Monday, August 6, 2012
Help Me Howard: Renters' AC Broke
Imagine this: You are a renter, your air conditioner breaks, your landlord won't send out a repairman, and after three days, your baby breaks out in a heat rash. What would you do? One man thought he made the right decision. His landlord disagreed, and it's why we bring in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Robert and Danielle have things split up: He goes to work, she stays home to care for their children, and he helps out when he can.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "I can't feed. That's my wife's job. Unfortunately, I can't help in that department. But I do change diapers."
A stay-at-home mom has a lot to do, and in South Florida needs at least one basic requirement: An air conditioner.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "It was a couple of days with the AC just blowing around hot air."
On a Wednesday, their AC broke. Robert's phone records show he called his landlord's maintenance man.
The next day, he called him again.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "When you are talking 48 hours plus with no air conditioner working, that's inhumane in South Florida. You can't live like that."
So Robert then called his landlord directly.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "Finally, he did pick up the phone on the second day and promised me he would have somebody out here to fix it, and nobody showed up to fix it."
Then, the third day rolled around. No maintenance man. And their home was feeling hot enough to open a sauna.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "It reached almost 90 degrees. About 87 was where it crapped out."
In the daytime, Danielle took the kids to the mall to stay cool while Robert worked. But they had nowhere to go at nighttime.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "And the nights were horrible. You can't sleep, you're sticky. It's disgusting."
According to Robert's phone records, he called the landlord, his business partner and the maintenance guy 15 times on the third day of their heat fest. Then, he looked at their 7-week-old baby.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "The house was almost 90 degrees for two nights. The poor baby had a heat rash on her chest, and the moment I saw that, I said, 'Enough is enough. Something is going to happen tonight. We are not going another night without AC.'"
Robert called an AC repair company. That Friday night, they came out, told him there was a leak in the line, put in freon, and charged him $425.
The AC worked, so he called the landlord to get reimbursed.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "He said, 'That's too bad. If you wanna call somebody, then you pay for the bill.' 'What if I take it out of my rent?' He said, 'If you take it out of your rent, I will start the eviction process.'"
Robert's family had gone three days and two nights in near 90-degree conditions, suffering because their landlord wouldn't repair the air conditioner. And now he wasn't going to pay for the repairs, either.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "When you see your brand-new newborn with a heat rash because of a landlord that doesn't want to put up the money for someone to come and fix it right away, that's not fair. That's not fair to the child at all."
Well Howard, your air conditioner doesn't work. Can a renter get it fixed and get reimbursed if the landlord won't repair it?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "In many cases, no. Unless there are special circumstances, like an elderly person in bad health or a six-week-old baby with a heat rash. In those cases, the law will allow the tenant like Robert to get the repair done to protect himself and his child if the landlord will not."
When I spoke to the landlord, he told me, 'Robert did the repairs without our consent.'
He added, 'The company that charged them $425 was not honest,' that 'my maintenance man could have done it for $125.'
When I asked why his guy didn't fix it, he said he was out of town.
Finally, he told me he wasn't reimbursing Robert for the AC repairs.
Robert can now take him to small claims court, where Howard believes he will win. As for other repairs a landlord won't make...
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "If you have a leaky faucet, a ripped carpet, don't do the repairs yourself. However, if it threatens your health, like a busted pipe, a front door that doesn't lock or a broken air conditioner, if the landlord won't fix it, protect yourself and your family. Get it done, and if they won't repay you, a judge will probably make them."
Robert will go to court, because he is convinced he did the right thing and his landlord is wrong.
Robert McBride, Family is Steaming: "It's disgusting, you know. It's $400. For me, it's a lot. I got a newborn baby, and it's not my AC unit, you know. It's his unit, and he just doesn't care."
Patrick Fraser: "And here is another thought: If Robert didn't get the air conditioner fixed, the baby got worse and had to be rushed to the hospital, odds are, he would have been accused of child abuse. Robert did the right thing, and legally, he should get his money back for those air conditioner repairs."
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