Air conditioner policies: Considerations for community housing providers
Air conditioner policies for community housing providers can be a complicated topic. While many municipalities specify when air conditioning must be turned on by landlords who provide it, decisions about choosing to provide A/C and the rules around installing units are largely left up to the individual housing provider.
Creating a policy that strikes a balance between ensuring the safety of tenants, staff, and the public and the well-being of tenants can be tricky. We talked to Ottawa Community Housing Corporation (OCHC) about their air conditioning standard and how it was developed.
Creating an air conditioning standard
The safety of tenants, staff and the public around the installation of air conditioners is one of the main concerns for housing providers when developing a policy that dictates the use of air conditioners in residential buildings. “To ensure tenant safety,” OCHC tells us, “we put in place standards to limit the installation of window air conditioners in mid- to high-rise buildings to only those windows that are located over a balcony. Tenants must contact their property manager before installing an air conditioner in their home”.
OCHC’s air conditioning standard was developed using best practices from other social housing providers, legal advice, and in consultation with OCHC staff and tenants. The standard was approved by the Board of Directors and implemented in 2017.
The policy was needed, OCHC explains because “the poor installation of some window-mounted A/C’s caused damage to buildings and homes, and in some cases, there were air conditioning units that fell out of window openings. The goal of the new standards continues to be to protect tenants and their guests”.
OCHC tells us that “the new policy came into effect immediately for tenants who signed a new lease on or after January 2017 and in May 2019 for all other tenants”.
By policy, OCHC considers air conditioner installation to be a unit modification. While the organization “may approve minor modifications regarding the installation of a portable air-conditioner, tenants are responsible for any damage to people or property caused by the modification, installation, or removal”.
As per OCHC’s policy, the following is an outline of some of the regulations surrounding the use of air conditioners by tenants:
Before considering the A/C Modification
- have written permission from OCHC
- obtain and maintain third-party liability insurance
- agree to return OCHC property to its original condition if OCHC asks the tenant to and when they move out
- agree to pay all costs for changes, installations, and repairs; and damages to any person or property resulting from the modification
Limits on Installation
Tenants may only install a window air conditioner:
- if installing one does not void the window warranty
- in a ground floor window or directly over a balcony
- within a window, not in a window in a door
- be self-evaporating (dripless)
- be installed in the lower window position of vertical sliding windows
- not exceed the electrical capacity of the unit
- be removed by October 15 each year
When installing A/Cs, tenants must:
- be in compliance with the manufacturer’s instructions
- place the unit so it does not sit on or be supported by the window frame
- install the unit without drilling holes into or modifying the window frame or building
- use the window inserts provided with the A/C unit, or ¼ inch plywood painted white
- adequately seal the opening of the window
- plug the unit directly into the electrical outlet, or using appliance grade extension cord (12-gauge, six foot/two metres)
Not all OCHC tenants have balconies over which they can mount window A/C units. OCHC created an Air Conditioner Exchange Program during the first year of the air conditioning policy. They tell us “Tenants who did not have balconies and owned window air conditioners were asked to exchange their old units for new, more energy-efficient floor model style portable air conditioners provided by OCHC free of charge. This program was very successful, and many tenants took advantage of this offer”.
Since OCHC has a mix of communities where some tenants pay their hydro bill and others have hydro costs included in the rent as a scale adjustment, they decided not to pass on the additional expense to tenants who don’t pay hydro separately from rent.
Enforcing the standards
Leading up to April 15 (the date when tenants are permitted to install A/C units), OCHC says “property management staff send out copies of the Unit Modification Standards, including the installation of air conditioners, [which] provide guidelines for several common modifications to remind our tenants of the existing standards and requirements”.
Property management staff also assess their communities and “follow up with tenants on a case-by-case basis for any air-conditioner installations which do not meet the unit modification standards”.
Before the A/C removal deadline on October 15, staff send reminders to ensure A/C units are removed in time. “The deadline”, says OCHC, is in place to ensure that homes retain their heat in the winter months and so that pipes do not freeze and burst”.
Want to learn more? See the full version of OCHC’s air conditioning standards.
Have questions about air conditioning policies or other property management issues? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to hear from you, and to help!
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