Question: Are residential landlords required to supply working air conditioning (AC) in each habitable unit?

Answer: No, air conditioning is not required for a property to be considered habitable — but proposed legislation in 2022 may change that.

It’s getting hot in here

Every summer, California’s dangerously hot temperatures lead to discomfort, hospitalizations and even death.

In 2017, a massive heat wave hit San Francisco resulting in 14 people dying of heat stroke and 79% of those people experienced symptoms at home, according to the Public Health Institute. Socioeconomic inequality plays a major role in many poor industrialized neighborhoods that won’t beat the heat, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Many homes in San Francisco don’t have central air conditioning (AC) or even individual AC units. Homes in Northern California are not equipped to handle major heat waves and heat can get trapped inside, having AC has never been standard, according to the San Francisco Times. As climate change causes more consistent heatwaves in California, it’s more dangerous than ever to be without an AC.

But does California’s building code consider homes uninhabitable when individuals are experiencing heat strokes and dying?

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A habitable dwelling

Every residential tenant is entitled to a unit with habitable conditions. A habitable unit requires a minimum acceptable level of safety, utility and sanitation in a residential rental. Landlords need to care for the premises by maintaining habitable conditions. This entitlement requires all amenities or appurtenances to be present and working, including:

  • weather protection, including working windows or doors;
  • proper plumbing;
  • working gas facilities;
  • hot and cold running water connected to a sewage disposal system;
  • heating facilities;
  • access to electricity and regulated wiring;
  • a property free of pests or vermin with sanitary conditions;
  • clean garbage and recycling bins;
  • working floors, stairways, or railings; and
  • a residential mailbox. [Calif. Civil Code §1941.1]

When any of these amenities stop working or become faulty, the landlord is required to make repairs, since the malfunction will determine a residence uninhabitable, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

However, air conditioning is notably absent from this list. Likewise, when a property does have central air, but the AC unit stops working, it must be repaired within thirty days after a notice is served since it is considered an inconvenience. [CC §1941]

A do-it-yourself tenant

When a tenant takes it upon themselves to repair an AC unit, there are some things to keep in mind.

The tenant of a residential property is not expected to make repairs to major components of a residential or rental property. A landlord ought to make changes and repairs to plumbing or electrical issues— when a tenant takes it upon themselves to repair something it must be less than one month’s rent and the tenant may deduct the cost from the rent under, repair-and-deduct remedy. This is only possible when the landlord agrees to these conditions. [CC §1942]

When a landlord refuses to let the tenant repair a unit, and desires to fix it themselves, a landlord has 30 days to repair an inconvenience. [CC §1942(b)]

The landlord is exempt from repairs when the tenant breaks or damages the unit themselves. [CC §1941.2]

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Legislative Gossip

While air conditioning is not currently required, proposed legislation may change that.

Assembly Bill (AB) 2597 proposes to require safe indoor temperatures by means of improved insulation, air sealing, increased shade, cool roofs, fans, heat pumps, and, when necessary, air conditioning.

In terms of changing the law, this bill will make safe indoor air temperatures a requirement and will mandate landlords to provide access to proper air conditioning for a property to be considered habitable. The Department of Housing and Community Development will be required to develop and propose a mandatory standard for safe maximum indoor temperatures. This will change future homes in California forever.