Excessive Heat Watch is Declared: How to Beat the Heat

Summer heat has arrived! We will see the temperature rise into the 90s this week so tenants without air-conditioning are urged to take care! Seniors who reside on upper floors of older buildings without air conditioning are the most vulnerable. Beverly Hills buries heat emergency information deep into the city’s website so we want to share some of the resources we’ve found to help keep cool.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s local forecast for the Los Angeles area for early this week includes this sobering advisory:

THROUGH WEDNESDAY EVENING…Dangerously hot conditions with temperatures in the 90s
to around 100 degrees, especially inland and in the Hollywood Hills and the Los Angeles County Coast including Downtown Los Angeles. Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities.

Scant Information from the City

We hoped to learn more about the excessive heat watch advisory and so checked the city’s website. But there was no announcement there. The city’s social media account didn’t flag any advisory either. The Office of Emergency Management’s twitter hasn’t been updated since 2020 when that office appears to have closed. We also tried the emergency alerts webpage (no alert is posted there) and also the human and social services webpage (it provides no health & safety information). Gosh, how difficult is it to find information about a health advisory?

Then we went in search of last season’s ‘beat-the-heat’ webpage. That too was a challenge: we clicked around the website and a half-hour later found it posted six tiers deep in the city website menus:

Departments > Fire department > Just in case > Just in case BH > In case of… > Heat

Who would ever think to look there for extreme heat safety information? Good thing it’s not an emergency!

Tenant, Help Thyself

Vulnerable tenants who have no air conditioning may find some relief at the city library or recreation facilities. In the past, the library and parks were designated by city hall as ‘cooling centers.’ Today there is no such guidance. Instead the city website refers residents to cooling centers in Los Angeles County. There is only one LA County cooling center in the entire western and central area: the WeHo library. (City officials haven’t yet responded to a question about city cooling centers.)

Seniors without air conditioning, and especially those in upper units of older buildings, are most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of excessive heat. Some will tough it out through this excessive heat watch and those sure to come later this summer. Please read these fact sheets from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the
Los Angeles County Fire Department for dealing with extreme heat.

Is Air Conditioning an Option?

The sobering reality is that despite our warming climate there is no provision in the state’s housing or health and safety codes (much less our own rent stabilization ordinance) that would require the landlord to provide an air conditioner. Unless it is in the lease as a provided housing service, providing the tenant with an air conditioner is the landlord’s choice.

In fact landlords may not want to even allow an air conditioner for a few reasons. The landlord may pay for power and there is no incentive to add a power-hungry appliance. Some may feel that a window air conditioner detracts from the appearance of the property. Some landlords simply don’t want to make any improvement to the property at all.

State law holds a surprise for the tenant who would install an air conditioner: the landlord may later claim the appliance because, in the eyes of the law, once it is installed it is ‘appurtenant’ to the property. The landlord can require the tenant to leave the unit behind.

Nevertheless we suggest a senior tenant without air conditioning should approach the landlord about installing a window unit. The tenant can make a few concessions to show good faith:

  • Offer to pay a summer-months surcharge if the landlord pays for electricity;
  • Offer to foot the bill for the air conditioner and professional installation (probably $300 for a small unit);
  • Volunteer to agree that the air conditioner stays in the window after the tenant vacates.

For Help With Air Conditioning Try This…

A senior tenant can ask city hall to contact a community services organization on your behalf that may extend a hand to obtain an air conditioner. Renters Alliance was in touch with an organization some years ago on behalf of a tenant, for example, and the organization was prepared to install a new air conditioner for free. Reach the community services division at (310) 288–2220.

Also a senior tenant may make a ‘reasonable request’ for an air conditioner if circumstances make it injurious to the tenant’s health. (An upper unit in an old building may qualify.) The reasonable request is a provision of federal law that recognizes how advancing age means changing abilities. Under the law, a reasonable accommodation request can be made for age-appropriate improvements such as grab rails in the shower or other assistive facilities in the home. These would be provided at no cost to the tenant.

In our view, the warming climate makes the window air conditioner not only a ‘reasonable accommodation’ but a necessity — especially for a senior household.

Lower- and moderate-income households without air conditioning can also ask about an air conditioner under the city’s ‘home handyworker’ program. The program is federally-funded and makes repairs and home improvements to multifamily units that are occupied by tenants of moderate means. Have a look at the housing rehabilitation flyer and contact provider Michael Baker Inc. with a request.

Low- to moderate-income households that have a window air conditioner that does not function well can ask for a replacement air conditioner through the Southern California Edison Energy Savings Assistance Program. “Income-qualified customers may be eligible to receive energy-efficient appliances at no charge or a minimal charge,” says the program.

Are you a senior tenant who has tried any of these avenues to get an air conditioner installed but has been denied? Please contact Renters Alliance and we’ll see if we can get you some help this summer.