The summer heat is upon us but will the use of air conditioning to fight that heat mean that you will have to pay for its use to your landlord? While landlords might make bold statements about what a tenant can do or must pay, the issue around air conditioning isn’t straightforward.
So how should you respond to these bold statements made by your landlord? Do you have the right to an air conditioner as a tenant?
What does your tenancy agreement say?
A good place to start is to look at what your tenancy agreement actually says about air conditioning and electricity. If you have agreed to pay for your own electricity, there is no reason for the landlord to have any say about how much electricity you use and what you use it for. As long as the air conditioner is installed in a way that does not interfere with anyone or damage the property, it is your business and the landlord cannot charge you for using an air conditioner.
But, if you and your landlord have agreed that the rent includes electricity and there is nothing in the lease that restricts what you can use the electricity for, the landlord cannot demand extra money for the cost of the electricity that runs the air conditioner. Again, if the air conditioner does not disturb anyone or damage anything, the landlord has no right to object. However, in some tenancy agreements it is specifically set out that the tenant cannot use certain appliances (such as an air conditioner) without the landlord’s permission. This would suggest that electricity for such appliances is not included in the rent.
As of April 30, 2018, all landlords are required by law to use the standard form lease when creating a residential tenancies contract with a new tenant. The landlord and tenant must state in the tenancy agreement if electricity is or is not included in the rent, AND if air conditioning is a service for which a tenant must pay extra. This should make things clearer for landlords and tenants.
What does the Residential Tenancies Act say?
The Residential Tenancies Act affects any agreement between a landlord and a tenant in Ontario. Any lease or tenancy agreement, including the standard form lease, cannot conflict with what is in the Act. Tenancy agreements do not have to be in writing and the exact terms of agreements – especially if they are oral or implied – can be unclear and can lead to disputes about things like air conditioning. To resolve these disputes, we have to look to what is in the Act.
One thing the Act does not permit is a rent that goes up and down according to the landlord’s whims. But rent can be increased if the landlord and tenant both agree to add an air conditioner or agree to extra electricity charges for an air conditioner. If the landlord agrees to provide an air conditioner or the landlord agrees to allow the tenant to install an air conditioner that the tenancy agreement did not permit, the rent can only be increased to cover the actual costs to the landlord. When the landlord stops providing the additional service, the rent must be decreased.
Our environment is in crisis. While extreme cold can be a pressing issue for tenants, now extreme heat is becoming a serious matter of life and death in Canada. And unlike the cold, municipal governments are lagging behind in regulating this issue with guidelines, rules or by-laws.
There is an overarching principle, however. A landlord must provide a tenant with a “habitable” unit. If your place is too hot to safely live in over an extended period of time, you are entitled to a rent abatement, repairs that will make the unit fit to live in or a termination of the tenancy. But be prepared for a battle at the Landlord and Tenant Board to claim these rights.