Should LA make AC mandatory for all rental units?

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Many tenants in Los Angeles don’t have access to air conditioning in their apartments, leaving them vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Photo by Shutterstock.

In the midst of a heat wave, cranking up the AC can be a much-needed source of refuge. But for many renters in Los Angeles, that isn’t possible — because their apartments don’t have air conditioners installed. 

Unlike heating units for the winter, landlords are not required to provide cooling mechanisms for tenants. But as climate change makes dangerously hot weather common, some local officials are questioning whether air conditioning transformed from a luxury to a necessity. 

In June, Los Angeles City Council asked city staff to study the costs and feasibility of requiring landlords to make AC mandatory in all rental units. 

“We know that this issue is affecting renters across the state, across the world, and increasingly so,” says Sasha Harndon, senior public policy advocate at Inner City Law Center. “There's been some great reporting in the last couple of years that has shined a light on the level and number of heat-related illnesses and deaths that are occurring in California. And it's extremely alarming.” 

A Los Angeles Times analysis estimates that nearly 4,000 people died of heat exposure between 2010 and 2019. And those deaths aren’t limited to people living outdoors — renters, particularly those in older, poorly insulated buildings, are also at risk of heat-related illness. 

Harndon points out that while laws require landlords to keep apartments above a minimum temperature in the winter, no comparable laws exist to keep residences below a maximum temperature in the summer. Last year, he co-sponsored a bill that would have changed that at the state level, but it failed to pass. 

Part of that was due to pushback from landlord lobbies, which argue that cooling regulations place an undue burden on owners. 

“We've just gone through three very challenging years under COVID regulations, many landlords today have been left holding the bag on unpaid rent. And so many of our owners just cannot afford any additional expenses,” says Dan Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).

Yukelson says the pending LA city mandate has so far left landlords “in the dark.”

“We're not sure if cooling units include window units, these mobile units that can be installed to cool rooms, ceiling fans, or if the city is looking at requiring central air conditioning, which is in a whole other stratosphere of costs,” he says. 

While it remains to be seen what the city council’s study will determine, Harndon notes that there are state and local subsidies available that might help alleviate some of the costs for renters and tenants.

“I think this is one area where tenant advocates and landlord advocates can collaborate … to make sure that funding goes where it's needed to retrofit buildings, without putting those costs onto tenants,” he says.

Another concern is the impact such policy measures might have on the state’s already-strained energy grid. 

Rajit Gadh, professor at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, expects that the local measure would increase energy consumption in Los Angeles by about 5%. But some of that could be offset by storing energy during the day in the batteries of electric cars and school buses and other electric vehicles, then pumping that energy back into the grid after the sun goes down.

"We need the charging infrastructure to be upgraded. We also need the grid infrastructure, the systems and software. But it's no different from taking solar energy and pumping it back to the grid,” he says. 

The city council report on LA’s potential AC mandate is expected to be presented to the housing and homelessness committee in the coming weeks. 



  • Sasha Harndon - senior public policy advocate at the Inner City Law Center
  • Dan Yukelson - Executive Director, Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles
  • Rajit Gadh - professor at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering