‘Life or death’: Baking U.S. cities legislate for air conditioning

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To tackle the problem Montgomery County is now mandating that rental buildings such as Price’s not only have air conditioning but also that they be maintained to cool to a certain level, in residential units as well as common areas.

“We see safe and healthy housing as a human right,” said Tom Hucker, vice president of the Montgomery County Council, who sponsored the law change that passed in February.

“We realized decades ago we need to require landlords to require heat, but in a world with climate change, we realized we need to provide air conditioning, as well,” he said.

Cities like Dallas and Phoenix – both of which have far hotter climates than Maryland – have similar laws, and others are mulling such changes.

As cities prepare for the effects of climate change, Hucker said, that needs to include making sure that all housing is safe for tenants.

“Air conditioning used to be seen as a comfort issue, but these days it’s really a life-or-death issue,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has “strongly encouraged” public housing agencies to purchase and install air conditioning equipment “where appropriate and feasible,” according to a copy of a letter it sent in November.


U.S. landlords have long been required to provide working heat, but air conditioning was seen as a luxury, said Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance.

“Historically, the inconsistency was that everyone agreed you can’t freeze to death, and there are laws that require heat in apartments, but no laws you can’t cook to death in the summertime,” he said.