Realty Bites

Can I install an AC behind my landlord’s back to dodge a rent hike at my rent-stabilized apartment?

  • You should ask your landlord for permission to install an AC unit rather than risk violating your lease
  • Your landlord can charge you a fraction of the cost of the AC unit and installation, plus a monthly surcharge in some cases
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
March 15, 2024 - 10:29AM
A window air conditioning unit outside an old brick apartment building above a garden with yellow sunflowers during summer in Astoria Queens New York

AC units are easy to spot, and dangerous if installed incorrectly.


I want to install an AC unit this summer in my rent-stabilized New York City apartment, but I know that my landlord can raise my rent if I do. My lease requires that I get permission from my landlord before installing an AC, but I know tenants in my building have ignored that rule. Are there any consequences if I go rogue and install it on my own? What’s my risk?

It’s certainly tempting to avoid a rent increase and install an AC on your own, but it’s likely not worth the risk of getting into trouble with your landlord.

Your landlord could try to evict you if they find out you’ve breached your lease, and it would be fairly easy for them to uncover your subterfuge considering that a window AC unit will stick outside the building. 

They could then file a “notice to cure,” or a legal warning that you’re in violation of your lease. That notice gives you 10 days to fix the problem—in this case, by removing the AC unit—before they can proceed with an eviction, says Jeffrey McAdams, an attorney at McAdams Law.

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"I would not encourage subterfuge,” McAdams says.

Better to pay now than in court later

You could simply avoid an eviction by removing the AC unit if your landlord does file a notice to cure. But if your goal is to avoid sweating out the NYC summer heat, it’s probably better to ask for permission than forgiveness.

Your best case scenario would be to pay for the AC unit and installation yourself with your landlord’s permission, if you can afford the upfront cost. That way, you can avoid a monthly surcharge for its use and a rent increase for the installation.

Plus, paying for a professional to install the unit can make sure it's safely in place, says Sam Himmelstein, an attorney at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph (and a Brick sponsor FYI).

“The landlord has a right to make sure that it’s installed properly, because if it’s not and it falls and it injures somebody, the landlord is the one that’s going to get sued,” Himmelstein says.

You could see a rent increase, in certain cases

There are two ways an AC unit will increase your rent bill: your landlord can increase your rent if they purchase and install the unit, and they can tack on a monthly surcharge for an AC unit’s use in certain cases, according to New York State Homes & Community Renewal, which enforces the state’s rent regulation laws.

With your permission, your landlord can purchase and install a new air conditioner in your unit and raise your rent as a result. But the monthly rental increase would be limited to 1/180th of the cost in buildings with more than 35 apartments, or 1/168th of the cost for buildings with 35 units or less, according to HCR.

The owner also cannot increase your rent if you purchase and install the AC unit yourself, nor can they charge you for the cost of AC brackets, according to HCR.

Your landlord can tack on a monthly surcharge to your rent bill if electricity costs are included in your rent, according to HCR. However, owners cannot collect that fee if you install your own AC unit and if you pay for your own electricity bills. (Previously, landlords could charge a $5 per month fee for rent stabilized tenants, even if they paid their own electricity and installed the AC unit themselves).

A monthly surcharge won’t impact your legal rent

That monthly fee stood at $37.09 this year, though the Rent Guidelines Board adjusts the price every fall. But that additional surcharge does not impact the maximum rent your landlord is legally allowed to charge you, meaning it won’t be taken into account in future rent increases, according to HCR.

You also can’t be evicted for failing to pay that monthly surcharge, Himmelstein says.

“Those surcharges still exist, but if the tenant doesn't pay them, they can't be evicted.” Himmelstein says. “I think the tenant should be prepared to pay the surcharge.”

Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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