Sherry Li has lived in her Bathurst Street bachelor apartment since 2018. She counts on her window air conditioner to make her home comfortable during Toronto’s sweaty summers.
When she received a notice from her landlord Greenwin Inc. last winter, stating window units must be removed, Li called building management.
“What I took away from the conversation,” she said, “(the building manager) was saying they don’t want them in for the winter, which made sense to me, so I took it out.”
In May, after she reinstalled her window unit, Li received another notice that stated window air conditioners were no longer allowed due to a policy change in January requiring air conditioners be stand-alone, portable models.
Greenwin, which manages some Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) units as well as privately owned buildings, said the change is about safety following the death of a toddler by a falling AC unit last year.
TCHC decided to get rid of window air conditioners in its buildings and Greenwin, along with other private property management companies, followed suit.
Greenwin advised tenants in January to switch to portable air conditioners to allow time to make the change before summer.
“In cases where tenants reached out to let us know they were struggling to comply with the policy, accommodations were made on a case-by-case basis. For some, this meant deferring enforcement of the policy for the year as long as the AC unit met the safety regulations necessary to mitigate risk to any persons at the residential complex. For others, this meant working together to create a rent-to-own payment plan for floor model AC units,” said an email from the company.
Li agrees with making air conditioners safe so she bought an undermount and window locks to secure her second-floor unit. But she has not removed or replaced her window air conditioner.
Nor should she, said Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.
Tenants like Li, who live under the terms of a lease that does not specify the landlord’s new policy against window units, aren’t obliged to take out or replace their air conditioners, he said.
“If you’ve had an air conditioning unit you can keep it. Your landlord can’t introduce new charges or rules without your consent. If they think your unit isn’t safe, they can tell you what you need to do to make it safe,” he said.
The issue of safety around air conditioners extends to other items affixed to buildings such as planters and satellite dishes.
“If it’s properly installed, you’re going to be fine. The issue is things (that) are improperly installed. Ultimately you’re a tenant and (if) you install it, it’s your liability,” he said.
Dent’s fear is that some tenants will, acting on their landlords’ wishes, remove their air conditioners and end up endangering their lives. There have been cases where seniors have died as a result of the heat.
Li’s neighbour Alex Chiao said the landlord has warned him off the use of a window air conditioner every year for the five he has lived there. This year he received three notices by June.
Chiao’s mother, who also lives in the building and has health issues, has also received notices to remove her air conditioner.
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Chiao only uses the AC when the temperature exceeds 24 or 25 degrees Celsius, mostly for the comfort of his 16-year-old dog that pants when it gets hot.
“Otherwise I open the windows and would rather crack a fan. I prefer that kind of air,” he said.
Chiao said three inspections over the past five years have verified that his air conditioner unit is secure and has been properly installed.
Li said the notices initially made her think she could be evicted.
“I don’t want to leave. I feel worried about that. I don’t have somewhere else to go.”
She and a neighbour in a nearby Greenwin-run building are working to organize a tenants’ association for information sharing.
Greenwin said its tenants have always required management permission to install air conditioners. Ongoing inspections of its buildings revealed that many window mounted AC units were outdated and improperly installed.
“We understand that asking our tenants to replace their window-mounted AC units with floor models may not be a popular decision, but we will always stand by the fact that the safety of our tenants, staff and visitors is our top priority,” said an email responding to questions from the Star.
TCHC has removed 7,500 window units and replaced them with portable air conditioners. It’s part of a phased removal program that will be completed by this time next year, said a spokesperson. There are still some window units in TCHC town homes, three-storey apartment buildings and some hung over balconies that are considered less risky than those that could potentially fall directly to the ground below.
The spokesperson confirmed that the window units are all tenant owned but the housing agency is paying for the stand-alone replacements.
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