Air conditioning units — presumably, along with AC repair technicians — have been working overtime as Austinites suffer through a summer of record-breaking heat.
If you’re renting, that means you’re at the will and whim of a landlord or property manager to handle any AC repairs. While Austin doesn’t require rental properties to have AC, if you do have it and it dies, the landlord is required to fix it.
Wait, so Austin doesn’t have rules to require AC in rental properties?
Nope. At least not yet.
The city does have a requirement for heating in its building code, but not AC.
If an AC unit is installed, however, it has to function properly, Bianca Michuda with Austin’s Development Services Department says.
“The adopted building codes do not require air conditioning to be installed,” she said. “Heating systems are required and must be capable of maintaining a temperature of 68 degrees in all habitable areas. There is not, however, a specific temperature performance required for air conditioning.”
That’s likely going to change in the next year, however.
Citing this summer’s punishing heat, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes led an effort to push city staff to draft an ordinance to put a temperature requirement on the books.
“I think anyone who steps outside understands just how hot it is and how we’ve had a really tough summer this year,” she said. “And we can only expect more severe weather events, as well as more extreme heat, especially with the worsening climate crisis we’re in.”
So what do I do if my AC dies?
Freelance photographer Jessica Martin woke up sweaty on an early August morning; her AC had conked out overnight. It wasn’t the first time it had died during the record-breaking heat.
In 84 degrees, her computer server started overheating, and she couldn’t work. Luckily, she said, her kids were in school.
Martin was surprised to learn there weren’t specific AC requirements in Austin, while other cities like Dallas and Houston do require buildings to have air conditioning.
“To find out that there are no ordinances, there are no protections … for anybody that really sucks,” she said. “I don’t understand how that can happen in a state that stays this hot for as long as it does.”
Martin said her landlord was responsive and got the unit working again.
Still, there are some options for dealing with a non-responsive property manager, says Shoshana Krieger, a housing advocate with the Austin nonprofit BASTA.
Namely, Krieger says, call 311.
Landlords are required to make repairs, and if they’re not doing that, the city can write them up. But the process isn’t that straight-forward and can be pretty time consuming.
Krieger suggests documenting any communications you’ve had with your landlord. After you call 311, the city should send someone out to inspect whether your AC is functioning.
“If the unit isn’t cooling properly, [the city] will issue your landlord a violation, and the landlord should correct the problem,” she says. “The landlord gets a notice that they have violated city law and that they need to remedy the the problem.”
Krieger recommends writing down your complaint number. This will come in handy if an inspector doesn’t make it out or if they incorrectly close out your complaint. Again, keep track of all communications with the inspector.
If that happens, or if your case isn’t moving along, you should ask to speak to the inspector’s supervisor.
If there’s no response, feel free to blow up your local official’s email or call their office. Krieger says that’s a last resort, but it’s particularly effective at greasing the wheels.
Krieger says it’s worth noting that these tips apply to a variety of housing-related requests for service — everything from issues with electricity to roof issues to plumbing. You can find more information on the complaint process on BASTA’s website.