Real Estate

Rent Watch: Air-conditioning units in apartments

Molly Current, fair housing director of the nonprofit Project Sentinel, answers your questions

Q: With the sweltering temperatures this summer, I (and many of my neighbors) purchased a window air-conditioning unit to cool my apartment. Our landlord hates the way this looks and sent us all letters saying that window air conditioners are not allowed in our complex. I don’t know how my wife and I are going to survive next summer without the window unit. Temperatures can reach 99 degrees in our apartment without air conditioning. She has heart problems and difficulty breathing when it is too hot. Is there anything we can do?

A: If your wife’s medical condition qualifies as a disability and she needs the window unit because of this disability, you may be able to request an exception from the window-unit rule as a reasonable accommodation. Under fair housing laws, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. California law specifically mentions heart disease as an example of a disability.

Molly Current of the nonprofit Project Sentinel
Both state and federal law require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations to their rules and practices when these changes are necessary to allow someone with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. You may request an accommodation verbally or in writing. If you make a written request, your landlord cannot require you to use a specific form for the request. In case a dispute arises in the future, it can be helpful to have your request in writing and to keep a copy along with proof that you made the request, for example, by sending it to your landlord by certified mail. Because a disability like heart disease may not be readily apparent, your landlord can request that you provide proof from your doctor or other knowledgeable third party verifying your wife’s disability and her need for the requested accommodation. In your case, your landlord may want to know why a window unit in particular is necessary.

Your landlord can deny your request if the accommodation you are requesting is not reasonable, such as if it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider, or if it would fundamentally alter the nature of the provider’s operations. If your landlord believes that your request would pose an undue burden, your landlord should not deny your request outright. Instead your landlord should engage in an interactive dialogue to find an alternative solution that meets your needs without imposing the same burden.

If you need assistance or have any questions about the reasonable accommodation process, please contact Project Sentinel at or call 888-324-7468, or contact your local fair housing agency.

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