Q: Temperatures have soared into the 80s and 90s, yet it seems the landlord hasn’t turned on the central air-conditioning system in my building. My thermostat says it’s 75 degrees in my apartment, but I don’t believe that. Does D.C. law require my landlord to activate A/C by a certain date, or when the temperature reaches a certain point? And how can I tell if my air conditioning is working?

A: Under D.C. law, the landlord is not required to provide tenants with air-conditioning service (unlike heat). However, if air conditioning is a provided service, then District regulations do apply. The landlord must maintain the system in good and safe working order. The system must be inspected by a qualified person each year. And it must be capable of providing an inside temperature of either 78 degrees, or at least 15 degrees less than the outside temperature, whichever is greater.

As of this year, new regulations require the landlord to provide air conditioning for a specific timeframe — between May 15 and Sept. 15. There is an exception if the building has a two-pipe system, meaning that the same equipment is used to provide heat and air conditioning. In that case, the landlord is given until June 1 to transition to air conditioning.

It may be easy to tell whether your building has a two-pipe system. Generally, only larger buildings — 10 units at a bare minimum — have two-pipe systems. If your unit has a radiator for heat and an air duct for air conditioning, then it likely is not a two-pipe system. If there is a single “box” with a fan inside for both heat and air conditioning, then it likely is a two-pipe system. If in doubt, ask your landlord.

To determine whether the thermostat is accurate, place a thermometer close to the thermostat. Use an outdoor rather than a medical thermometer. Be aware that the location of the thermostat can cause the problem. For example, if the fan blows cool air directly onto the thermostat, the system may shut down before the rest of the room cools sufficiently. Take temperature readings in other parts of your unit, but also be aware that minor fluctuations are to be expected.

If you are having problems with your air-conditioning service, contact your landlord or management office first. If they are unresponsive, then request a housing code inspection by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. DCRA can be reached at 202-442-9557 or 311.

About the Advocate

The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy, education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at ota.dc.gov or 202-719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.