Veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi takes on questions each week from landlords and property managers, this week on maintenance. His goal is to help educate fellow landlords and property managers on issues he has seen in 30 years in the business.

Dear Landlord Hank:

What Is Your No. 1 Maintenance Request From Tenants?

My number one most frequent maintenance request concerns air conditioning, since we live in the South.

And while we get a lot of calls about air conditioning units, I would estimate “operator error” is responsible for 25 percent of those calls.

So what do you do when you, as the landlord receive, a call from a tenant saying my AC is not working?

Call your AC repair company immediately?

The landlord here in the South should realize this is a high priority problem as high heat and high humidity can result in injury or even death particularly for the elderly.

Can we think for a minute and save a service call?

Let’s think for a minute and see if we can solve this problem more efficiently than calling an AC tech to come right over. Let’s identify the problem exactly if we can, by asking the right questions. You don’t have to know how to repair an air conditioner to have an understanding of how they work and what may be causing the problem once we identify the issue.

So a general statement of “My AC is not working” doesn’t really explain anything we need to know to get to the root of the problem.

Let’s ask our tenant some questions

  • Is air flow coming through the ducts and is the air warm?
  • If yes, we know at least the air handler or part of the system inside the home is functioning. If not, the air handler is not moving air. Why not?
  • Is the thermostat working? Can you see a temperature in the “window” on the thermostat?  If this is not working, it could mean the thermostat has batteries that need replacing. So if the thermostat has batteries and they are replaced are we back in business?  Well if yes, you’ve saved yourself a service call.
  • If not, it could mean that the condensation line, which takes built up water away from the unit, is blocked up and not draining. Newer units, to keep from leaking water outside the unit, will shut the unit off until it can drain properly. The drain pan is attached to pipes at bottom of the unit beneath the filter. If you remove the filter, you should be able to see if the water level in the pan is significant. An AC tech will need to clear the drain, normally by blowing the debris out of the condensation drain line. If you put four ounces of bleach into the drain line during periods of usage it can prevent mold and mildew build up in condensation drain line.

Keep the tenant questions going

  • Ask tenant next if the issue came on slowly or was the unit working one minute and then it wasn’t?  Let’s check the main circuit breaker panel and make sure all breakers are in the “on” position. Have tenant flip all breakers off and then back on listening for the click that indicates breaker switch is in correct position.
  • Is the outside condensing unit running?  If not, there should be a breaker associated with this unit and we need to make sure it is on and condensing unit is working.
  • Is there a “Humidistat” tied into the system? Is it on?
  • When was the AC filter changed last?  If the filter is clogged with debris air flow will be drastically reduced.

Finally to summarize:

We need to make sure all parts of the system are receiving electricity and working. This includes the thermostat, air handler and condensing unit. We need to make sure filter is clean. Then that humidistat is turned on. And, then that the condensation line is removing water from air handler.

I usually tell the tenant that a little checking on their part could save them a hot day. And,  get their life running smoothly again QUICKLY!

Photo copyright by Dayna via creative commons

About the author Hank Rossi:

“I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of our family rentals- maintenance, tenant relations, etc , in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad’s assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota, Florida convinced me to try the Florida lifestyle. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage. We focus on property management and leasing. I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta. “ Visit Hank’s website here.