L.A. County Landlords May Face AC Installation Mandate to Combat Summer Heat

Elgin Nelson

The Board of Supervisors in Los Angeles County are considering a potential mandate that would require landlords to install air conditioners in residential rental units, addressing long standing complaints from tenants in units without such amenities, particularly during the stifling summer heat.

The supervisors are in the early stages of investigating the feasibility of imposing a “maximum temperature” in rental units, leaving landlords no choice but to keep apartments below a certain limit. If unable to meet the requirement, landlords would need to install air conditioning or make their units “cooling ready” for tenants to install their own units. 

While the specific maximum temperature remains undetermined, a similar measure in Palm Springs set it at 80 degrees in 2018, illustrating the severity of heatwaves in parts of Los Angeles County. The board of supervisors also cite government data showing 599 Californians died from heat-related illness from 2010 to 2019, and projections that extreme heat could kill up to 4,300 people annually by 2025. With stronger temperatures, the risk is heightened for vulnerable populations, including seniors, children, and those with health challenges. 

Extreme heat is the deadliest climate risk facing Los Angeles County,” said supervisors Hilda Solis and Lindsey Horvath in their motion. “In units where air conditioning is not provided by the landlord, tenants should be able to install air conditioning without fear of eviction or retaliation … The proposed ordinance should enshrine tenants with a right to responsibly and safely further cool their dwellings at their own cost.”

A potential challenge in the legislation involves making units “cooling ready,” with concerns arising over the cost-sharing dynamics. This setup raises the prospect of tenants installing air conditioners with landlords bearing the electricity costs, creating potential issues of energy use accountability and tenant incentives for energy conservation. Naturally, landlords and property owners express concerns about the proposed mandate. 

“The types of upgrades discussed in the motion potentially require significant capital expenditure, building rehabilitation and will have a financial impact on residents,” wrote Fred Sutton, California Apartment Association Association’s senior vice president of local public affairs, who argues the proposed ordinance is being rushed without adequate analysis.

Many master-metered buildings in Los Angeles County are covered by rent control, limiting landlords’ ability to make significant alterations, such as shifting from landlord-paid to tenant-paid electricity or introducing surcharges for air conditioning costs. If the measure is approved, accommodations will need to be considered for such situations. 

The Board of Supervisors has instructed the county to gather input and present a comprehensive report within 120 days, underscoring the importance of a thorough assessment before any decision is made.

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