Clean air is a topic on everyone’s mind these days. From allergies to viruses, we all want to be safe.
Renters may feel especially vulnerable since they are likely living in a home with other tenants or where someone with different cleaning habits lived before them. Prior tenants may have smoked, had pets or never vacuumed.
These behaviors could show signs in the air ducts. Tenants seeking to breathe clean air may wonder are landlords responsible for air duct cleaning that pass hot and cold air to the rental.
While the actual determination of a landlords responsibility to clean air ducts is set on a state by state basis, the laws are nearly all identical.
Landlords are not responsible for cleaning the air ducts of their rental property. While it is important that the HVAC system be properly maintained and available for tenants to use, duct cleaning has never been proven to prevent actual health problems. Unless stated within the rental agreement, cleaning air ducts is not required.
What are the landlord’s HVAC maintenance responsibilities?
Landlords are responsible for maintaining a safe and habitable living environment for their tenants including ensuring that the HVAC system is in good working order.
Depending on where you live, a properly working heating or air conditioning system may be necessary for the health of the tenants.
Here is an example of a few state laws on HVAC systems:
|Florida||Landlord’s obligation to maintain premises. Functioning facilities for heat during winter, running water, and hot water.|
|California||Conditions that make a rental unit legally uninhabitableHeating facilities in good working order|
|Texas||LANDLORD’S DUTY TO REPAIR OR REMEDY. (a) A landlord shall make a diligent effort to repair or remedy a condition if: The condition materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant;|
|Georgia||Repairs and Maintenance. Residential landlords have a duty to keep a unit in a safe and habitable condition and in good repair… The landlord must: Keep electric, heating and plumbing in working order;|
Therefore, it would be a landlord’s duty to make sure the warm or cool air is flowing as needed.
This may include:
- Properly functioning furnaces, air conditioners, and ductwork
- Repairs within a reasonable amount of time (more about rental property emergency repairs)
- Sufficient heat or air to reach specified temperatures
- Changing air filters
Often, professional cleaning of an HVAC system includes an internal cleaning of the furnace or air conditioning system. However thorough cleaning of all attached ductwork is not typically included.
A landlord however, must live up to their lease agreement. So if it says ductwork will be routinely cleaned then that must be followed.
Why tenants may want to have the HVAC cleaned
When a new tenant takes possession of a rental property, they expect the air flow from heating and cooling to be clean.
After moving in, if symptoms should suddenly appear, it could be a sign that the air ducts need to be cleaned. A few reactions that may be noticed include:
- Asthma or respiratory issues
- Itchy eyes
While it may seem obvious to a renter that a dirty HVAC system is the culprit, insisting on cleaning can be difficult to justify.
A certain amount of dust traveling through the system is normal. Even if cleaned it won’t change anything. If a person moves from a residence with baseboard heating to forced air, there could be an adjustment period to the way air is circulated.
There are really only a handful of issues that when detected should be addressed.
How to determine when an air duct needs to be cleaned
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, cleaning air ducts has never been shown to actually prevent health problems.
However, should symptoms suddenly appear after a tenant moves in, there are a few tell tale signs that the issue may be caused by dirty ductwork.
Unusual symptoms or reaction – An immediate onset of unusual or unexplained symptoms or illnesses could be a result of poor air quality. Dizziness, nausea and sensitivity to odors that occur only when inside the building but go away when outside could be a sign. Make note if this happens more frequently when the heat or air is on. Does it impact other members of the home?
Visible mold – If there are obvious signs of mold growth on the interior of the air ducts, remediation may be needed. Keep in mind it may be difficult to access the interior ductwork. Also, only a lab test will be able to confirm that the substance is indeed mold.
Ducts are infested – Any sign of insects or rodents in the air ducts should be addressed. These pests could carry bacteria and leave droppings causing poor air quality.
Debris or particles released – There should not be excessive amounts of dust and debris or particles released from the air supply registers.
How often should air ducts be cleaned?
Furnace and air conditioning systems should be maintained on a regular basis. However, this does not mean that the air ducts need to be cleaned at any interval. A properly maintained system should be completely sealed and only light dust should move in and out of the ducts.
Air ducts should be cleaned as needed such as when the issues above are identified.
Landlords seeking to maintain their rental at the highest level might consider cleaning the air ducts on an annual basis or when a tenant moves out. This may be a feature that helps secure new tenants faster.
How does the HVAC in a rental get dirty?
A well-maintained HVAC system should have very little dirt or particles that would need to be cleaned.
The air ducts should be completely sealed so the only place debris can enter is through the air intake and supply registers.
Even when an HVAC system is properly cared for, there are some contaminants that can enter the air ducts.
- Lint and dust from rugs, couches, clothes and skin particles will circulate normally through the air and can enter the vents.
- Pet hair from dogs and cats who shed can be light and small enough to make its way into the air ducts.
- Outdoor dust and pollen can come in through open windows and doors and make its way into the ducts. A tell tale sign could be when the outside of windows need to be cleaned.
- Cooking odors and cigarette smoke can also get sucked up into the vents and be pushed through the system.
While these are all very normal occurrences, build up over time could warrant the need to clean the air ducts.
What tenants can do to make sure air ducts are clean
It can be very understandable that a landlord will not want to have air ducts in a rental cleaned. They will have to pay a lot of money and there is likely no way to tell if the service had any impact.
Still, there are some things that a tenant can do to improve the air quality in an apartment.
- Ask the landlord to have the ducts cleaned – There is no reason a tenant can’t ask a landlord if they will have the air ducts cleaned. Just be aware the cleaning air ducts in a rental will likely cost a few hundred dollars and the landlord may not be prepared to pay for that.
- Ask the landlord to change the filters – Changing filters on an HVAC system will cost a lot less money than cleaning. It is also very simple and an effective way to keep the air supply clean.
- Vacuum regularly – Frequent vacuuming of an apartment or rental can keep the dust level to a minimum. The more dust sucked up into a vacuum bag means less that will make it into the system.
- Purchase some air purifiers – Stand alone air purifiers will suck up the air, filter it and supply fresh air to a rental. Some even have ultraviolet lights that kill germs and bacteria. These can be purchased for any room.
- Clean vents regularly – Some air supply registers and intake vents are easy to remove and can be cleaned. A simple vacuuming of the covers along with the inside of the vent could remove any particles that build up and are blocked from coming out.
While landlords are responsible for maintaining a working HVAC system, cleaning air ducts is not typically required in most states. Unless a lease says otherwise, tenants may be on their own. By taking proactive steps to understand what makes the ducts dirty and keeping the rental clean, can dramatically improve the air quality in a rental, even without having the ducts professionally cleaned.