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Dear PoPville – A/C and Heat in a Rental

by Prince Of Petworth July 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm 34 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I have a question about A/C and heating in rental properties. I am about to move into a room at a house but the house has no central air for A/C or heating. I am just wondering if it’s proper etiquette to ask the landlord if he’d be willing to provide an A/C unit and/or a heating unit. I’m living in a basement room so it gets especially cold in the winter and everyone knows how hot it’s been. The rent is really amazing and already very cheap so I just don’t want to push it with the landlord. So, I’m just wondering if I should just suck it up and buy my own units. Any guidance would be helpful!”

The landlord is absolutely required to provide heat. Anyone know if a/c is required as well?

  • Brookland Rez

    Etiquette? Please. If you want it, ask for it. It’s a business transaction. Negotiate for what you want.

    Personally, I wouldn’t rent it without a window A/C unit and a space heater for winter. I can’t imagine anyone else would be either.

    • Brookland Rez

      Heat is required by District law also.

      • ess

        That’s right…the tenant survival guide at http://www.law.georgetown.edu/clinics/hi/documents/TSG_english.pdf is a good resource. Page 9 is what you want…either the tenant has to control the heat or the landlord must keep it at least 68 degrees during the day and 65 at night.

        There isn’t an A/C requirement but you could negotiate with the landlord.

        Also, this basement sounds like a huge pit of housing code violations. There is no way it’s licensed. I’d worry about waterproofing, electricity, ventilation (carbon monoxide poisoning is a big problem!), etc.

  • I would conjecture heat is required and a min temp is specified in DC law however I bet A/C is not specified.

    I would either ask the landlord to provide one or ask him if he if fine you buying one if you are not paying for electricity. If you are paying for electricity, I would not even bother asking before purchasing your own.

  • Landlord

    I personally would rather have a tenant ask me for something (especially if it’s reasonable) than just be unhappy. Then again, I don’t know who owns rental property and doesn’t provide these basics…especially considering it’s a no-brainer from a cost-benefit standpoint. I’d be careful about who you’re renting from…

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I’d ask about both. As others have said, the heat is required. If the landlord refuses to provide AC I’d probably tough it out since it won’t be this hot for much longer.

  • wobber

    AC is not required by DC law, but the landlord is required to maintain all facilities including Heat/AC if amenities were operational at time of the lease being signed or move-in date.

  • Irving Green

    Heat yes, A/C no.

    All the answers you need are here: thisshouldbeillegal.com

    except DC didn’t pay their domain registration fees.

    This works, though:

    It’s possible the OP’s place has radiators and that they aren’t turned on or there is air trapped in them.

  • John M

    AC isn’t required by law for landlords to provide, just heat.

    Most places to offer you AC, but the only place I had to provide an AC unit would install and remove the units when Summer came around.

  • 4:15

    I don’t think it would hurt to ask. If they say no, definitely make sure they know you will be putting one in and that the system can handle it. I would say you need to a 115v for a small room so as not to overload the circuit.

    This one would do for a small room


    I’ve been using this one in my 300sf bedroom for a couple of years and it gets the bedroom very Arctic like


    • Brookland Rez

      AMPS are more important. Most small units are ok on 15 amp circuits (which is the smallest in a house). But you still need to make sure that the a/c unit is not on a circuit that is already heavily loaded. Otherwise you will trip the breaker.

  • anon

    It is very appropriate to ask the landlord.

  • anon

    It is appropriate to ask the landlord.

  • Anonymous

    From the Office of the Tenant Advocate:

    “Landlords whose tenants have leases that require air conditioning must keep inside temperatures at least 15 degrees cooler than the temperature outside. Air conditioning can be provided by a central air conditioning system or by individual units.

    Landlords must also:
    -Get air conditioning units inspected by a master refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic between September 1 and May 1 every year.
    -File inspection results with the Rental Accommodations and Conversions Division (RACD) within 15 days of the inspection.

    Any landlord who doesn’t follow these rules can get a Notice of Violation and possible penalties.”

    • andy

      So one answer might be, “read the lease agreement you signed and find your rights there.”

    • Eric

      really? For single units? They have to file the inspection report? Thats just dumb.

  • quincycyclist

    You’re about to move into a house that doesn’t have HEAT?

    How can a house not have heat?

    • Anonymous

      I’m guessing it’s an old house that didn’t originally have a heating system and they’re using space heaters in the rooms. I just hope the OP has renter’s insurance and a good escape route because that sounds like a potential fire hazard if that’s the case.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. Is OP sure there’s not radiator heat and he/she is just misreading the “no central air” bit? Some of these houses have older systems, but I can’t imagine one w/o ANY heat.

      Agree with the consensus above: LL is required to provide heat, not required to provide AC. So ask about/demand heat up to the rules and supplement as necessary with a $50 space heater. If you’re getting a great deal on rent, it’s probably bc it’s a basement room w/o AC. That said, don’t expect no-AC prices and then demand AC. But it never hurts to ask, even if you’re going to provide your own cool. Portable AC unit at Costco is like $300 … it won’t kill you if you have to buy it yourself.

    • Brookland Rez

      I think he said it was a basement apartment. Basements don’t typically have radiators when the rest of the house does. I know mine doesn’t.

  • joker

    As far as the “heat” goes, it is a specific degree requirement. If the outside temp is less than 40 degrees F, then the leased unit/space must be heated to atleast 55 degrees.

    If the OP is living in the basement, I would find it hard to believe that it ever naturally gets much colder than that in the basement, especially in a row house i.e. “attached” situation.

    I’ve owned row houses without heated basements and oncve had the temp get down to 48-50, but we were having a particular brutal couple weeks of winter when the day temps never got about ~35

    As to the A/C. If your room didn’t have A/C to begin with and it wasn’t listed in the lease then you are kinda SOL. You could ask, but don’t be surprised if they say no. Room a/c units can be bought for a couple hundred bucks. Go out and buy one.

    • Meg

      Sidenote: “Brutal” = never getting above 35 degrees? Can’t wait for DC winter. So long, -25!

      • textdoc

        I thought Joker meant that the _indoor_ temperature never got over 35 degrees.

        • Meg

          Ooh. That makes more sense. Duh Meg.

  • If you live in a basement, why do you need AC? Hasn’t gotten above the low to the mid-80s in my place, and I just use a nice floor fan to keep the air moving.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah and if he/she survived without it last week they’ll probably make it through the rest of the sumnmer.

  • 13NW

    Buy your own window A/C unit if you don’t want to talk to the landlord. You can get one at Home Depot for $100. That’s what I did when my center air broke for like 2 weeks. I then turned around and sold it for $75 on CL. I guess you could look there too.

    Enough people have already said heat is required to be provided so you don’t need to worry about that.

  • b

    i didnt even think to ask for AC units when we moved into our house, but that might be because our landlord is a rather surly person and i try not to have unnecessary contact.

    we brought 1, bought 2 more off craigslist. i say buy one. if you dont need it when you move, offer to sell it to the landlord when you leave. they will probably bite, and then offer to the next renter for a fee.

  • Mya

    I am landlord, my tenants rented my place with Heater, no AC and one window unit. When the summer started they asked me if I intended to buy AC unit for each bedroom. I politely said no I didn’t intend too (which was true), I referred them to link on craigslist where you can buy one for like $40. I didnt want to buy because first I have already made a lot of upgrades and didnt increase the rent, also i didnt want to be maintaining that.
    So, ask, but be prepared to get a YES/NO answer. If you are already paying a cheap rent you can afford one for $50 in CL

  • rabble

    why is this a problem that needs solving? call the landlord and ask. he either says yes or no.

    • anon

      The OP is probably new to the whole renting thing and doesn’t want to come across as overly demanding. He/she doesn’t really know what to expect and what kind of tenant demands count as reasonable.

      It also appears that he/she is unaware of his/her rights under the law. (If the room has no heating, that is. It wasn’t clear to me from the wording whether there was no heat whatsoever, or if perhaps it was radiator heat rather than central forced-air heat.)

  • victoria

    Craigslist right now has 47 AC units under $150.00, 37 under $100.00.

  • Anonymous

    I asked my landlord for AC for my basement apartment. My landlord was hesitant to get a basement AC unit because they didn’t want to physically install something but happily provided a portable unit. It rolls around so technically I can install it anywhere and just needs a window to work (but I just keep it in one spot). The landlord Also bought me 2 fans as well.

    The unit is extremely effective. I’m happy because I am cool. Landlord is happy because they get their rent ontime and only had to spend about $200 to keep me happy.

    All this to say, ask. And if your landlord balks, think about a portable unit as a compromise. The new ones are energy efficient and require nothing in terms of installation and learning how to use the system.

    Also, you’d be amazed at how much cooler basement units are compared to other units in a house/building. I know I was.

  • Eric

    We rented an English basement years ago and the window AC unit got “lost” in between seasons. I didn’t bother asking the landlord to buy one; I just bought my own. I’m sure he would have paid for it had I asked. I got it at Best Buy fairly cheap (under $300) and it kept the entire 1 bedroom apartment plenty cool.

    It can’t hurt to ask. If the rent is as cheap as you say then you shouldn’t be surprised if he says no.

    Heat is another story. I’d raise hell if it was too cold in the winter. I’m speaking as a former renter and current landlord of an English basement. He is obligated to keep it at a reasonable temperature in the winter.


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