Why Can’t I Have Air Conditioning? Renters Speak Out

Renters are steamed when landlords don’t provide working air conditioners, especially in states that are hotter than ever.

While no one moves to Texas, Arizona, or Florida anticipating a cool summer, the hot seasons are getting longer and hotter in many parts of the country. Even in places known for cooler weather like Maine and Seattle, heat waves are driving demand for air conditioning installations. Homeowners can adapt to the heat by upgrading their air conditioning system, but for renters, the situation is sticky.

How to control humidity

For Talal Khan, a renter in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan and owner of ProRec.com, an audio engineering and music production blog, the lack of control over the air in his apartment is a health hazard.

“A lot of people who live in Hell’s Kitchen live in older buildings that were not designed with proper ventilation systems, so there’s a lot of stagnant air and buildup of pollutants indoors,” Khan says. “High humidity levels in the summer months are a breeding ground for mold and other fungi, which can exacerbate respiratory problems and other health issues.”

Ventilation is only the beginning of Khan’s problems.

“Most old buildings in New York are rent controlled, so the landlord doesn’t care about tenants,” Khan says. “They basically want people to get out since they’ve been paying cheap rent for years. Central air conditioning systems aren’t maintained, cleaned, or disinfected annually, there’s mold and bacteria growth, and air filters aren’t changed regularly, so you’re circulating polluted air throughout the indoor space.”

Khan’s solution is to avoid using the central air conditioning in his apartment. Instead, he installed window air conditioning units that he maintains himself, pulling them out in winter and putting them back in summer.

Decent air conditioning and good indoor air quality isn’t just a matter of comfort. It’s a serious issue. According to the CDC, an average of 702 heat-related deaths occurred in the US every year from 2004 to 2018. The ability to cool off in your own home is important to prevent heat-related health hazards.

Landlords Controlling Your Air Conditioning

Like most renters, Khan would prefer to have his landlord provide a well-maintained air conditioning system. But landlords are required to take responsibility for air conditioning in only 25 states

In the other states, landlords are either exempt from responsibility, required only to provide heat, or the issue has yet to be addressed. While some states known for their hot weather, such as Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada require landlords to take responsibility for air conditioning, Texas has yet to address the issue. That’s changing now.

In Austin, a renter named Thelma Reyes, whose air conditioning system broke in the middle of the hot summer of 2022, contacted her state representative after trying to reach her landlord for five days with no response. Reyes’ apartment thermostat showed temperatures above 90 degrees. 

Her state representative, Sheryl Cole, introduced a bill that requires Texas landlords to provide air conditioning that maintains a temperature of 10 degrees below the recorded temperature outside the apartment or 85 degrees, whichever is lower. Landlords must also repair or replace a broken air conditioner within five days, provide an air conditioning unit or another place to stay until repairs are made. The bill is still pending in the legislature.

However, landlord regulations are often handled by cities, towns or counties rather than state laws. Renters may want to check on the regulations in their area to see what rights they have when it comes to air conditioning.

In addition, ApartmentGuide.com recommends that prospective tenants tour a property before signing a lease and ask about window units or central air conditioning if neither system is visible. Turn on the AC to see if it’s working. 

Most important, read the lease before you sign it to see if air conditioning is mentioned, and who pays for the electricity in the unit. Also check the lease to see if it explains who’s responsible for maintaining the air conditioning system. If nothing is mentioned, ask the landlord about it before you sign the lease agreement. Similarly, tenants can ask about whether any steps have been taken to improve indoor air quality.

“Unfortunately, some landlords may be unwilling or unable to address your concerns, leaving tenants feeling trapped and helpless,” says Walter Bennett, an HVAC design and indoor air quality expert with Green Leaf Air in Richardson, Texas. “Ultimately, the challenge of indoor air quality is one that affects us all. It will require a concerted effort from landlords, homeowners and government regulators to ensure that everyone has access to clean, healthy air to breathe.”

Bennett suggests that until that happens, renters and homeowners can protect themselves by using portable air purifiers, keeping windows open when possible, and regularly cleaning their HVAC systems.

“Some companies are developing innovative solutions to help renters and homeowners,” Bennett says. “For example, startups like Building Robotics and Carbon Lighthouse are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize building systems and improve energy efficiency, while companies like Oransi offer portable air purifiers that can be used in any living space.”

Solutions for Cooler, Cleaner Air

Controlling indoor air quality and the temperature in your home is a big motivator for buying a home, Bennett says.

“According to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders, millennial homebuyers are more likely than previous generations to prioritize energy efficiency and indoor air quality when choosing a home,” Bennett says. “This may include things like smart thermostats, air purification systems, and high-efficiency HVAC units.”

Buying a home isn’t an option for everyone, and even those who do may still face challenges, Bennett says.

“HVAC systems require regular maintenance and cleaning to function properly, and some older homes may have outdated or unsafe ventilation systems that need to be updated,” Bennett says.

Budgeting for a new air conditioning system can be daunting, but there are plenty of available options. If you’re not ready to replace your entire heating and air conditioning system, or your home doesn’t have central air conditioning at all, consider new heat pump window air conditioning units

These units, available from companies such as Amana, Frigidaire, LG, Frigidaire, and GE Profile, use variable speed inverter motors to provide air conditioning that’s about 40% more energy efficient than standard window units. In addition, the units are far quieter. They cost about $500.

If you’re building or remodeling a home, it pays to consider a heat pump system for air conditioning and heat. These systems, available from companies like Trane, Carrier and LG, offer better energy efficiency and work in any climate conditions. Instead of installing an air conditioning system for cooling and a furnace for heating, a heat pump provides effective temperature control while running purely on electricity.

Heat pump technology relies on extracting energy from outside air and converting it to heat in cooler months. In hot weather, the system moves hot air out of the house and cools it with the outside unit’s coils, which uses less electricity than an air conditioner.

Rebates are available for heat pumps, but you will want to take the time to study the available rebates to make sure you pick a product that will qualify.

Whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, solutions are available to help you keep your cool.

Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Homeowner Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool, Carrier and Jinko Solar. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.