Who should pay for tenants to keep cool over the summer?

[attach]6080[/attach]Summer begins officially June 21. Buildings with central air conditioning must turn it on June 2. This year, like many others, I wanted air conditioning by mid-May. Summers do start earlier and get hotter earlier than they did when I was a kid.

This is one effect of global warming we all feel. More and more people have installed air conditioning in their houses to allow them to survive Toronto’s summer heat. Many tenants who live in buildings without central air conditioning have installed their own window units.

In the last few weeks, too many tenants have told me landlords are asking for increases beyond the allowed rent increase for the summer months. This, the landlords say, is to pay for the electricity to run the window air conditioners.

Whether it’s legal to ask for this extra money depends on the tenant’s situation.

If the lease allows this kind of fee, the landlord can charge for the extra hydro. If the lease doesn’t say anything, the tenant needs to get a legal opinion.

I have found three legal viewpoints. One says the extra charge is against the rules if the landlord has not charged it before. Another says the extra fee is okay because it’s seasonal, and air conditioning is not essential. A third view says the landlord and tenant have to agree before the fee can be legal. Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board has the final word on each situation.

Tenants need an opinion from a lawyer or legal clinic before they pay the increase or if they challenge the landlord to take them to court.

In a building with central air conditioning, the temperature has to be 26 degrees or less from June 2 to Sept. 14. There is no requirement to cool people down in buildings that don’t have central air conditioning.

When the hot, humid, fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk weather lasted for a few weeks in July or August, we could cope, even without air conditioning. Now, that’s just not possible. It’s too hot for too long.

Seniors and people with health challenges face getting very sick from the heat.

Air conditioning, unfortunately, has become as essential as heating. And our laws need to change to reflect that.