My apartment is too hot. Do I have a legal right to air conditioning?

Question: 
My apartment is too hot. Do I have a legal right to air conditioning?
Answer: 

Keeping cool at home can become a challenge at least on some days and in some parts of Ontario. Excessive heat is not just a matter of comfort but can be a danger to people's health and even their lives.

Here are some of the legal issues that tenants can face when trying to stay cool.

If the apartment has air conditioning

Although landlords everywhere in Ontario must provide working heating equipment, there are normally no such rules about cooling. Usually a tenant is entitled to air conditioning only if their rental agreement includes it.

This doesn't always mean it has to be written into the agreement. The air conditioner is probably part of what the tenant is paying for if:

  • there was air conditioning in the rental unit when the tenant first rented it, and
  • the rental agreement does not clearly exclude it.

If the landlord provides air conditioning equipment, they're responsible for repairing or replacing it if it isn't working properly.
 

If the tenant doesn't control the air conditioning

Some apartments in houses or in newer buildings have central air conditioning systems controlled by the landlord. In this case, there may be local rules about when the landlord must turn on the system and how effective it has to be.

For example, Toronto's property standards bylaw says that an air conditioning system that the landlord controls must:

  • be running from June 2 to September 14, and
  • keep the temperature at 26 degrees C or lower.

Getting the landlord to add air conditioning

If a tenant rented a place with no air conditioning, they can agree to a rent increase in exchange for the landlord adding an air conditioner. This agreement must follow certain rules, including that the amount of the rent increase cannot be more than the cost to the landlord.

The government of Canada website has a tool for estimating the cost.
 

If a tenant wants to install their own air conditioner

In rental units that don't come with air conditioning, tenants often want to buy and install their own air conditioners. These usually fit in a window or are portable units with a hose that vents the warm air out a window.

Unless the rental agreement says they can't, most tenants have the right to use their own air conditioner, as long as they:

  • install it safely
  • don't damage the window or any other part of the rental unit

Extra charges

If electricity is already included in the rent, it's usually illegal for the landlord to charge for "extra" electricity used by a tenant's air conditioner.

But the landlord may be allowed to charge extra if the rental agreement makes it clear that electricity for an air conditioner is not included.

Most landlords are limited to raising the rent once per year by no more than the provincial rent guideline. The guideline for 2015 is 1.6% and for 2016 it will be 2%.

Landlords who want a bigger rent increase to cover higher electricity costs can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board.
 

Other ways to keep cool

Other ways to reduce indoor heat include:

  • roof and wall insulation
  • light-coloured or reflective roofs and outside walls
  • ceiling fans and portable fans
  • window blinds and heat-reflecting window films
  • unplugging or turning off electrical equipment as much as possible
  • replacing hot light bulbs with cooler compact fluorescent or LED bulbs

Tenants may be able to take some of these steps themselves. But some steps are up to the landlord.

Tenants should get legal advice if their homes are too hot for comfort and health, and their landlord will not co-operate or take action.
 

Getting legal help

For legal help or advice, tenants can contact their local community legal clinic.

Resource notes: 

This Common Question was taken from CLEO's July 2015 edition of On the Radar.

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