With summer temperatures sizzling, officials in Montgomery County are considering what would be a first-in-the-region law mandating air conditioning in all rental properties.
A bill introduced Tuesday by Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker (D-District 5) would require landlords to provide and maintain air conditioning during the summer months for the estimated 300,000 tenants in the county of 1 million residents.
Montgomery currently requires landlords to provide heating but not air conditioning.
Some jurisdictions in the Washington area require landlords to maintain air conditioning if they provide it, but none have imposed a blanket requirement of the type that Hucker is proposing. Hucker and others said they are still researching whether any jurisdictions in the United States have done so.
Nicola Y. Whiteman, senior vice president of government affairs at the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, declined to opine on Hucker’s bill, saying the association “looks forward to having a conversation with the sponsors.”
It is important, she added, for government officials to allow enough time for landlords to service air conditioning units as part of any requirements.
Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, said that forcing landlords to provide air conditioning services might cause rents to rise. But in the face of soaring temperatures and other conditions, he said, that would be “a risk worth taking.”
Hucker agreed. “Access to AC is not really a comfort issue,” he said Tuesday, as the temperature rose to 92, with a heat index of 99. “It’s a life-or-death issue in weather like this.”
Since air conditioning has never been required in rental units, Hucker said his office is not sure how many tenants in Montgomery are living without the service. Losak said that while most rentals in the county have air conditioning units, tenants often have no recourse when these units break or experience disruptions.
“Many tenants we deal with are going days or weeks without working AC,” he said.
In the District, all landlords are required to install screens on doors and windows of their properties from March 15 to November 15 every year, but they are not required to provide air conditioning unless it is stated in their leases. If they do provide air conditioning, however, D.C. landlords are obliged to ensure it is in “safe and good working condition” throughout the summer.
The Washington area has not been spared from the global heat wave that has led to some of the warmest months on record this summer.
The first heat-related death in Maryland this year was reported two weeks ago in Anne Arundel County. The state Department of Health received more than 450 complaints of heat-related illnesses from July 2 to July 8, with Montgomery — the state’s most-populous jurisdiction — logging the second most after Baltimore County.
And this weather is about to worsen, meteorologists warn. Temperatures in the Washington area could reach 100 degrees this weekend, The Washington Post’s Ian Livingston wrote. With humidity, it may feel like 110 or higher.
“Our policy needs to catch up with the reality of climate change,” Hucker said.
When the heat rises past 95 degrees in Montgomery, the county’s Health and Human Services Department activates a hyperthermia plan, said Mary Anderson, an agency spokeswoman.
Homeless shelters, which typically close during the day, are encouraged to stay open, and the county directs residents to “cooling centers” inside public libraries and government buildings.
Hucker said these measures are not a panacea.
“[Tenants] are heavily seniors, they’re heavily low-income, and they’re heavily black and Hispanic. Some are disabled or immobile,” he said. “It’s great to have cooling centers, but not everyone can take advantage of that.”
The council will hold a hearing on the bill in September.