Finding it a bit humid this summer? You’re not alone. All across Canada, people say they really feel the heat, especially in their homes. And we are tracking it. CBC teams have installed temperature and humidity sensors in dozens of homes in various cities, including Vancouver, to see what happens to people when things go from hot to sizzling to seriously dangerous. This is one of those stories.
Tenants in British Columbia have received notices from landlords warning them not to install air conditioning units in their suites or risk jeopardizing their leases.
Breaking: has spoken with tenants in several buildings under different management companies who expressed frustration after landlords turned down their requests to install air conditioning units, just weeks after the province announced a program to provide air conditioning to residents. eligible British Columbians.
In June, the government said it would provide 8,000 units to medically vulnerable low-income households over the next three years. In a related program, BC Hydro is offering residential customers $50 off the purchase of an eligible air conditioner through July 28.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said at least 50 per cent of free air conditioning units were expected to be installed in apartments or multi-unit dwellings.
But weeks later, tenants and tenant advocates are speaking out, saying landlords have discouraged them from using air conditioning units.
Ryan Le Neal bought a floor-standing air conditioning unit for his New Westminster apartment three years ago. He wasn’t worried about using it until he received an email on June 1 advising him that “management cannot authorize any tenant to install air conditioning units.”
“I paid attention to the warning, you know, because of course [the landlord] states that it’s all about ruining your lease, voiding your lease,” said Le Neal, a longtime resident of the building on Hamilton Street.
Several tenants in a BC building with a different owner said they had also been told not to install air conditioning units, but none of these tenants were willing to receive a quote on it.
The owner says that the old building lacks electrical capacity
The notice, which Le Neal showed to Breaking:, states that “if a tenant chooses to breach this material term of the lease and causes damage, the tenant will be responsible for rectifying these damages.”
It also says that “older buildings are not equipped to sustain the high electricity usage required by air conditioners” and that tenants are expected to confirm with an electrician that the equipment is safe before using it.
Le Neal, who works as an elevator technician, says he followed the instructions in the ad and consulted with electricians about using the air conditioning unit. He says that because the unit’s current rating is 9.5 amps and it’s connected to a circuit capable of handling up to 15 amps, he feels confident it’s safe to use.
“There is a circuit breaker in the air conditioning unit, as well as a circuit breaker panel,” Le Neal said. “I’ve used this for three years now. Haven’t had any problems.”
The notice was sent by the owner Dinesh Chand. According to the New Westminster Tenants Union, tenants in at least eight buildings owned by Chand, including Le Neal’s, received the same notice.
Krisztina Fulop, an organizer for the tenants’ union, says tenants contacted the group out of concern about the notice.
“Their biggest concerns were that they wouldn’t be able to survive the summer and they wouldn’t be able to live in their apartments during the summer,” Fulop said.
There was at least 33 heat-related deaths in New Westminster during the 2021 heat domethe highest mortality rate of any municipality in the province.
‘I’m really playing my neck here’
Both Le Neal and Fulop fear the ads are intended to intimidate tenants and discourage them from using air conditioning units.
“I’m really sticking my neck out here,” Le Neal said of continuing to use his unit.
It’s a risk he’s willing to take, especially since he says that before he had air conditioning, his apartment had reached temperatures of up to 38C.
Chand’s attorney issued a statement to Breaking: on behalf of his client, reiterating that the building Le Neal lives in is old and “not all types of air conditioning units are appropriate.”
“Some types of air conditioning units, such as window-mounted ones, can leak and cause damage to the building envelope, as well as draw too much energy for the electrical service available in the rental unit,” the attorney said. Michael Drouillard in the email.
Drouillard added that a landlord can regulate the use of air conditioning units in a lease, including requiring the tenant to pay for damages caused by their air conditioning unit.
Le Neal, who has lived in the building since 2008, says his original lease had no restrictions on the use of appliances. Your AC unit is also not mounted in your window, but instead feeds a tube outside.
“There shouldn’t be any problem with the use of the unit that I have in my apartment unless there is some serious problem with the infrastructure of the building,” he said.
Buildings need to be assessed, says engineer
Building infrastructures need to be individually evaluated to determine what type of electrical load they can handle, said Michael Wrinch, principal engineer at Hedgehog Technologies in Burnaby.
“An electrician or an engineer can do a review and assess whether the building is safe to add to all [with] air conditioners,” Wrinch said.
He says if the building doesn’t have the capacity, the infrastructure would need an upgrade, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the building.
The chief executive of Landlord BC, an advocacy group, is well aware of the potential cost and is still awaiting more details on the province’s program to provide air conditioning units.
“There are still many holes in the proposed program,” David Hutniak told Breaking: in an email. “We don’t know anything about the specific equipment the program applies to, for example.”
Hutniak says the government was explicit in saying the owner’s consent is required.
In an email to Breaking:, the BC housing minister said he hopes landlords and renters work together to find solutions.
“Tenants may use air conditioning units in their rental unit if they are not prohibited by an additional term in the lease,” Ravi Kahlon said. “The risks of extreme heat events, especially to our most vulnerable citizens, should not be overlooked, and I strongly encourage strata [corporations] and owners to consider all factors and find solutions to keep people safe.”
Fulop is not convinced that a hands-off approach from the province will help tenants trying to keep their cool.
“The province has the ability to force property owners to make these changes,” he said. “We pay so much for rent in Vancouver, why should we have to settle for less? And why should we put our lives at risk?”
Meanwhile, Le Neal won’t be deterred from turning on his air conditioning on very hot days.
“I really don’t feel like I’m wrong about this,” he said.