What rights do overheated tenants have

24th May 2011
In the build up to what we hope will be a long hot summer we will all be heavily reliant on the air conditioning in our workplace. 

An uncomfortably warm working environment is detrimental to staff morale and productivity. The maintenance and repair of air conditioning equipment can be incredibly costly. In multi-let buildings it is usual for the landlord to be responsible for keeping this equipment in working order and recover payment from each tenant via the service charge. 

During these difficult economic times, the number of empty units within multi-let buildings is forever increasing. Empty units increase the landlord’s contribution to the service charge out of their own money. The telephone call from a tenant to say their air conditioning is not working is not a call any landlord would ask for. 

What rights do overheated tenants have? 

A tenant should initially contact the landlord or their managing agent to inform them of the problem. It may be possible for the air conditioning to simply be serviced or a minor repair may be required which can be dealt with easily and quickly. Co-operation between the parties can assist no end in resolving the matter. 

However, co-operation is not always forthcoming from both sides and landlords do, on occasion, fail to address the problem despite persistence from the tenant. In many cases a tenant will have paid an inflated rent due to the air conditioning system at the property. In this situation a tenant may wish to consider making a claim against the landlord for damages. 

In the case of Clarke & others (practising with others as Morgan Cole) v Lloyds TSB Bank plc [2002] the tenant, a firm of solicitors, made a claim for such damages. The solicitors occupied office premises in Fleet Street, London and their landlord failed to repair defective air conditioning during a period of 6 years throughout both the summer and the winter. The problems experienced included excessive heat both in summer and winter, stale air and noise. 

The lease provided that the landlord must perform services including “…the inspection maintenance repair and renewal and replacement by way of repair of … plant and machinery … including systems and plant and equipment relating to … the supply of air conditioning mechanical ventilation …”. 

The Court held that the tenant was entitled to a 33% discount on the rent paid for the whole of the 6 year period during which the air conditioning was defective. The damages were assessed on the basis of the difference in rents payable for the property with or without air conditioning multiplied by the number of days for which the tenant was without air conditioning. The damages were calculated as being £173,369.00 which was lowered to £165,000.00 as this matched a year’s rent under the lease. 

It is important therefore for landlords to ensure they take action as soon as possible upon receipt of any notice from their tenant in relation to faulty air conditioning. It would be sensible for them to take legal advice with regard to their duties within the lease. On the other hand, it is crucial that tenants inform their landlord immediately if there is a problem with their air conditioning and it would be sensible to keep a record of each time the problem is reported. Tenants should consider whether their landlord is complying with their covenants in the lease or whether it really is going to be a long hot summer!

Laura Raby
Commercial Property Solicitor