Questions and Answers for April 2017: Air Conditioners and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Adapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers into one here.

Q: Who charges for air conditioners? How have you done this?

For those of us who include utilities in the rent, it’s time to be worried about air conditioners! A huge window unit might use 1400 watts. At prevailing MA rates of 16 cents per kilowatt hour, this means an additional monthly expense of up to $160 if run continuously.

The first thing to consider is taking the utilities out of the rent. This puts the economic cost onto the tenants. There are downsides to this change. First, if you have to break out the utilities, you will pay a lot and the return will take time. Second, this only works if the tenant agrees to it with a new rental agreement.

Some landlords are taking utilities into the rent and making money on it. The strategy here is to go solar and insulate the building very well. This strategy works best with new construction. If you do it right, you can charge a higher rent than you’re paying in electrical bills, even if the tenants occasionally leave a window open. The bigger the building, the more solar panels you can install, the better off you will be.

If none of that works, ask the tenant before they sign the lease how many air conditioners they plan to have. Assume some amount per air conditions (say, $150 for 24-7 usage, run half time, that’s $75/mo). Assume some number of months during which the A/C runs daily (say three). Calculate the totel yearly cost and negotiate the rent higher by this amount.

Example: “Let’s see, three A/C’s at $75 each times three months is $675 total, divided by 12 months, that’s an extra $56/mo. $56/mo and you can run three window A/C’s as much as you like, I’ll write it into the lease. Agreed?”
This covers your costs, approximately, and creates a paper trail about how many A/C’s are allowed. It’s also a good idea to write in your lease that tenants won’t waste utilities. This is a standard clause in any good rental agreement.

Q: I’m new to landlording. Where do I need Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

Any time you have a gas stove, a gas furnace, or an attached garage where hybrids or gas engines operate, you can have CO hazards. But the regulations are broader even than that. CO detectors are required basically everywhere in all residential units: on every floor of the unit if someone sleeps anywhere in the unit, in habitable basements and attics, and within ten feet of a sleeping area. Daycares and rooming houses have specific wording that effects more or less the same requirement.

Read the actual code for nuance, see
Inspections are to be conducted annually per the code. The best practices we've heard are to set a reminder for each apartment's lease renewal date and to deal with this as part of the renewal process, or to set one date for all units, give notice, and enter each unit to replace batteries, test etc.