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My building got a new fire escape, and I had to take out my AC. Does my landlord have to provide an alternative?

The answer depends on whether the unit came with your apartment or you installed it yourself. 

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Question:

I'm a rent-stabilized tenant. The owners of my building recently installed a new fire escape, forcing me to remove my window air conditioning unit. Meanwhile, all the newly renovated units in the building have central air. What can I do? Does the landlord have any responsibility to provide AC in some other way?

Answer:

The answer depends on whether the air conditioning unit came with your apartment, and whether there's any language in the lease guaranteeing AC, our experts say.

"If the air conditioner came with the apartment, then the landlord would have to provide it, either by hooking the tenant up to central air or installing a unit through the wall," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations (and FYI, a Brick sponsor). "The AC would be a required service, and the landlord would have to provide an alternative." 

This rule would apply only to rent-stabilized tenants, who have the right to whatever services were provided to them when they first moved in (such as a working elevator, gym access, air conditioning, and so on.) When such a service is no longer offered, stabilized tenants can file a complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. This compels landlords to either reinstate the service, or give the tenants a rent reduction. 

However, if you installed your own air conditioner in the window, you're probably out of luck. 

"If this was a case of the tenant providing their own air conditioner, does the landlord now have to supply one? The courts have never taken this position," says David Hershey-Webb, partner at HMGDJ Law. "You might argue that being prevented from having AC is a breach of the warranty of habitability, but the court would probably argue that a lot of people don't have air conditioning, so how could it be a habitability issue?" 

Both stabilized tenants and market-rate tenants would have recourse in this situation if air conditioning were provided for in their leases, so take a close look at yours. 

"If the lease says the tenant may install AC in the window, then you have an argument that it's a breach of contract," Himmelstein says. "Most leases don't provide for this, though."

If it turns out you can't get your landlord to give you an air conditioning upgrade, check out these options for portable units. 


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