How Do I Get Affordable Heat?

I live in an apartment that does not have adequate heating. The house doesn’t have gross violations; there isn’t mold, leaks, or gaping holes in the walls or windows. However, it is really drafty and the building is old so it does not keep out the cold.

There are wall heaters in each of the rooms, but they are electric, so we have to keep them on 24 hours a day to even come close to the 68F degrees law. Our PG&E bill is astronomical! It often doesn’t stay at 68 degrees during the day. When I complained to the property manager about it he said that they could come and put in more electric heaters, but this would only raise our PG&E bill even more.

Is there any law that requires landlords to provide affordable heating?

Ha, like the law that requires landlords to provide affordable housing?

First, thanks for checking the Tenants Union site, as you linked to above. The TU is a good place to go for in-depth tenant counseling. As we discussed, your question is a good one because there should be a law requiring landlords to provide affordable heating because affordable heating is also energy efficient heating.

That your property manager so readily offered to install more electric heaters gives me pause. How are they going to install them and wire them to the existing ones? I wonder if the heaters are legal in the first place.

When we corresponded, you mentioned that your unit had been remodeled a couple of years ago. I’m wondering if the landlords applied for the proper permits to install the heaters. You can go online to the Department of Building Inspection Online Permit and Complaint Tracking to check out building and electrical permits for your address. BTW, tenants should always use this site to check out complaints on a given address before they rent. This site is a great Cheese Ball detector.

As I discussed in a previous column, “Wet, Cold and Moldy,” California Civil Code §1941.1 requires that a dwelling unit be weather tight. You don’t have to demonstrate gaping holes, leaks or mold for a unit to be in violation. In San Francisco many old building are drafty because the old double hung windows are not sealing correctly. Often that occurs because the windows are rotten or the glazing has fallen out. Buildings are also drafty because they are not insulated. Unfortunately, there is no requirement for landlords to insulate before they can rent a unit for a modest $4,500 per month.

Because you have already informed the property manager about the problem, I think you should lodge a complaint with a housing inspector at the DBI and arrange an inspection of your unit to see if there are any housing code violations. Then you can file a petition at the Rent Board for a decrease in services based on the fact that your landlord violated the implied warranty of habitability in your lease.

Generally, in San Francisco, it’s not a good idea to rent an apartment in an old building that has electric heat unless it’s considerably cheaper than other comparable units. Electric wall or baseboard heaters are often indicative of Cheese Ball landlords too cheap to repair an old heating system that, once upon a time, actually worked.

Crow & Rose's legal practice emphasizes eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters.

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