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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane landlords may soon no longer ban air conditioning units during the worst summer heat

The Spokane City Council will consider forcing landlords to allow tenants to install air conditioning units during the worst summer heat, though loopholes in the proposed language have some advocates concerned.  (Christopher Anderson)

A new law under consideration would make it illegal for landlords to ban tenants from installing air conditioning units in Spokane rentals during dangerously hot weather.

Some advocates for renters, however, worry that the proposed ordinance sponsored by City Council President Betsy Wilkerson and Councilwoman Kitty Klitzke has too many loopholes to help those who most need it.

Under the ordinance introduced Monday, landlords could not restrict the installation of a portable air conditioner into a rental unit at any time that the National Weather Service has issued a heat-related alert.

The ordinance is not appearing out of thin air. As recently as 2016, for example, leases for the Wolfe and New Washington apartments in downtown Spokane, home to dozens of the city’s poorest, banned the installation of air conditioners, according to reporting by the Inlander. In a 2022 feature, the paper noted that 19 people had died in the 70 units between those two apartments in a six -year period, a number of whom succumbed to heat exacerbated by the conditions of their poverty.

When the ordinance was first introduced, Councilman Michael Cathcart questioned whether any landlords were currently restricting or removing air conditioning units needed during times of extreme heat. On Monday evening, Klitzke pointed to recently surfaced reports that nonprofit Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners had directed the removal of air conditioning units in the Alexandria Apartments due to liability concerns. SNAP representatives could not immediately be reached for comment Monday evening.

Other common lease provisions, such as barring tenants from altering a rental without permission or agreements where the landlord pays the electricity bill, could also leave the door open for landlords to reject an air conditioner in the window.

“Tenants in buildings where the landlord pays the utilities, those tenants are often denied any other cooling devices,” said Terri Anderson, interim executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State. “I think (this ordinance) would make a difference in some cases, and any time we can move things forward to protect tenants, that’s great.”

But a number of provisions in the ordinance may create just as many loopholes, she worries.

Under the new law, landlords could still prohibit a tenant from installing an air conditioner under a number of conditions. This includes if the device would violate building codes or state or federal law, but also if installation would “damage the premises,” which is not clearly defined.

Window-mounted air conditioners, one of the most common and frequently cheapest options available to consumers, could also be banned by a landlord if they require hardware such as brackets and screws mounted to a window frame. These are often necessary to safely install a unit in a window and prevent it from falling, particularly on window sills that aren’t flat, which are more commonly found in older buildings .

In a brief interview ahead of Monday’s council meeting, Klitzke said that she would work to address these concerns and now planned to introduce an amendment to allow “reasonable” installation.

“Most of the windows in older apartments from 1950 and before are wood and should be able to have reasonable use of brackets,” Klitzke said.