Tenant complains about AC problem; expert outlines options for renters

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Deshawn Cohen moved his wife and children into a new apartment in March near Belle Terrace and South Real Road. Just months later, he said that's when all the problems began.

He described problems with bug infestations, electricity issues and a broken stove, but all of those issues have paled in comparison to the broken air-conditioning unit.

"It goes in and out when it wants to, it doesn't work," said Cohen. "There have been times when it's gotten to be 95 degrees in my house."

Cohen said any attempt to get the landlord to fix the problem has been nothing more than a waste of time.

"The maintenance guy even gave me his phone number in case the air-conditioning goes out, but when I called him he told me I have to get ahold of the rental company first, which is the same run around," said Cohen. "They send him out here, they have different excuses. I haven't gotten anywhere, and this has been almost two months now."

Eyewitness News stopped by the office of D Best Realty, which manages Cohen's apartment. Officials were not able to speak with us.

Cohen said he fears the extreme heat could threaten the health and safety of his family.

"I have two autistic sons, I have high blood pressure, and I've already been to the hospital one time because it's been so hot my heart started racing," he said.

Does the rental company have a legal obligation to fix Cohen problem? Xochitl Garcia of the Landlord Tenant Assistance Center said yes, and no.

"California law does not provide a landlord to provide an air conditioner or other kind of cooling unit," said Garcia, "but if the unit already comes with an air conditioner and the air conditioner was working at the time the unit was rented, then the tenant has a right to have the air conditioner repaired, because they originally bargained to have a home that had a working air conditioner"

There are a few steps that Cohen and renters like him can take to resolve a rental dispute.

"He should definitely make the landlord aware of the problem, write the landlord a letter stating that he needs the AC repaired, give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repair, and after that if the landlord still refuses to make the repair, the tenant can sue the landlord in small claims court for those months he went without receiving the full bargain of what he rented," Garcia said.

If you would like assistance with a rental dispute, contact the Landlord Tenant Assistance Center at 1415 Truxtun Ave., Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. This form can be used to list rental grievances {>}{>}

The fastest and most efficient way to resolve most tenant-landlord disputes is outside of court, according to Garcia.

"Hopefully a landlord and tenant can sit down and work out a mediation agreement so they can avoid going to court altogether," said Garcia.

Renters can also take more aggressive steps, such as to stop paying their rent and use the money to make repairs themselves.

If they decide to do so, Garcia advised to be sure the landlord has been sufficiently notified of the problem, that enough time has been allotted for the problem to be resolved, and to submit to the landlord a receipt for the cost of the repairs.

Garcia said it takes time to work through these issues, but for the time being, Cohen is frustrated.

"They call themselves D Best Realty, but I haven't seen any reason for them to even call themselves that, and just hope that they do what they need to do to fix the situation" said Cohen. "All I need is a working air conditioner, and I don't see what's so hard about that to fix."