easier for us to control temp than it may be a traditional duplex, where families may want more control over the heat. But something to think about.

Do not wait until after the tenant has signed the lease. You need to be upfront about this. In any event, if the tenant below likes it hot, the upstairs tenant will inevitably open the windows upstairs even on a cold day and you will go broke. Separate the gas service.

you need to lock the thermostat and set it at a reasonable level where one can use a space heater if needed.....  I lived in a 4 plex with one thermostat and i lived with my windows open all winter.......    and tell the person before they sign the lease and make it part of the lease but dont hide it., 

If you have a single furnace, then the electrical is not separate. One of the units will be paying to run the furnace motor.

@Frank Mwaisaka if this was a side by side you would have more ability to get away with this. Being a over under your going to have the upstairs tenants always complaining as heat rises. Seriously consider converting to seperate heating sources. Even if you only duct from the furnace to the lower unit and then install a mini split in the upper unit.

So this is in South Bend? If they don't learn about this in the first discussion you have with them you're already running late.

@Frank Mwaisaka this is a very common issue in the Midwest in general and I run into this all the time on properties I sell here in Chicago. Of course, it would be great to split the heat and if this is a long term hold then you should consider it. The issue is, of course that this may not be economically feasible for you. I would be up front that heat is free (plus for the tenant), but that controls are in the basement. You are not competing with properties built in the 2000's in your area so tenants are likely facing similar types of setups elsewhere. 

Originally posted by @Frank Mwaisaka :

@Jim K.

Yes this is in South Bend area. I was considering to have this situation included in the rental ads but I was not sure if will be a good idea.

The reason I mentioned the location was that we're talking about a pretty significant heating bill in Indiana in the winter months, versus something you might be able to get around in other ways. Your situation would be quite different if the duplex was in New Mexico or Florida.

Originally posted by @Frank Mwaisaka :

I am a new landlord with one up and down duplex. The building has separate electric meters, one gas and water meters. For that reason I am responsible for water and gas bills and tenants pay their own electric. Because of having only one gas meter, there is single HVAC hence singe thermostat as well. The downstairs unit already has a tenant and I am getting ready to rent the upstairs unit. When is the right time to notify my prospective upstairs tenants that they do not have control of the thermostat, it will be controlled by the tenant who rented downstairs?

Frank,

Nest sells thermostats that run off of the wifi, so they dont need to be hard wired. You could install a damper on the furnace to control where the heat / AC go. Then the tenants set the temp they want with the smart thermostat and you are good to go.

 

Haha dude I would tell them immediately!! This would be a deal-breaker for me, we control the crap out of our house! But we have a baby, and like to save $$$ so everyone is different.


@Frank Mwaisaka , I would be livid if I signed a lease and THEN discovered I was at the whim of the downstairs neighbor. What if they like it cold and I prefer it to be warm? Or vice versa? I can see the downstairs tenant cranking the heat (especially if they don't have to pay for it) then the upstairs tenant opening windows because it's too hot. 

When your leasing it you should disclose this. Hiding it is how landlords get a bad rep and also may lead to tenant problems if people feel you were dishonest when they signed. 

Originally posted by @Frank Mwaisaka :

@John Teachout

Thank you, I never thought about this, looks like downstairs tenant paying for the motor.

 Actually you have a bigger problem. You said HVAC, which implies central AC, which runs off electric. That means one of those tenants is paying a huge electric bill in the summer. Maybe there is no central air, but still the electricity for the fan has some expense. 

Heat rises, so odds are good the tenants upstairs will be warm. That could lead to them opening windows to let heat out. My guess is separating the vent system would be difficult and costly, so you are stuck with this situation. Tenant upstairs will need to shut vents and figure out how to control the temperature without opening windows. Just be upfront with them and explain the situation.

I would personally never buy a multifamily with shared air ducts. That doesn't even meet code for new construction. It was probably converted from single family. You are basically recirculating air between the two units. Some people may not like that with COVID. 

I don't mind shared systems if it is radiator based, because it is very efficient and easier to fine tune radiators, plus no shared air vents.

Originally posted by @Matt Nico :
Originally posted by @Frank Mwaisaka:

I am a new landlord with one up and down duplex. The building has separate electric meters, one gas and water meters. For that reason I am responsible for water and gas bills and tenants pay their own electric. Because of having only one gas meter, there is single HVAC hence singe thermostat as well. The downstairs unit already has a tenant and I am getting ready to rent the upstairs unit. When is the right time to notify my prospective upstairs tenants that they do not have control of the thermostat, it will be controlled by the tenant who rented downstairs?

Frank,

Nest sells thermostats that run off of the wifi, so they dont need to be hard wired. You could install a damper on the furnace to control where the heat / AC go. Then the tenants set the temp they want with the smart thermostat and you are good to go.

 

 Wifi thermostats are hard wired to the HVAC controls. You can control them wirelessly, but if you give both tenants access, they are likely to just battle eachother for settings. You could hide it in a locked location and just landlord control it.

Downstairs unit that has thermostat should be responsible for heating bill. For the upstairs unit you could have an electrician install some electric baseboard heaters with their own thermostat. Then it is tied to their electric bill and they would also have their own thermostat as well

@Frank Mwaisaka Indiana? Cold from September til May/June. I would definitely let them know ahead of time, such as at viewing of property. And it should be in the lease. In Michigan the minimum temp

For preset heat is 67 degrees and there are certain dates heat needs to be provided. Oct- May- not 100% sure that’s what it used to be . Definitely find a way to split that and then have your tenants pay their own heat.

@Frank Mwaisaka in our two story house we had a separate thermostat for upstairs installed, it is warmer. We have oil, hot water cast iron radiators. we installed a separate electric radiator (with liquid heating elements, more energy efficient), in my daughters room so she can have the temp she wants.