Heatwave is Here!

Summer heat has arrived and the region is baking. Here in Beverly Hills we will see temps rise well into the 90s throughout the week with barely any respite in the days beyond. Tenants without air-conditioning are urged to take care. We offer a few suggestions to take the edge off.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued a heat advisory for the Los Angeles region for Sunday August 16th.

Temperatures between 90 and 100 expected today, hottest away from the immediate coast. There is an increased risk for heat-related illnesses, particularly for sensitive populations like the very young, very old, those without air conditioning, and those who engage in prolonged outdoor activities….Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors. — NOAA heat advisory 8/16/20

Aside from wearing light and loose-fitting clothing, there will be tenants who have no refuge from the heat during this pandemic. During the last heatwave our city designated libraries and park recreation facilities as ‘cooling centers.’ No such luck this time around; those facilities are all closed.

Instead the city website refers residents to cooling centers in Los Angeles County. The closest is near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. Aside from that our city has little advice to offer.

Seniors without air conditioning, especially those in upper units of older buildings, are most vulnerable to the ill effects of excessive heat. Yet busing it to a cooling center is simply not practical these days. That leaves suffering tenants to tough it out.

Of course the real remedy for tenants facing a heat wave and a long, hot summer beyond is air conditioning. But despite our warming climate, no provision of the state’s housing code, much less our local rent stabilization ordinance, requires the landlord to provide an air conditioner. Indeed the landlord can prevent the tenant from installing it (even if she pays for the power).

The reasons for disallowing a window air conditioner can range from unwillingness to pay for the electricity to claiming that window units detract from the appearance of the property. Even if a landlord allows the tenant to install an air conditioner she owns, the landlord may later claim it as ‘appurtenant’ to the property and force the tenant to leave it behind when she vacates the apartment.

What can a tenant do to take the edge off of a heat wave? We have a few suggestions.

  1. Ask the landlord to install a window unit — or permit the tenant to install one. The ask is easier if the tenant pays for electricity. Offer to professionally-install the unit or at the very least offer to use an air-conditioner support for the purpose ($40). Worst case offer to leave the AC behind. Whatever gets the landlord’s agreement.
  2. Look to a third-party installer. Lower- or moderate-income households without air conditioning can contact the city’s ‘home handyworker’ program. The provider, Michael Baker Inc., is federally-funded to make home improvements in multifamily units. That may include both a new air conditioner and free installation. (Consult the
    housing rehabilitation flyer.) This year the program’s budget is bigger than ever.
  3. Low- to moderate-income residents with an existing, tired window air conditioner can reach out to Southern California Edison’s Energy Savings Assistance Program for a replacement. “The Energy Savings Assistance program is designed to help you conserve energy and save money,” says the program webpage. “Income-qualified customers may be eligible to receive energy-efficient appliances at no charge or a minimal charge.” The caveat here is that an older, energy-hogging unit is the prerequisite.
  4. Call our community services division at 310–288–2220. Tell city staffer James Latta that you need an air conditioner now! See if he can refer you to a community organization that will extend a hand to a needy low-income household or senior. (Renters Alliance was in touch with an organization a couple of years ago near downtown and they had a new air conditioner ready for a senior tenant.
  5. Senior tenants can make a ‘reasonable request’ of the landlord for air conditioning. Those who pay their own electricity bill will have the best shot. (Senior chapter 5 tenants may too because the cost of certain capital improvements can be passed on to the tenant.) The law recognizes that advancing age may warrant the provision of assistance over and above what a tenant may otherwise receive. And the warming climate makes an window air conditioner a totally reasonable accommodation (in our view).

Do you know of a senior who has asked to install an air conditioner but been denied? Please contact Renters Alliance and we’ll see if we can get them some help this summer.