Does the landlord have to provide air conditioning?

It’s hot. It’s not just hot, it’s very hot. It’s a mid-summer heat wave and it’s relentless. And when it gets this hot, many people start to ask whether the landlord has an obligation to keep residents cool. Is there a maximum permitted temperature in apartment buildings and rental homes? What is the landlord’s obligations as far as comfort and air conditioning go?

It would stand to reason that, since the Residential Tenancies Act requires a minimum temperature during winter months that it would also include a maximum temperature in summer months. While it might seem reasonable to some, it’s not as clear cut as that. Summer heat really only affects Canadians for about two months – even less in some areas. Out of those two months, heat waves don’t last the entire time, maybe coming in chunks of a few days to a week at a time. Legislation to require such expensive equipment for such a short period of time would be unreasonable.

Ultimately, it depends on whether a rental unit includes air conditioning as a term of the lease.

Residents in a building with air conditioning will be happy to know that there is a maximum temperature. If you’ve chosen a building with consideration for requiring or desiring relief from the heat, you’re entitled to that amenity. For example, if you have air conditioning in Toronto, the landlord is obligated to keep the temperature at or below 26°C – but this only applies to properties wth air conditioning as a part of the rental package.

If your rental building doesn’t have air conditioning, you’re going to feel the heat.

Many rental buildings were built long before central air conditioning was a luxury of life. They’d be extremely hard and expensive to retrofit, so this isn’t the solution. There are a few reasonable options for those who live in rentals without air conditioning.

  1. Buy an air conditioner. There are both portable and window-mount air conditioning units that you can buy to help keep your apartment cool. Your landlord is not responsible for the cost of a unit. Second-hand ones may be significantly cheaper, but older models will use more energy. You are responsible for safely installing the unit (window mount) without doing any damage to the window, window sill or any other part of the landlord’s property. If you don’t install it safely you are liable for any issues that may arise.
    Generally, you’re allowed to get an air conditioner, but check your lease. Some rental specifically exclude them. This is often the case where utilities are included in the rent. Air conditioning units can be expensive to run and the landlord may have a specific clause prohibiting them or expecting a supplemental payment should you opt to use one. This seems fair as it’s a significant expense, and they’re only passing on the expense to building residents who want air conditioning – not to all residents.
  2. Modify your activities. Use a fan, keep the lights off, don’t add more heat by cooking big, hot meals in the oven or on the stove-top. Create a cross breeze with the windows open. Pull the blinds to reflect the sunlight.
  3. Leave. You will need to get out of your home to cool down. Swimming pools, malls, cooling centres, coffee shops with air conditioning – all temporary solutions, but they’ll work.
  4. Move. You didn’t consider air conditioning when you chose your current place. If you feel that it’s a necessity, you may want to consider finding something specifically with central air for your next place.

The elderly, the very young and those with compromised health may be in greater need for air conditioning than others, but it’s one of those things that renters will need to consider as part of their housing needs. There are lots of other solutions that may help, but being upset with the landlord isn’t one of them, so don’t lose your cool over it during a heat wave.


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