John Roska: When is a cold apartment too cold?
Q: What can I do about no heat in my apartment? I keep telling my landlord it's too cold, but he says the furnace is working at full capacity. How do I prove it's too cold?
A: No heat, and not enough heat, are slightly different problems. One may be life-threatening, while the other uncomfortable and unhealthy.
To prove there's a problem, get a thermometer. Proof that it's 55 degrees is better than complaining that it's "too cold."
Close to but below 65 to 68 degrees would be not enough heat. That's what housing codes require.
The 68 degree requirement comes from International Building Code, which most local housing codes are now based on. (That's in living spaces, and measured both 3 feet above the floor and from a wall.)
The IBC gets tweaked locally. Urbana, for example, says 65 degrees is enough, between September 15 and May 15. And when it's below 4 below outside, no minimum room temperature is required, "provided the heating system is operating at full capacity, with supply valves and dampers in a full open position."
If you live somewhere with a housing code, it's pretty sure to require something similar. If your heat's not up to code, a housing inspector should make the landlord correct that violation.
If a city won't enforce its code (not all do), you could correct those violations yourself through the "repair and deduct" process allowed by Illinois law. If you give your landlord 14 days written notice to fix code violations, and he doesn't, you can then pay for repairs yourself, and deduct that from rent.
The most you can spend is half the monthly rent—$500, tops. And be careful to follow the law's procedures precisely. .
Few small towns and rural areas have codes to enforce. Even so, the standard and local code requirements of 65 to 68 degrees show what's reasonable. Following the repair and deduct procedures, even if they don't strictly apply, would still set up a strong defense if the landlord tried to evict for non-payment of the deducted rent.
Deducting the cost of space heaters, and their extra utility cost, is a possibility, even if those aren't "repairs." It's certainly consistent with the state policy in favor of tenant self-help to remedy defective conditions.
No heat at all can be what lawyers call a "constructive eviction." That's a defect so severe you're forced out for your own protection. No heat in extreme cold should fit that bill.
It's not a constructive eviction unless you move out. Ordinarily, the landlord must have a chance to fix things—but not if it's truly life-threatening.
So, if there's no heat in extreme cold, you can move out. A constructive eviction terminates your lease, and makes the landlord liable for the expenses caused by having to move. That could be staying in a motel, eating out, moving expenses, and the increased rent you end up paying because of the sudden move.
But if the landlord won't voluntarily pay those expenses, you'll have to sue. Therefore, keep records of thermometer readings, and of your expenses.