Dear PoPville – Apt mgmt is trying to force us to pay for AC unit installation

by Prince Of Petworth April 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm 63 Comments


Dear PoPville,

I arrived home to a new memo from our resident manager/management company and have been ill over this since. I’d love to hear from PoPville if what we are being mandated to do is fair, normal, etc.

When we asked if this fee was mandatory, our manager said yes. Apparently WC Smith and Company purchased $40 AC Unit brackets for every window. To offset these costs – which we didn’t know about or ask for – they are now going to charge us $20 a unit, for installation and removal. We have 2 units – $80 by summers end. A you can imagine, 98% of people in my building are fully capable of doing this on their own, like they, and I, have been doing for years.

This is a non-luxury rent controlled building on the bustling corner of 16 and U, NW. But many residents are very old – having been here 30 plus years. The other population here are young professionals.

I can assure you none of us want to pay this stupid fee. Is this legal? Can I simply refuse and not risk eviction? I am very tempted to just simply install our units and ask for forgiveness later.

  • Anonymous

    What exactly is mandatory? That they install it for you? It doesn’t seem by the image above that you are forced to purchase a new A/C unit.

    • ah

      The installation by the staff is mandatory.

      Perhaps their insurance company doesn’t want to pay for falling air conditioners, although it may subject them to greater liability than if a resident does a poor job.

    • If this makes you hot under the collar, just imagine how hot under the collar a summer in DC will be like without AC!

      Seriously though, they need to pay the guy that installs them I guess. Check your lease and see if it’s written in it as a term, that will be your best guide, but you also have to consider if saving the 20$ is worth the problems it may cause.

  • Emily

    My building did something similar. The residents, myself included, just shrugged, put their units in (or shrugged because they left them in all year round) and never bothered to call the management. Ours is a $100 fee and no where in our lease.

  • Anonymous

    No one is forcing you to have an air conditioner. Unless your apartment had one when you leased it, charging a fee for services related to your desire for optional equipment is perfectly legal. Considering that WC Smith is an experienced DC landlord, you can be sure that they checked with their counsel about this. Besides, I’d bet that your lease has a provision in it about maintenance charges that may be changed from time to time.

    If it helps, think about it another way: for $20 you get insurance in case the air conditioner falls and injures someone or something. If the landlord installs it, the risk is on them. Seems pretty cheap to me.

    • Anonymous

      +1 on the insurance.

    • Mary Kate

      A blanket maintenance fee would be unenforceable. Any new fees would likely have be agreed to in writing (if you signed a lease allowing the mgmt company to charge additional fees at will, then you deserve to pay the $20).

      But in general, a landlord can’t just arbitrarily require fees for fixtures that contribute to the habitability of the living unit. Requiring a new fee to install an A/C unit when a resident has a reasonable expectation of doing it herself–based on previous years experience–unquestionably goes to the issue of habitability. Especially in August when the humidity is soul crushing.

      If it were me, I would hand a copy of my lease over to the mgmt company and ask them to show me where this fee is specifically mentioned. If they can’t, I would install my own A/C and not pay the fee. And then I would expect to see an amendment to my lease when my term was up for renewal.

      All that being said, if you don’t want to hassle with that, $20 really isn’t that bad for having someone else do the work for you.

      • anon

        “a landlord can’t just arbitrarily require fees for fixtures that contribute to the habitability of the living unit”

        i disagree here. there’s nothing that requires a landlord in DC to provide a window AC unit to a tenant in the first place. therefore, if the TENANT decides to get a new one, the landlord has every right to charge a fee. this could EASILY be a legal term of any lease. this charge is very different from charging a fee to a tenant for fixing broken heat or no water, issues which do go directly to habitability.

        further, tenants can’t just go around making major changes involving risks/safety to their rented apartments and/or making repairs on their own.

        there is ZERO chance that this experienced landlord (a pretty big company at that) got this wrong.

      • Anonymous


        Many leases have DC-legal clauses that read like this: “For optional services and for damage caused by tenants and their guests (pets, etc.), the landlord shall be entitled to charge the tenant according to a fee schedule that shall be posted in the management office.”

        And you don’t understand the DC housing code. Air conditioners do not have to be provided. If they are provided, they must work and must keep the inside temperature a certain number of degrees cooler than outside (15, I think), but that’s it. And don’t get me started on your concept of habitability. The warranty of habitability does not apply here.

      • Former Lawyer

        “If it were me, I would hand a copy of my lease over to the mgmt company and ask them to show me where this fee is specifically mentioned. If they can’t, I would install my own A/C and not pay the fee.”

        Best of luck with that approach. Be sure to let us know how it works for you in Landlord/Tenant Court.

      • Anonymous

        This is terrible legal advice and even worse practical advice. The landlord isn’t going to give a whit whether you can find language in the lease; even though I’m sure there will be something they can find to hang their hat on. Install the bracket yourself or haves the building do it for $40. Either way just do something and love on with your life.

  • 17th Street

    You’ve been ill over this? Wouldn’t it be worth your health to let it go and stop worrying about it?

    • Anonymous


    • SF

      But it costs the same as three beers!

  • Why don’t they leave the ACs in year round? Mine stays in year round and I use a thick curtain over it for insulation though there are special AC insulation things one can buy.


    There is nothing even remotely controversial or questionable about the notice the poster received! Gimme a break here. The building just doesn’t want the liability/risk of a poorly self-installed unit injuring someone or damaging property. Totally reasonable.

    There’s nothing forcing anyone to buy a new AC unit, and frankly, having it professionally installed for twenty bucks sounds like a great deal and a great idea. It actually sounds like a subsidized charge.

    Pretty much guaranteed that this is not only legal and probably laid out in the lease, but from the landlord’s perspective, a very wise idea.

    Have a drink, poster. This is no thang.

  • anon

    I’m sure this fee is unwelcome to both the young professionals and the low-income elderly residents, but why don’t the young professionals (those who can afford it) pool some money to pay the fee for the elderly residents (at least the ones who really can’t afford it)?

    I’m assuming the young folks outnumber the old folks at the very least, and you may be rewarded in cookies and neighborly goodwill.

    • ??? this is pretty presumptuous.

  • George W

    Being “ill” over this matter seems a little overboard. It’s not an expensive fee, it protects you from liability, and should provide you a little piece of mind if anything was to occur.

    If you have a problem with the fee, I would suggest checking your lease agreement to see if such a fee is allowable.

  • As a fellow resident of this building, I can assure you that I’d pay the $20 to have them install a new unit. Here’s why: it’s hassle free and stress free. Or you could just keep your A/C unit in your window like I do, all year long. It’s fine. Not a big deal.

  • Anon

    I’m sure the many “very old” residents would welcome someone installing a heavy air conditioning unit for $20. I certainly would. If this sort of thing makes you ill, perhaps you need a vacation.

    • Anonymous

      OP: A clear loser in this PoPville poll.

  • Paul

    “This is a non-luxury rent controlled building on the bustling corner of 16 and U, NW. But many residents are very old”

    So we have a multi story apartment building, overlooking a busy city street. Many of the residents are elderly, and one might assume some of them are not in the best physical shape to be properly installing an AC unit.

    It sounds to me like the management company did the math and realized that by taking over the installation process they could significantly reduce the risk of an improperly installed AC unit falling down and damaging property or injuring a passerby.

    Poster, keep in mind that if you do instal this yourself, and the AC unit ever falls and causes harm, you will likely be held liable for the damage. By paying this fee you significantly reduce such liability.

  • Anonymous

    I can just see the next post from OP in August:

    “Dear PoPville, I ignored my landlord’s requirement that they install all air conditioners and my window unit fell on someone because I didn’t do it correctly/started a fire because I didn’t bother to check the electrical specs/caused water damage from condensation because it wasn’t level. My landlord is now (charging me for damage/evicting me/suing me for indemnification against the lawsuit that the dead pedestrian’s family is sure to file). It’s just not fair!”

    Just pay the $20.

  • anon

    maybe getting the unit installed professionally and cranking up the air will allow the OP to CHILL OUT….

    also, by the way, those AC units are very tough to maneuver and lift into place. it’s really not that easy a job to install them. takes some skill and muscle, more than a lot of folks have.

  • Anon X

    Pay the fee, get the service, stop being an alarmist douche.

    • anon

      serious douchebaggery.

    • Anonymous


  • I just moved out of this building, and was actually pretty annoyed myself that I was charged $20 to remove the AC. When I moved in (3 years ago), the building had no policies about installation (or, not that I knew of, anyways), but I did feel a bit extorted when I found out they were going to charge me $20 to remove it. I paid it, and chalked it up to paying for insurance in case I dropped it, but it did feel like a bit of a sneaky charge to throw in there out of nowhere.

  • tvl

    Despite the continued assertion that DC has very impressive tenant protection laws, I would have to disagree. PoP has had many posts like this in the past, with examples of landlord policies that may arguably have some rational purpose individually, but overall tend only to give tenants the impression that they are being nickel and dimed by organizations large enough to have their own attorney. I haven’t found any of my prior landlords in DC to have decent customer service, but it is what it is.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, customer service is most definitely a lost art, especially among property managers. However, just to play devil’s advocate:

      Is it possible that DC’s ultra tenant-friendly laws (and they are, compared to most of the rest of the country) could lead to poor service and nickel-and-diming? There are a lot of costs that DC landlords have to absorb that others around the country don’t (giving deadbeat tenants who always pay right before eviction no-interest loans being one). It’s likely that they’re just passing those costs on to the rest of us schmucks who actually maintain our apartments and pay rent on time.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe ask the management if the installers could do a quick inspection of your installation for a lower fee? I think they just need someone to sign-off that it was done correctly.

  • unknown neighbor

    I live in a building that posted the same kind of notice. It was explained to me that the reason for the building maintenance guy installing it was so that a proper brace would be used instead of balancing the AC on bricks! Also, in case of an accident, the company and not the tenant was responsible.
    I asked if I could just keep my AC in all year and they told me I could if I wanted to.
    I doubt you would be evicted for this kind of thing, but I sure hope I’m not under your apartment when you attempt to install your AC unit and it slips out of your hands and crashes to the sidewalk!
    Why is the poster upset about this? It seems fine by me!
    This is a cry-baby non-issue!

  • JGK

    Just FYI, I live in sister building Wakefield Hall and we got the same memo. Ours were already in courtesy of the old building manager so I’m making any changes.

    • Anonymous

      I’m also in Wakefield. I’m a new resident, so this fee was fully explained to me during the lease signing. Perhaps I would be mad if I was used to an old policy, however the requirement seems to make a lot of sense from a liability perspective and is really a reasonable fee based upon the service and equipment provided.

    • Kathryn-DC

      I live in WH as well but have not seen this memo, probably because I’ve been there a long time and have two units already installed. I don’t mind the fee, and sincerely wish that I had had assistance putting them in originally.

      I do, however, remember a time when one of the AC units fell out of the window while they were trying to install it, and someone got both their knees injured trying to catch it as it went out the window.

  • Anonymous

    Skip happy hour, get them to install the AC.

  • dupontred

    Just for the record, this is also the same buidling that was discussed last week about the $1150 studio with no kitchen. (Wash dishes in the bathroom? Absurd!)

  • Me

    LOL… the tone of that memo is quite civil and polite. why do you have a problem? Is that what is getting under your skin? OP…please find a REAL problem to post about and quit yer bitchin’

  • Anonymous

    I can understand being upset at the principle of being “nickel and dimed” by management companies in a city where rent is already through the roof. And the notice says that building staff–ie, ostensibly people who are already on the payroll and not an independnent outside service provider–will be installing the a/c units, so management isn’t incurring any additional charge for installation. I can sympathize with the frustration at hidden fees, because not until the point of lease signing was I informed that my apartment’s quoted rent included a monthly $75 a/c fee (12 months a year, and I can guarantee that I don’t use $75 worth of air conditioning a month in the summer months, let alone in winter)…but what could I really do? I’d already found an apartment that I liked ok, I was literally about to put pen to paper on the lease, I was anxious to move, etc. etc. so I went along with it. Felt kind of crappy, but ultimately not worth making a hassle for myself over. Sounds like the same thing with a $20 installation/removal fee. I would be more concerned specifically if there were elderly or fixed-income tenants for whom $80 in a summer *would* be a really substantial financial hardship.

  • puhleeze

    Just another note: paying anyone $20 to dispose of a big nasty window AC unit is an awesome deal!! Where does the OP think s/he is going to leave that? Let me guess……. in the trash for the landlord to deal with??

    Notice that the OP has zero regard for the costs s/he is more than willing to impose on the landlord, all while griping “poor me,” I’m getting charged a relatively minor fee. i.e., happy to evade the rules, potentially install the unit incorrectly, and presumably dump bulk trash somewhere on the property (i assume this because you’d have to pay someone more than $20 to get it hauled away properly)

  • I live in this building. We are allowed to keep the AC units in our windows year round. I was actually thrilled when I found out I could pay someone $20 to install the AC unit for me. I hate doing housework, and ACs are incredibly heavy. They bring drills, screws, a stable base for the AC unit, etc., and it’s done in just a few minutes. Is $20 really enough to get ill over? All of the old people in our building have been here for 30 years and already have AC units installed, and their rent is absurdly low for the area due to the rent control.

  • anon

    “I arrived home to a new memo….and have been ill over this since.”

    Is this some kind of joke?!?!? It sounds like s/he arrived home to some terrible scene of her home being broken or some type of crime being committed into rather than a nicely worded memo about window units.

    Absurd, absurd, absurd. Put on some grown up pants.

  • Resident

    I believe the OP was misinformed about the $20 fee, perhaps because the Manager cannot be found past 2:00 PM on most days. I discussed the new fee with the management company and it was explained that it was a suggested tip for our maintenance person, and that we should just have cash with us when he comes up and installs our unit. I love our maintenance guy, Tete, and whenever there’s an issue, he’s quick to resolve it and is willing to help even if it’s something along the lines of hanging a picture or a hook. I always tip him for each individual task that I ask him to help me with and tip him at the holidays.

    My issue with the $20 is that management has made it mandatory that we use their services, in order to protect their liability. Therefore, they should be paying their employee appropriately to reflect his actual work requirements. Passing the buck to residents because they added an additional duty to an employee is not appropriate. I supervise 34 employees and when I ask them to complete a new work assignment, I make sure to reward them (short term projects) or provide them an addition to their salaries (added duties).

    I’m not ill over the issue, but I do believe that if management is making something mandatory, then it should be their responsibility to cover the cost of the issue. That being said, I’ll pay the $20 bucks because I think Tete is awesome.

    • Can’t be found after 2:00 PM? Come on. She’s so easy to reach via text, email, cell, etc. I’ve never had a problem with Julie, and she is always responsive. I’ve had to contact her like 10-15 times in the year I’ve lived here, and she’s always easy to reach.

      • Resident

        I think that’s where we may differ on our idea of management. A building manager that teleworks from her building is not doing it right. I’ve called the manager many times only to be prompted to leave a voicemail.

        Would like to point out that if she had made herself available after posting the notice, instead of calling it a day, she may have been able to clarify her message, and put a stop to the possible confusion.

        • me

          Our manager Julie is not “teleworking” in our building, she lives there. She is easy to reach, returns calls promptly and I’ve seen her being very “hands on” in dealing with issues at all hours! If she is no at her desk, she is somewhere working hard!

          • OtherResident

            No, Resident is right, Julie does sometimes telework from her home….in Wakefield Hall, which is 200 yards away. What a travesty, we should get Marissa Mayer on the case.

        • me

          “Other Resident” is wrong here… Julie lives and works in Hampton Court. Before you post “facts” you should check them out. Also, she is in the building and working all the time and at all hours. I have found her working late in the evening in the basement, in her office on weekends, and even assisting my elderly neighbor in his apartment. I feel lucky to have her watching over my home.

          • Anonymous

            BAHAHAHAHAH. her hours are 8 – 5. I leave for work at 8:30, she’s not there. I come home a little early. she’s not there. Never there.

    • Wait. Is this what people do? Tip the maintenance person when they come over and fix things or help or whatever? I tip at the end of the year, but am I supposed to tip throughout the year too? Am I not giving my awesome maintenance guy what he deserves?

      being a grownup can be so hard!

    • Anonymous

      I think the issue is less that some commenters have a problem with the landlord making it mandatory that its employees do the installations, and more with the idea of the landlord passing the cost of that building staff work along to tenants–and this is for fairly routine building maintenance work, not any sort of major capital improvement. The $20 itself isn’t that significant, but it’s a little irksome in principle. In fact, that’s kind of the deal with renting: you don’t own your space, you’re not allowed to paint your walls or do whatever you want with the interior of the apartment, you get rent increases every year, you can’t have a pet unless the landlord says you can–but the tradeoff for that rental arrangement and lack of autonomy is that you’re not responsible for paying off or undertaking any of your own apartment maintenance the way an owner is.

  • $20.00! TWENTY DOLLARS! Seriously? Why would you even post this? Why would you even think twice about this?

    • Anonymous


      • g

        amen! such a first-world (non)problem

  • Every day is a new day, and your perception changes each day. What happened to you that day to effect your perception? Did something happen to make you feel that everyone is out to get you? The intent behind the poster is in your best interest. Relax

  • zedo

    They are trying to charge $200 PER UNIT in our godforsaken building, Adams Garden Towers, on 15th and Belmont NW, owned by Adams Investment Group.

    • Anonymous

      Now that’s worth complaining about. Maybe you can show them this post.

  • I’m the president of my building’s tenant association. I don’t see anything wrong with this. Your management is taking reasonable measures to prevent harm and/or damage from an improperly installed air conditioner, and you and your neighbors are being asked to defray the cost of *an additional convenience*. Most leases include a clause that management may establish and enforce policies and rules in addition to those stipulated in the lease. As long as those additions do not violate or attempt to negate protections provided by DC laws, they are binding. In this case, they’re not violating the law.

    Now, if you and your neighbors are that incensed about the policy, you folks need to establish a formal tenant association. Have a meeting with residents to determine exactly what the objections are. Once you have, the leadership needs to sit down with management to discuss the policy and try to identify a solution that will satisfy everyone. A tenant association is a good idea regardless of whether there are issues/problems or not.

  • Hello,
    My name is Holli Beckman. I work at WC Smith’s corporate office. I wanted to address everyone’s concerns and clarify our position. WC Smith official policy is to install any resident’s AC unit free of charge. We prefer to install with the brackets because, as many of you already noted, there are safety and liability concerns that come along with an improperly installed unit. This notice was posted in error and as soon as we were alerted to it, it was removed. Any fees that had already been charged were refunded. We appreciate these forums as they bring our attention to these situations. I welcome you to direct any further concerns or questions to me. I’m always happy to assist in any way I can. [email protected] .

    • Kathryn-DC

      Holli, thank you for clarifying this. I assume this goes for Wakefield Hall as well unless you say otherwise.

  • Couple thoughts:
    1) Is it even safe for elderly to be installing AC units? I do not know of a single elderly person that would prefer to install the unit over paying $20.
    2) I lived in this building for two years. It’s a bitch to drill into brick (in order to safely secure the unit). That’s awesome that they’re offering to do it for a measly $20.
    3) William C Smith is amazing to rent from! Julie on the other hand is about as awesome as drilling into brick.

    • Me

      WTF? Julie is awesome! She works all the time and has helped me and my neighbors many times! If you don’t like the work she does, then perhaps you are one of the people who never gets a package delivered to their apartment, never has a dripping faucet fixed, or never has to be let back into your apartment having forgotten your keys! She is prompt and polite! You people badmouthing her make my blood boil! I come home from work about 6 o’clock every evening and she is almost always in her office working hard! I have lived here for almost 12 years and the building has never been in better hands!


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