Dear PoPville – Is it legal to charge for A/C year-round?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Dear PoPville,

I’m planning to move into a larger apartment in the same building that I’ve lived in for ten years. The terms for the new unit seem peculiar though and I wonder if they are legal.

The building manager told me that the new apartment includes utilities and air conditioning (they provide two A/C units). The terms outlined in the lease application are a little different however. The document breaks the monthly payment down like this: Rent plus $160 monthly A/C fee minus a concession.

I’ve never had to pay for air conditioning year round – they’ve always charged $60 extra for summer months only and I own the A/C unit.

Can they legally charge me a monthly-year-round air conditioning fee? I want their A/C units removed but the building manager indicates they won’t compromise on this. No, I haven’t signed a new lease yet.


26 Comment

  • My building (managed by Bernstein) does this, but I don’t mind it much, as I’ve often had to use the a/c in the winter due to malfunctioning radiators and neighbors who like tropical heat. They provide the units and leave them installed, and check periodically to make sure they’re draining correctly and whatnot. It does seem like a shady way to get around rent control, though.

    Is electricity included in the lease? It may be spread out over the year to help with the spike in the summer months. If not, that sounds like a raw deal. Either way, new lease = new rules. IANAL, but this seems like something they can charge for under the new lease, as it is their space.

  • I agree with Anononymous….this kind of provision in a new lease seems like a way around rent control. But, I can’t imagine it’s illegal per se. Since clauses like this are not part of the property rental itself, they’re negotiable provisions between two parties. If you don’t want to pay, and the landlord is unwilling to negotiate, you’ll have to consider whether you’ll want to move or be willing not to change apartments.

    • rent control? what rent control? there is no rent control on new leases.

      • Admittedly my last lease in DC was 10+ years ago, but at that point any units built before 1980 (?) and unimproved were subject to rent control. Is that not still the case? Or, maybe my memory is failing me in my old age.

      • Wrong. There isn’t rent control on new buildings, but if you live in an older building, there most definitely can be. I moved into my current building in Dec. 09 and it was quite explicit rent control applied (and my rent inceases have reflected that). I’m pretty sure rent control laws have not changed in the last couple years either.

        Point being, rent control is determined by the building situation, not the timing of the lease.

      • And you can read all about rent control in DC here:,a,3,q,573345,otaNav,%7C33325%7C,.asp#applicability

  • This sound suspicously like Harvard Hall.

  • My building does this, I also live in a Bernstein building. Electric is included in my rent but there’s a monthly AC fee for the window units, which management provides and maintains. However, this fee is offset by a concession on my rent so the AC fee turns out be pretty reasonable, and cheaper than if I paid for my electricity every month.

  • The law is that unless there is a separate meter, they can’t charge for things like water, gas or electric. But they could simply raise the rent to cover that. AC? Good question. I doubt it falls in the same class as electric and water.

    One thing to consider is that the $160/mo charge for AC is leveled across the year. Maybe you use $400/month in the summer and nothing in December. But I doubt AC costs $1,200/year even with the maintenance thrown in. What’s the concession?

    Tell them that since it’s a separate fee, you don’t want to pay it and you’ll supply your own AC. I did that once and they were too lazy to remove the unit. They just disconnected the wires in the outlet. I promptly reconnected them (and disconnected when I moved out).

    • ah

      I live in a house and my AC doesn’t get to $160 in the summer, let alone $160 average year round. So it’s just a way of charging more rent than the quoted amount.

      Recognize it for what it is and make a decision.

      • +1 I’m not sure how big your unit is but I used to live in a 700 sqft place where everything was electric including a terrible central furnace/AC unit. Worst electric bill ever was around 150 for the month. I think the AC unit was terrible and I was always suspicious that the vents just leaked into the wall.

  • No, there is nothing any more illegal about this than charging you for “luxury” trash pick up service.

    It is a cost, you either accept it or you don’t. If you don’t then you have to find some place else to move.

  • Anonymous, electricity is included. Emmaleigh504, I suspect you’ve lived in the building for a while and that if you were to request a transfer to a new unit the new lease would have this provision. Maybe I’ll play up the environmental perspective and lobby for lower btu units with a commensurate a/c fee reduction. Doubt that will work but its worth a try. Chris W– interesting idea, I’ll consider it. Maybe they’ll go for a slightly higher rent w/no AC… The longer I stay in the apartment the more thy would gain from annual CPI adjustments

  • tonyr

    $160/mon for a/c seems high to me. My place is 1000 sq ft, 2 beds and is all electric (central air) and my bill runs between $70 and $90 per month total. What are other people paying?

    • Yeah, it sounds like the OP is getting a bad deal. I own a 2-story rowhouse, and our electric bill during August (where we had the central A/C running every day) was about $120.

    • Yea, I have 900 square feet (2BRs/2Bath) and we’re on electric for everything and the AC months are usually around $45 a month.

  • If you don’t like the terms, I’d suggest renting elsewhere rather than running crying to the nanny state to protect you.

    • This is unnecessarily negative. The OP came to PoPville to ask if this was legal.

      There have been some apartment-related postings on PoP that sounded whiny… but the OP’s isn’t one of them.

  • I would understand keeping the fee level for the entire year, since that may be how the management company pays their electric, and you would presumably be able to use the units year round, but $160 seems a bit steep. It also might be a separate fee b/c not all units are currently paying it (like you previously). That said, $160 seems a bit steep. I think in the hottest months this summer, the entire electric bill for my three bedroom, poorly insulated apartment was about $150. This was with central a/c though. You should at least ask for an explanation.

  • DC Superior Court has a Landlord Tenant Resource Center. It’s a free service, and you could take the lease to them to review it with a lawyer. They can be very busy, so go early!

    • …aaand this nanny state nonsense is why my basement is unoccupied instead of rented out. no way i would subject myself to dc’s absurdly unbalanced landlord/tenant law

  • Ha, lots of fellow Bernstein tenants on here, it seems. I too have an a/c fee ($75) and a small rent concession (about $30), and it struck me as odd when I found out about the provision at lease signing–although I’m only familiar with tenant law in a different city, and this is the first apartment I’ve rented where tenants don’t pay their own separate electric bills, so I wasn’t sure about the legality under DC rent regulations. It was a little irksome because I use a/c sparingly and even if I get close to $75 worth in summer months, I’m definitely not going to use any in winter. But….it was at the point of lease-signing already, I was in a hurry to move, I liked the apartment, etc. etc. so I just went along with it. (And other than the a/c thing, I haven’t had any issues with Bernstein thus far.)

  • Hi — its the OP here.. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I did speak to a someone with knowledge in this area and he indicated that it is legal. Its considered an “amenity fee” and the District has no regulations for them. The landlord is using the fee an a “condition of occupancy” and making it part of the rent. That’s apparently kosher in DC since the fee + rent charged doesn’t exceed the legal rent allowed by the city for the unit.

    Interestingly though in Massachusetts courts have recently ruled that amenity fees are illegal ( Hermida v. Archstone Properties ). In Mass when tenants move in landlords can only charge for the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, a security deposit, and a key installation fee. Additional fees are considered illegal if they are a condition on renting.

    Yes, the “nanny state” of Mass has saved its renters some serious cash! 😉 Although the nanny aint so nice as she abolished her rent control laws in 1994.


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