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Landlords asked to shoulder the expenses of cooling down residents in Los Angeles

Last Updated: April 11, 2024By

Landlords asked to shoulder the expenses of cooling down residents in Los Angeles, with some downstream implications for the Bay Area

We were intrigued to learn that the powers that be in Los Angeles have called for a study to determine the costs and feasibility of cooling off all rental units citywide. The agenda is to shoulder landlords with the cost of providing air conditioning or central air for all Angelenos and to establish a “safe maximum temperature threshold” for residential units.

Advocating for the feasibility study, Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez said, “At this point in the climate emergency, the ability to cool one’s home cannot be considered a luxury and rather must be treated as a necessity.” It has been submitted that lifesaving cooling devices and the ability to cover the costs of electricity during a heat wave are often out of reach for the most vulnerable among us, including low-income and elderly residents on a fixed income.

Let’s revisit habitability standards implicit in every California residential lease.

  • Plumbing and Gas Facilities: These must be in good working order, comply with law, and provide hot and cold running water, as well as a working toilet and kitchen sink.
  • Water Supply: The property must have a safe and adequate supply of water that meets state and local codes.
  • Heating Facilities: Heating facilities must be in good working order and comply with law.
  • Electrical Lighting: There must be working electrical lighting, wiring, and equipment that are in good working order and comply with law.
  • Clean and Sanitary Premises: The property, including common areas, must be kept clean, sanitary, and free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin.
  • Adequate Trash Receptacles: Adequate trash bins must be provided in good repair.
  • Floors, Stairways, and Railings: These must be maintained in good repair.
  • Mold: The property should be free of hazardous levels of mold.
  • Safety from Fire Hazards: This includes working smoke detectors and, in some cases, carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Compliance with Building and Housing Codes: The property must comply with state and local building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety.

Although air conditioning does not technically fall into the state’s “habitable” guidelines, providing a fully functioning heater does. We would be remiss not to remind housing providers that only licensed contractors should be used whenever repairs are made to a heating system. While you may have a cousin who happens to be a handyman and is perfectly capable of a standard sink repair, imagine the colossal liability you face if he does a shoddy job on a furnace and the tenants get carbon monoxide poisoning.

In distant memory, we recall Assembly Bill 2597, defeated legislation that would have updated the state’s building code to set a safe maximum indoor temperature in new and existing dwelling units. Had the bill passed, units without cooling options would have been deemed substandard.

The rental unit must receive adequate ventilation, however, and this typically means a room requires a window. The minimum window size usually measures 20 inches by 24 inches and the window must open at least halfway. In cases where natural ventilation is not sufficient or feasible, mechanical ventilation systems are required, including exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to control moisture and odors. Bathrooms must have an exhaust fan if they don’t have a window that opens.

What if there is existing air conditioning in the rental unit and a tenant moves in?

If the rental unit comes with air conditioning, the housing provider is typically required to keep it in good working order. If the system stops working through no fault of the tenant, the landlord is responsible for effectuating repairs or replacing the air conditioning system in a reasonable period after being informed of the problem, say within 30 days.

Generally speaking, if a service is provided at the inception of a tenancy, it should not be taken away because there is a strong possibility that the renter in a multi-family property will say that there is a decrease in services that warrants a corresponding reduction in rent.

The tenant will go in front of a local rent board and argue that it’s a “bait and switch” – if they pay for amenities like air conditioning, parking, storage space, what have you, they will submit that if these perks are stripped, they are justified in paying less rent and in fact, they may be right.

The attorneys at Bornstein Law make regular appearances in front of rent boards representing clients when a tenant alleges a decrease in services and seeks to have rent reduced. This would be a good time to remind housing providers in places like San Francisco and Oakland that if they do not register their units with newfangled rent registries, they are unable to respond to tenant petitions – the case is lost because the building is not in good graces with the city.

We have to also keep a finger on how the damage to the cooling unit occurred. Has it broken down from normal wear and tear with the upkeep falling squarely on the shoulders of the owner, or was there negligence on the part of the tenant or one of their guests? Analogous to a tenant breaking a window, the tenant would be responsible for repairs to the air conditioning if they caused it to malfunction.

Also, keep in mind that tenants can use the “repair and deduct” remedy. If the landlord does not fix the cooling system, renters can take it upon themselves to fix it. These do-it-yourselfers can then decide to deduct the cost of the rent and this withholding of rent becomes yet another problem to deal with.

Some takeaways from this exploratory study in Los Angeles

This measure doesn’t immediately impact housing providers in the Bay Area, where summers have remained notoriously cool. According to the American Housing Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau, San Francisco has taken Seattle’s place as the least air-conditioned metro area in the country, with only 34% of homes in San Francisco equipped with central air and 11% using room air conditioning.

However tangential, this initiative to mandate a cool environment should concern housing providers in our parts. Closer to home, there are attempts to redefine what a “substandard” condition of a rental property is. San Francisco is a case in point.

Ordinarily, the Department of Building Inspections is the arbiter of whether buildings are safe and comply with housing codes. But a new ordinance being proposed by would allow tenants to bypass DBI and, without any code violations being issued, sue the landlord for alleged substandard conditions.

We are troubled that just as single-family homes have been redefined when multiple people are renting out rooms in a single-family home, making the structure exempt from rent control because it is considered a boarding house, lawmakers are now tinkering with the definition of what substandard conditions are. Failure to address any grievances raised by the tenant could instigate a costly lawsuit, even if the rental unit is code-compliant.

However, far away, Los Angeles has a laboratory of tenant protections that are exported to the Bay Area, and vice versa. If we’ve learned anything about onerous regulations for landlords to comply with, it is that when one locale enacts an ordinance, other cities take notice and mirror them in some way, if not create a carbon copy.

We have witnessed this duplication in the form of rent caps, rules relating to owner move-in and relative move-in evictions, rent registries, anti-harassment ordinances, tenant buyout rules, and more. It’s a game of following the follower and with politicians beholden to tenants and their advocates, elected officials will attempt to piggyback on the successful implementation of added protections elsewhere to say they are a champion of renters’ rights to get re-elected.

Fortunately, owners have rights and recourse when tenants do not pay rent or are in other violations of the lease, and Bornstein Law can provide efficient, compassionate, and diplomatic solutions when there are conflicts that arise.

Written by Daniel Bornstein, Esq., Bornstein Law

More than a practitioner in landlord-tenant law, Daniel Bornstein is the Broker of Record for Bay Property Group, a property management company that protects and optimizes the investments of landlords. He is also renowned for his educational seminars and is called upon as an expert witness in complex real estate litigation matters. To avoid or resolve friction within rental units and cauterize risk, Daniel is happy to dispense informed advice to owners, property managers, and other real estate professionals looking to survive and thrive in today’s challenging and litigious rental housing market. Call 415-409-7611 or email


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