During the winter months, lack of heat or hot water can become life-threatening conditions. This can be an especially big problem if you are disabled or have small children. Repairs to heating and air or water heating appliances may be expensive, and landlords do not always fix them right away. The South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (Act) gives special protections to tenants when heat or hot water is not being provided in their units.
The Act requires landlords to provide heat and hot water. Landlords are also required to maintain heating systems and hot water tanks. Landlords cannot avoid these requirements through the lease. If the landlord does not provide these services, you can sue but must first deliver a written notice to the landlord. If the problem is not resolved as soon as possible, you can sue the landlord in the magistrate or circuit court and ask that the judge order the landlord to fix the problem and pay money damages. In most cases, a landlord has fourteen (14) days to repair a problem, but if the problem affects health or safety, the landlord must make the repair as soon as possible. If the landlord does not repair heat or hot water, you can terminate the lease but must first give the landlord a written notice that the lease will terminate in fourteen (14) days unless the problem is fixed before then.
Additionally, if the landlord does not provide heat or hot water, you have the right to obtain heat or hot water by some other means, such as a space heater or fire wood. You can subtract the cost from the rent and sue the landlord for money damages and attorneys’ fees.
Once you discover a problem with heat or a water heater, you should act as soon as possible. First, send a letter to the landlord with the specific details of the problem and what you want him to do. If you want to terminate your lease because of this problem, say that in the letter. Remember, if the landlord fixes the problem within 14 days, you will not be allowed to end your lease. Take pictures of any visible problems in the heating unit or water heater. If not having the heat is life threatening, you can ask the magistrate judge for an emergency order to order the landlord to fix the problem.
If the landlord does not fix the problem, you may sue. You can sue in the magistrate court or the county court of common pleas in the county where you live. If you file your case in the magistrate court, you can get a trial quickly, but remember, you cannot ask for more than $7,500.00 in damages. You or the landlord can ask for a jury trial. Some counties require that you and the landlord try mediation before scheduling a jury trial. If you are having a problem with heat, air or hot water in your unit, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.