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Esq. - This is a question regarding heat requirements in my…

Dear Lucy, Esq. -This is...
Dear Lucy, Esq. -This is a question regarding heat requirements in my two rental units.I live in San Francisco, CA. I live in a single-family home. I have a renter downstairs in a downstairs studio. And I have a roommate/renter upstairs. (Note that my roommate/renter upstairs disabled and is registered with the City of San Francisco to receive a monthly housing benefit. I, as his landlord, receive payment for his monthly rent directly from the City.)Question:The State of CA, the San Francisco Rent Board, and the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections requires all landlords to follow the rules of the "Heat Ordinance". By law, I am required to maintain a minimum temperature of 68 degrees in all rental units.The downstairs studio is new construction...very energy efficient with very little drafts. The upstairs unit is not new construction...built in 1945 and subject to drafts and cold.During these chilly winter months, I have programmed the thermostat to 70 degrees and to automatically turn on/off at the required Heat Ordinance times. Upstairs it's difficult to keep the temp at 70 degrees. BUT DOWNSTAIRS it warms up very well, very fast, and very efficiently.ISSUE: The downstairs tenant has been complaining - quite aggressively - that it is too hot downstairs. She states that the heat is "excessive" and that her studio - during early morning and evening hours - can be between 75 - 83 degrees. She cannot close the vents - because this can result in damage to the central heating system. (There is literature all over the internet stating you should never close heat vents - it costs more money, makes the furnace work hard, and can damage the system. NOTE that she WAS closing two of her three heat vents up until last week - and while they were closed, she was complaining IT WAS TOO COLD and therefore demanding that I turn the heat up. Because this was a waste of money, and dangerous to the furnace, and of course creating a nuisance, I replaced the vents with covers she cannot close. This is simply to protect my furnace/property from damage as well as to not waste heat and energy.)QUESTION: Can my downstairs tenant sue me for 1) being too warm during the winter and 2) not allowing her to close the vents in her studio? By law, I cannot take away heat from my disabled tenant upstairs in order to placate my tenant downstairs. And as the landlord and property owner, am I not allowed to protect my property (the furnace) to ensure that a tenant does not damage it (i.e. closing vents even though there are piles of literature confirming that closed heat vents can damage the furnace - i.e. crack the air chamber and cause carbon monoxide to leak through the house)? Downstairs tenant is demanding to control the building furnace/heating system. I'm beginning to feel harassed by this.I contacted the San Francisco Rent Board - they confirmed that there is no mention of a "maximum" heat temperature in the heating ordinance...the only requirements of the heat ordinance is to keep people warm. After explaining my issue above to them, they stated that they can see no red flags on my side. (They also stated that they have no knowledge or experience with anyone complaining about being to warm in their apartments during the winter months.)My apologies...I do not know what to do. I'm afraid she's going to become vindictive and attempt to sue me one way or the other. I would be so grateful for any advice you may give me.Ryan
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1/23/2018
Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 32,264
Experience: Attorney
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Hi Ryan,

Thank you for requesting me. I'm sorry to hear about your situation.

There is no maximum heat limitation in winter. Like the Rent Board said, the idea is to ensure that people are warm enough in their homes. Your tenant can't sue you for it being too warm. She also doesn't have a right to control the heat for the other tenant. There really isn't a cause of action against a landlord based on the fact that an apartment is too warm. And she would be liable for the cost of fixing any damage she caused to the heating system.

The easiest solution for the tenant is to open the windows when it's too warm. A more long-term solution might be to look into ways to make the upstairs apartment more energy efficient so you don't have to heat the entire building so much. The best solution, from a practical standpoint, might be to upgrade to a system that has two heating zones and let each tenant control their own. But that can be expensive and I don't know if it would be feasible for the property you have.

There's unfortunately not a lot you can do to prevent her from suing if she wants to. But the law is on your side. She doesn't have a case against you here.

Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 32,264
Experience: Attorney
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