I've moved a rental in the spring. In the rental contract I am responsible for regular maintenance as the oil heater needs yearly servicing. As the weather is cooling off I scheduled servicing.

The repair person noticed large amounts of ash consistent with an improper setup. I paid for the servicing which he completed the best he was able. Configuring the heater properly requires more tools and a specialist. As explained by the repairman the heater is minimally functional but really shouldn't be operated for extended periods (the whole winter) in it's current condition.

I've contacted the rental agency about the issue. They said that since regular heater maintenance is part of the contract this is my responsibility. I explained what the repairman informed me about the improper installation, which occurred prior to moving in, and their response was that was one persons opinion and did not change my responsibility.

What are my options? The repairman mentioned this could be a health inspector may be a place to turn. Should I lawyer up now? What kind of lawyer should I seek out?

I'm in the U.S. in the state of Pennsylvania.

P.S. I'm asking for my sister's benefit as she is the one actually in this situation. I'll answer any questions as I'm able. I've urged her to get a paper trail started now and flesh out as many details as possible. I'm under the impression the configuration will not be cheap, but do not know exact details.

P.P.S. I made a follow up call to the rental agency to ask for a message to be passed to the property owner requesting information about the people who installed the heater. This was an attempt to get them to warranty their own work and also nail down someone who should be qualified to do the work. The agency said "that is none of your business" and ended the call. They immediately called back on my phone asking for the property owner by name. Once they realized their mistake they denied attempting to contact the property owner and hung up. Strange.

  • 1
    Your lease should say something about where your responsibility ends and the landlord's begins. State law may also have something to say about it. Certainly "regular maintenance" is unlikely to mean "all maintenance," and repair of a faulty installation is unlikely to constitute "regular maintenance." The landlord may have a responsibility to provide the heating equipment in good working order, which he may not have met.
    – phoog
    Nov 2, 2016 at 17:21
  • What kind of heater is it (you mention ash) - from a safety point of view you really need to ascertain if its installed in such a way that smoke fumes are not going into the house as this could be highly toxic.
    – davidgo
    Nov 2, 2016 at 22:53

2 Answers 2


Regular maintenance does not include repairs for being broken – I have a contract with a company that (for a monthly payment) provides regular maintenance on the furnace, which does not cover the situation where the motor wears out, or whatever. In the worst case scenario of an oil line breech, the tenant would not be liable for the tens of thousands of dollars of cleanup that would be required.

Under Pennsylvania law, there is an implied warranty of habilitability, for example the landlord warrants that it doesn't rain inside the house, there is hot and cold running water, and so on. Safe heat is an example of something that is included in a place being habitable. This warranty is not waivable by lease provision (Fair v. Negley, 390 A.2d 240). However, the subjective recommendation of a repair guy has little legal cash value: what is needed is an arms-length evaluation of the safety and functionality of the system. If the recommendation is based on inefficient fuel use and long-term likelihood of eventual system failure, that is probably not sufficient to compel a repair. Excess CO on the other hand is a clear danger. The repairman should be able to at least explain the specifics of the improper setup and the consequences of doing nothing. Documentation of actions taken is a good idea.


Rental law varies greatly by state, so I won't be able to offer concrete advice as to actions you can take, but I will advise to be careful about the actions you do take. For instance, withholding rent is allowed in some states for some conditions, but other states do not allow it at all. I would immediately get in touch with a tenants' rights group, perhaps one of the ones listed here: http://tenant.net/Other_Areas/Penn/harris/pawhere.html

As a landlord, I would suggest that you get a second opinion on the faulty install theory. I would be immediately suspicious of the repair person's opinion, so I would try to get it backed up by another professional. Also, getting a couple competing bids for the work if it is necessary.

Once you have that info, I would write a letter requesting the repair (from your sister, not you). Include the estimates and reasoning, pointing out any language from the rental contract that supports your position that the rental company is required to pay for it.

You can probably find a form letter to start with, such as the one generated at this link: http://www.palawhelp.org/resource/request-to-landlord-for-repairs?ref=uXFXN

I would avoid threatening anything like withholding rent or vacating the rental in the first letter. Just request the repairs and give a reasonable deadline to reply with confirmation that the company will pay for the repairs. If they still balk, I would look at tenants rights groups, legal aid clinics, or the like to find a lawyer to write the same letter for you with some threatened actions that are legal and appropriate in your state.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .