Let me preface my story by saying that I am by no means a professional. I wanted to rent my house out while I went back to school to get a nursing degree. I wasn’t looking to make money, just to help pay for school and property taxes until I moved back. I’m the type of person who wants to do everything by the book. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t violating anyone’s rights so I looked up everything I could on renting a house, purchased an online lease, did the credit checks, disclosed where the deposit was kept, etc.
So when I was interviewing the prospective tenants, I disclosed everything I knew about the house and all the quirks. I told them about how much oil would be used in a season and what rooms get can get cold due to the old windows. All off the radiators work and oil furnace as well. I told them how I zone heated and kept warm. I said if they were okay with that, then they were welcome to apply to rent. It’s an old house built in the 1900’s. I repainted everything, re-finished the wood floors, put in new appliances…. You know, made it comfortable. I wasn’t asking a lot for it.
I owned and lived in the home for about 4 years before having to move. I always called my plumber to clean out the furnace and replace filters and everything that needs to be done around October every year, before it starts to get really cold.
The tenant I selected is a truck driver and not always home. So I asked him to call to make an appointment with the plumber when he was available, the plumber was expecting his call. This was on October 20th. I know he got the email because in that same letter I included information on the local oil companies who deliver home heating oil. He got an order for oil on Oct 24th.
The tenant is from the south, and he wasn't familiar with oil heat and winters in PA. So when he asks questions I would always be prompt and give him all the advice and information that I could find.
The end of December and first week of January was the first time it got really cold this year (15-25 degrees) for a week or two. The tenant emailed and asked for the plumber's number again to schedule the cleaning around January 10th and has been complaining that the house is too cold and had to get space heaters and put up blankets to "zone heat" He was able to make an appointment and the plumber came a couple days later.
When I got a call from the plumber, he said that he did his usual replacing of filters and cleaned it out. He said it was a lot dirtier than other years, possibly because it was cleaned later than normal. He checked out the radiators and looked into the heat issues the tenant told him about. He said the furnace was working and cleaned, but I should think about replacing it soon since it was old. I asked if it would last the season and he said it would, but anything could happen. I accept that. He can’t guarantee something like that on an old unit from 1988.
About a week later, the tenant called saying that he bought tape to seal up the windows where he felt drafts and asked for reimbursement (which I agreed). He also said it was still too cold. He asked if I could help out with paying for the oil that he was using, it seemed like it was a lot, so he had been using electric heaters and has a high electric bill.
His lease specifically states he is responsible for all utilities. Before I even inspected the complaint, I said I would help him out with the electric, put winterizing plastic on the windows and check the ambient temperature and thermostat for him. You know, all the stuff I did when I lived there. He also asked if I could reset all of the settings on the digital thermostat because he doesn’t know how to work it. My heart went out to him because I knew he wasn’t used to the cold. I figured this would be a good time to do a little impromptu home inspection as well.
I had also asked for receipts for the oil he put in (how much and when) so I can judge how much oil he was using compared to what I used. There is a 275 gallon tank and I told him that usually lasted me about 3 months keeping the temperature at about 70 degrees (I kept it cold) The house is less than 1100 sq. feet.
I currently live about 2 hours away so I arranged a date to go over and do all this. I ordered window caulk, 50 feet of window plastic and a professional digital humidity, temperature tester and infrared thermometer for this mini project.
I picked a coldest day of the week (the high was supposed to be 35 degrees). He was on a truck route that day so I was on my own. I went in the house and immediately felt cold. I thought uh-oh, went to the thermostat and saw he had turned it off. The thermometer on the thermostat read 46 degrees.
Before I turned it on, I took a temp and humidity of each room of the house. I placed the meter on the middle of each room about 3-4 feet off the floor and got the humidity and temp. Each room was about the same ranging from 51.49 to 55 degrees with humidity at 29-30%. The outside temperature was 37.77 degrees with 27.31% humidity.
I turned the thermostat on, cleared the day/night settings that the tenant requested, set the thermostat to 70 degrees and began to work on the windows. It was 12PM. I checked the thermostat every half hour and saw that it was slowly increasing about 2-6 degrees every half hour.
I finally got finished putting plastic on every window in the house. It took 3 hours for the temperature on the thermostat to reach 70. I then took the room temperatures again using the same method as before. I also used the infrared thermometer to take a temperature of each radiator. All of the rooms read a temperature ranging from 69.8 to 71.43 with a humidity of 27.8% to 30.4%. The outside temperature was 39.8 degrees with a RH of 24.5%. All of the radiators, except for one measured 123.6 degrees to 160 degrees. The one was turned off, when I turned the knob, it reached 145 degrees.
With that being said, I left all these findings for the tenant and also some detailed information about how RH affects the how cold we “feel.” I told him that turning the furnace completely off and leaving the house cold will burn up more oil to heat it to a comfortable temperature (also, the pipes can freeze) I also told him that when it’s colder outside, more oil would be used to keep the house at a certain temperature.
Looking at his receipts, he had only been getting 100 gallons per order (one reason for a higher cost). They were spread out about a month apart except for two 100 gallon orders over that cold spell in December. This came out to what I originally had told him that 275 gallons lasted me about 3 months.
My question is, should I be worried that I am not keeping the house warm enough? I know that “warm enough” is subjective and what is warm for me, may not be warm for someone else.
Is my house not warming up to standards? He had called me tonight asking if I would still help him with oil. I told him that I could help with his electric for the winter months, but would not with the oil. Am I wrong? Do I do something more? The heat is working, it’s not like there isn’t a working furnace. It seems, to me that he just doesn’t understand the ins and outs of oil heat.
On a side note, during the impromptu home inspection, I noticed that there was evidence of a large dog in the house. Hair is all over the house, lots of OLD dog feces in the yard and paw prints on the deck. I did allow a dog on his lease, but only after he paid the pet fee. He said he would pay it when the dog was moved in. I verbally agreed. He never told me about the dog. The lease specifically says he needs to clean up after it daily and he clearly has not. I have pictures, but if I bring it up now, will it seem like retaliation for the heat issue?
What do I do?