Guest editorial: The right way to get air conditioning in your rental

Posted: September 9th, 2016 | Opinion, Opinion & News | No Comments

By Molly Kirkland

San Diego’s mild climate makes air conditioning unnecessary for most of the year. Many homes don’t even have an air conditioning system. But at the height of summer, particularly in August and September, the need for a cool room can become overwhelming, even for those who live near the coast.

Renters looking to outfit their homes with air conditioners have fewer options than homeowners do, but if they’re determined and work with their landlord or property manager, renters can usually find a way.

The most convenient option is the portable air conditioning unit. These units sell for as little as $250 and can cool a bedroom, a living room or even a small studio apartment. About the size of a large suitcase, they typically sit on wheels and blow hot air through a tube out a window. Portable air conditioners are ideal for renters because they do not require any permanent modifications to the building, and the air conditioner can easily be moved to another residence at the end of a lease term.

Another fairly convenient option is the window air conditioner. About the size of a microwave oven, these units sit directly in a window, blowing hot air outside and chilled air into the room. To install these units, the window screen generally needs to be removed, and some supports may need to be attached to the wall. Due to potential need for modifications to the window or wall, we highly recommend consulting with your landlord or property manager before attempting to install. Like portable air conditioners, window units can easily be moved to another residence when the lease term ends.

There are other options that are less ideal for renters because they require extensive modifications to the building. Through-the-wall units are similar to window units but require a section of the wall be cut out and a metal case bolted to the wall. Whole-house or central air conditioning units require even more extensive renovation work to install ducts and vents. Never attempt to install a through-the-wall unit or central air without the express consent and collaboration of your landlord.

If your landlord has given you permission to install a through-the-wall air conditioner, be sure to spell out the terms of your agreement in writing. Be specific about who the AC unit belongs to, because this person will be responsible for maintaining the unit and subsequent damage resulting from improper installation.

Most tenants pay their own electrical bill, but in the rare case that your landlord pays for electricity, establish an agreement with your landlord before you start using your air conditioner. Your landlord may want to bill you back for the added energy cost.

Keep in mind that you may be held liable for damage to window screens, window sills, walls or other parts of the building. You should also consider that some older buildings do not have the modern electrical wiring needed to support the operation of an energy-intensive air conditioner. If you don’t have permission from your landlord and your air conditioner damages the electrical system or another tenant’s property, you could be held responsible to pay for any repairs. (This is one of many reasons you should always maintain renter’s insurance, even if your landlord does not require it.)

Where there’s a will to get AC in your rental, there’s usually a way. Just be sure to consult with your landlord or property manager, and be prepared to cover any associated costs.

And if nothing else, keep curtains or blinds closed on windows facing the sun, and buy some inexpensive fans. If that’s not enough, there are also more than 100 “Cool Zones” throughout the county. Look for the polar bear Cool Zone signs or visit

Stay cool, San Diego!

—Molly Kirkland is director of public affairs for the San Diego County Apartment Association.

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