Is The Landlord Responsible For The Air Conditioner? Commercial Questions Answered.

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Is the landlord responsible for the air conditioner? Commercial and residential responses are much the same, and the short answer is, yes and no. There are many mitigating factors, which very quickly make it an ‘it depends…’ issue. The best comparison, where there are no additional clauses or small print that is, is to treat the air conditioner as you would the geyser or a pool/pond pump – presuming there is a water feature in your building. In common law, the landlord is responsible for maintaining the interior and exterior of leased properties.

When it comes to the air conditioning in commercial buildings, it is common for the tenant to pay for maintenance and repairs, but the landlord would pay for any replacements. But here is where the ‘it depends’ part fits in. It still depends largely on the particular lease agreement in question. We will look at vital lease questions that should be addressed as to how to assess whether the landlord is responsible for the air conditioner.

Tenants using a leased property are going to incur ‘wear and tear’ – we’ll address this also because that subject is fraught with interpretation.

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The Legalities

In most cases, the air conditioning system in commercial buildings keeps people comfortable at the office, protects inventory and warehousing and the bonus is that it likely provides cleaner indoor air than what may exist outdoors. That makes it an important aspect of the lease. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Tenant pays all – This may seem advantageous to the landlord but there is the risk, humans being as they are that the air conditioning is neglected by the tenant in the guise of saving expenses. Repairs may also be put on the back burner should the lease be nearing its end. These scenarios often create tensions between the parties as neglect results in costly repairs.
  2. Shared responsibility – Where the tenant pays for the maintenance and repairs while the landlord pays for parts needing to be replaced. A qualified company like TOSHIBA should be contracted to see that the filter changes and duct cleaning is carried out correctly. Should damage occur through tenant negligence, the tenant should be required to pay the bills resulting.
  3. Limited responsibility – Setting a limit on tenant costs for maintenance and repairs can be agreed upon. In this case, a pro-rata payment can be calculated in relation to the remaining life expectancy of the air conditioning system and the amount of time left for the lease.

Whatever agreement is written up in a lease, should be clearly understood by both parties as to the condition, age and life expectancy of the air conditioning system and what costs each are to be responsible for.

Common Lease Questions and Best Practices Apropos Air Conditioner (Commercial)

In short, it is the landlord’s responsibility to place and maintain the property fit for the purpose for which it was let. The tenant is responsible for maintaining the property in the good condition it was given to him – wear and tear accepted. Common lease questions as to who is responsible for the air conditioner can be resolved and cleared by:

  • Checking your lease agreement carefully in the event the property is already rented
  • Establish an agreement on the matter when signing any new lease.
  • In the event that the landlord takes responsibility, tenants must be prompt about reporting faults.
  • Stipulate in lease agreements the amount of time by which reported faults must be seen to, e.g.  2-5 working days.

A great list of best practices in the matter of whether the landlord is responsible for the air conditioner etc is offered by Etchells & Young property brokers:

  • Educate yourself by knowing the relevant law and know what is required of you in terms of the lease that you signed, irrespective of if you are a Landlord or Tenant!
  • As a Tenant, report items that become defective as soon as you become aware of it, especially if it is an item that the Landlord is responsible for –  Do not leave them until they become an emergency issue and then also your responsibility!
  • Landlords and Agents should conduct regular inspections of the property to identify any potential problems early – whoever is responsible for the air conditioner.
  • Do any required maintenance when it is required and convenient, don’t leave it until after the lease has ended.
  • Apply generous amounts of common sense and do what is right!
  • Make use of the services of a Professional Rental Management company to handle all issues fairly and correctly.

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What Constitutes Wear and Tear?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘wear and tear’ as “the damage that happens to an object in the ordinary use during a period.”

With respect to whether the landlord is responsible for appliances like the air conditioner, Marlon Shevelew, one of SA’s top Rental Property Lawyers and renowned rental expert explains: “To understand it better, a general rule of thumb is that if a tenant has damaged something that does not normally wear out, or the tenant has substantially shortened the life of something that does wear out, the tenant may be charged the pro-rated cost of the item. The landlord should consider how old the item was and how long it may have lasted otherwise, as well as the cost of replacement.”

If the landlord is responsible for the air conditioner, commercial in particular, it is good for tenants to know the above too.

How You Can Avoid Problems With Your Aircon System?

Herewith are some regular best practices you can implement to keep an air conditioner functioning at its peak and avoiding needless wear and tear:

  • Replace air filters regularly – every 3 to 6 months
  • Trim plants crowding the outdoor compressor
  • Never run the aircon with doors or windows open
  • Close curtains to block our direct sunlight while the aircon is on
  • Never run the aircon more than 19 degrees C
  • Insist on an annual check-up

The final word on whether a landlord is responsible for the air conditioner (commercial) belongs to Leon Breytenbach, national manager of the Rawson Property Group’s commercial division, who says ‘a review of the tenants’ obligations is therefore often called for and if possible, the landlord or agent should go through these with the tenant before he takes occupation.’

A proper inspection coupled with documentary proof or photos, taken prior to the tenant occupying the property, can also be used as a solid base on which to establish any ‘wear and tear’ calculations during the period of the lease.

Breytenbach says ‘the tenant is responsible for informing the owner or landlord of anything affecting the property, particularly maintenance tasks that become necessary. The tenant is also obliged to give the landlord access to the property to check on its condition and arrange for maintenance to be done’.

Do you have questions around your commercial air conditioning system? Please feel free to contact the Toshiba team.