Avoid Complaints, Violations by Preparing Your A/C System for Summer

Avoid Complaints, Violations by Preparing Your A/C System for Summer

Broken air conditioners are a red flag to NSPIRE inspectors.



Keeping your residents cool and comfortable in the summer should be one of your top priorities. If summer hits before you’re prepared and your air-conditioning system breaks down, you risk angering residents who will have to endure sweltering heat. Some residents may even try to deduct money from their rent for the time the air-conditioning system was broken.

Broken air conditioners are a red flag to NSPIRE inspectors.



Keeping your residents cool and comfortable in the summer should be one of your top priorities. If summer hits before you’re prepared and your air-conditioning system breaks down, you risk angering residents who will have to endure sweltering heat. Some residents may even try to deduct money from their rent for the time the air-conditioning system was broken.

If you don’t inspect your site’s air-conditioning system before residents start using it this summer, you won’t know if the system works properly or if there are any dangerous conditions, such as leaks, mold, bacteria, or bad wiring. In addition, a broken or dangerous air-conditioning system is a red flag to inspectors. As part of an inspection based on National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate (NSPIRE), an inspector will look at heating and cooling systems to determine if the equipment is safe and functional. These inspections standards for monitoring LIHTC sites focus on the health and safety of the units where residents live, as well as on the functional defects of buildings. Defective air-conditioning systems may trigger additional deficiencies such as the presence of mold-like substances and water in contact with an electrical conductor.

To ensure that the summer heat and inspectors don’t catch you with a broken air-conditioning system, have your maintenance staff inspect and fix any problems with the system before summer starts. We’ll tell you how to get access to residents’ apartments to complete your inspections and give you tips for inspecting your air-conditioning systems.

Get Access to Inspect Individual A/C Units

If your air-conditioning system includes individual units in each apartment, you’ll need to get access to inspect them. Your lease should include information on your access rights. If your lease doesn’t have access language, here’s Model Lease Language you can add to your lease to explain when owners can enter residents’ units. Remember to show the Model Lease Language to an attorney in your area before using it in your leases.

Model Lease Language

Owner and Owner’s agents, employees, and workers shall be permitted at any time during the term of this lease to enter the unit at reasonable hours for the purpose of inspection, for making repairs or improvements that Owner deems necessary or desirable, or for the purpose of gaining access to other parts of the building when deemed necessary by Owner.

If any emergency arises and Tenant is not personally present to permit such entry into the unit, Owner, Owner’s agents, employees, or workers may immediately enter by means of a key or, if necessary, by force without being liable for damages for such entry.

To make sure inspections run smoothly and you get access to all the air-conditioning units, notify households that you must get into their apartments for air-conditioning maintenance and persuade them to give you access. To do this take the following steps:

Schedule visit. Reach out to residents by sending a notice giving the date and time you plan to do the inspections and ask them to set up a mutually convenient time. Be sure to ask residents to arrange for someone to be home at the scheduled time or to give your maintenance staff permission to enter with a passkey.

Send second notice. If the first notice doesn’t work, send another notice to each resident who hasn’t scheduled an appointment. Set a new appointment and remind the resident that their lease requires them to give you access for the purpose of inspections and repairs.

Send maintenance staff to unit. Send a maintenance staff member to the unit at the scheduled time even if the resident doesn’t respond to the letter. If no one’s home, or if the resident refuses to let the staff member in, then follow up with a warning notice that makes clear to the household that they are in violation of the lease if they don’t cooperate.


Here are some tips on what you should have your maintenance staff do to check each type of system. One set of tips is for sites that use individual systems in each apartment; the other is for sites that use central air-conditioning systems that work off central chillers with cooling towers.

Individual A/C Units—Outdoor Maintenance

There are two types of individual air-conditioning systems that you may have in apartments. One, known as a “package” system, is a single unit installed in a window or wall, with part of the A/C unit extending outdoors. The other is called a “split system” and it has two components: a separate outdoor component and a connected indoor component. Both types of individual apartment A/C systems require outdoor and indoor maintenance.

Conduct visual inspection. The first thing your maintenance staff should do is visually inspect the outdoor portion of the air-conditioning system for each apartment. Staff should check for leaves, bugs, bird nests, and anything else that may have accumulated over the winter. And they should locate the condenser, compressor, and evaporator and check for any loose electrical connections. Your maintenance staff should also inspect the supply and return ducts for damage.

Clean debris from condensers. Your maintenance staff should clear away any debris they notice around the system’s condensers.

Clear condensate drains. It’s important that your maintenance staff check the condensate drains. Over the winter, moisture that remained in the drains may have dried up along with built-up debris, forming hard clogs. When you turn on the A/C unit, these clogs may prevent condensate water from flowing into the drain. The result will be water backing up out of the drain pan and going into your resident’s apartments, resulting in water damage. Also, if the A/C condensate drain and pan are constantly damp, this can create conditions that are ripe for the development of mold and algae. As these organisms develop, they can contaminate your indoor air, which can lead to health problems. They can also damage your A/C equipment and further contribute to condensate drain clogs.

Clean outside condensing coils. Your staff can clean the outside condensing coils by spraying them with a coil cleaner and rinsing thoroughly.

Individual A/C Units—Indoor Maintenance

Here are indoor maintenance measures your staff can take to stay ahead of problems with individual air conditioning units.

Change filters. Every spring, your maintenance staff should change the filters in each individual air-conditioning unit, even if the filter doesn’t look dirty. When doing so, they should make sure the new filters fit correctly.

Clean each unit’s coils. Your maintenance staff should clean the coils in each individual air-conditioning unit. Due to the tight spacing within the coils, surface moisture from the cooling process, and the amount of air that flows across them, dirt, dust, debris and other pollutants can build up on the coil surfaces. Over time, this buildup reduces the system’s ability to transfer heat into and out of the apartment, thus reducing the system’s ability to provide summer cooling.

For minor dirt buildup, staff can use a self-rinsing coil cleaner. For heavy buildup, a stronger more thorough cleaning may be needed. In these cases, your maintenance staff can fill out a maintenance request on the spot to return to remove any heavy buildup.

Insert sludge tabs in condensate pans. Sludge or condensate tabs help melt the sludge and buildup that can accumulate in condensate pans over the winter. Condensate tabs dissolve over time as the air conditioner makes water, coating the drain line and treating the drain line over a period of time and preventing the bacteria from growing.

Ask residents to test air-conditioning units. After your maintenance staff has done its inspections and maintenance, but before the weather gets hot, they should ask residents to turn on their air-conditioning units to see if the units are working. That way, if there’s a problem, your maintenance staff will be able to order any necessary parts or bring a technician to the unit. If you wait for the first hot day to test the units, vendors may already be out of parts you may need or appointments with technicians may be hard to get.

Central A/C Systems with Cooling Towers

Cooling towers are heat exchangers that use water and air to transfer heat from air-conditioning systems to the outdoor environment. Cooling towers are usually located on rooftops or other outdoor sites. Because they are frequently out of sight, they may be neglected by maintenance staff ultimately resulting in lower cooling-system efficiency.

Grease motor and pump bearings. Proper water and air flow is important to achieve optimum heat transfer. Your maintenance staff should grease the bearings, the parts that make the pumps and motors turn and check them for wear and tear.

Drain and clean cooling tower. Because each system is unique, cleaning and disinfection procedures must be tailored to your specific system. Always consult the manufacturer's manual for the cooling tower.

One concern with inadequately maintained cooling towers is that they can create aerosols or droplets of water in the air that contain Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by this bacteria. With the presence of this bacteria, the fans in cooling towers can then spread the droplets containing these bacteria. As a result, cooling tower water must be regularly treated, generally with chemicals, to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, minimize corrosion, and inhibit the buildup of scale or mineral deposits. Make sure your site has a water treatment plan and follows the plan for its cooling towers that complies with any local regulations.

Check fan belt in cooling tower and replace if it shows wear and tear. Have staff make adjustments to the cooling tower belt as needed and replace the belt if there’s any sign of wear and tear. Excessive vibrations and resulting reduced water and airflow reduces efficiency and can ultimately lead to motor or fan failure.

Replace all filters. Have maintenance staff replace all filters. These should be checked monthly and replaced as needed.

Clean evaporator coils. Evaporator coils should be freed of algae, dirt, bird droppings, and any other substances that may have accumulated over the winter.

Clean drain pans. Drain pans should be freed of any debris. Also, any standing water that may have accumulated in them should be vacuumed out.

Check thermostat calibrations. Have your maintenance staff check the calibration on the thermostats. If the controls are out of calibration, the air-conditioning system may be using too much energy by running too long and overcooling.