LA County appears to be requiring rental units to stay cool in the summer

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

LA County appears to be requiring rental units to stay cool in the summer

LA Politics, California Politics

Rebecca Ellis
Hayley Smith

January 23, 2024

This winter, tenants of frigid apartments in Los Angeles have some ammunition when they complain to their landlords about broken heaters and drafty rooms: Legally, rental properties can’t dip below 70 degrees.

Come summer, there will be no such protections for the opposite problem: suffocating homes without air conditioning. The county has no maximum temperature for rental units, an issue that advocates say leaves vulnerable renters sweltering in the hot months as California grapples with the effects of climate change and extreme heat.

Los Angeles County supervisors want to change that. On Tuesday, the board voted to direct staff to draft an ordinance that would set a maximum temperature for rental units across the county


a large part of the province. Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the lone no vote.

“Tenants should have the opportunity to escape the extreme heat in their own homes without fear of being evicted or saddled with additional rents,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who, along with Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, proposed the motion. has drafted.

Unlike many of the motions passed by the county, the resulting ordinance could potentially apply to far more than just the approximately 1 million residents of unincorporated LA County.

Because the provinces are looking for it

to withdraw

add the policy


to the health code, other jurisdictions in LA County would have the opportunity to easily adopt it. The only exceptions are the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own public health departments.

LA County will be one of the largest jurisdictions to take this on, but not the first. In Phoenix, landlords are required to keep air-conditioned units at a maximum temperature of 82 degrees. In Clark County, Nev., units cannot get hotter than 85 degrees. In Palm Springs, units must have air conditioning and temperatures cannot exceed 80 degrees.

Horvath said increasingly deadly heat waves posed a clear public health emergency for the province.

Setting a temperature limit for rental properties will protect our most vulnerable Angelenos, including older adults and families with young children, who deserve safety and comfort in their own homes, she said in a statement.

Horvath’s office said the county doesn’t want to dictate how exactly landlords should keep their units cool. Some will probably need air conditioners or heat pumps. But others in more temperate parts of the province could use energy-efficient improvements such as air sealing, cool roofs or even replacing an old window to keep their units at the desired temperature, officials said.

The province does not yet know what the maximum temperature will be. The county Public Health Department previously recommended a maximum temperature of 82 degrees for air-conditioned units and 86 degrees for non-air-conditioned units. But county supervisors say they’re not interested in reaching out.


Tuesday’s motion

They voted today/Tuesday

asks for an order with one maximum temperature.

It’s also not clear what kind of teeth the ordinance will need to have to ensure landlords keep their units cool. In other jurisdictions with maximum temperatures, tenants can file a complaint, which could result in fines being imposed on their landlords.

Landlords and building owners have expressed concerns about the potential costs associated with the motion to the California Apartment Assn. In a recent letter to the board, he wrote that such upgrades “may require significant capital expenditures and building renovations and will have a financial impact on residents.”

“Apartment buildings were built to code at the time and operators are facing changing climate conditions through no fault of their own,” said the letter from Fred Sutton, the group’s senior vice president of local public affairs. “There may be unintended consequences that departments and the Board of Supervisors should be aware of before drafting an ordinance. We respectfully request that a thorough and holistic study be conducted in competition with stakeholder feedback and before drafting an ordinance.”

But Californians largely supported the idea, according to a September survey by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Times. Sixty-seven percent of voters said they supported the concept of the state setting residential cooling standards.

And while the move could be expensive for building owners, environmental groups say it could save many lives.

“It is an important, meaningful step forward in developing these innovative protections for people at risk,” said Louis Blumberg, senior climate policy advisor at Climate Resolve.

Last year was the hottest year on Earth ever recorded, and temperatures are only expected to rise in the coming years. In July, Phoenix experienced a record 31 consecutive days with temperatures of 110 degrees or higher, and Death Valley

in California

rose to 128 degrees, a near world record.

The motion cited a 2021 Times investigation that found that deaths from extreme heat in the state are chronically undercounted, and that the number of heat-related deaths between 2010 and 2019 could be as high as 3,900.

That number could rise to 4,300 people per year by 2025, and 11,300 people per year by 2050 if heat waves worsen, according to projections from the California Department of Public Health.

“As human-induced climate change continues to alter our environment, heat waves in Los Angeles County continue to worsen,” the motion said. It notes that heat waves in California have become more frequent, longer and more intense over the past seventy years. The region is now


2 degrees warmer than in the 1950s, with an extra


4 tons


A warming of 5 degrees is expected in the coming decades.

But extreme heat is already deadly, contributing to more deaths than any other natural disaster, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Such conditions are often felt most acutely in low-income communities and communities of color, which have disproportionately low tree canopy and suffer from the urban heat island effect, which causes asphalt and pavement to absorb heat and push local temperatures up several degrees.

Blumberg noted that extreme heat also affects the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, who may have a harder time regulating their body temperatures.

“Heat is a serious threat, especially to a range of marginalized communities,” he said. “The problem will only get worse as the planet continues to warm.”

And while Climate Resolve experts support the motion, they also said there are ways it could be improved. First, more clarity is needed on whether a temperature range would be acceptable, or if there is a single limit, such as 82 degrees, Blumberg said.

Additionally, supplying refrigeration units is just one of many steps needed to ensure efficiency and results, he said. Older buildings in particular will need to be insulated and weatherproofed to prevent cool air from escaping. Planting trees is also essential to provide more shade and cooling throughout the region.

“Society needs a comprehensive, integrated approach to tackling extreme heat,” Blumberg said. “There are a lot of things that can and should be done, and they work together.”

The motion calls, among other things, for a phased approach, with recently built homes immediately subject to the maximum indoor temperature threshold, together with buildings undergoing substantial renovation. Existing buildings would be given more time to meet the threshold, with additional considerations based on the age of the building, the number of units and the landlord’s financial ability to comply, the motion said. Additionally, the motion calls for anti-displacement provisions to prevent landlords from passing on the costs of complying with the ordinance to tenants through additional fees, rent or other charges where possible, as well as updated tenant protections to ensure the practices are not cited as a reason considered dismay. County officials are charged with identifying potential funding streams and accessing federal and state resources to help implement the program, including providing assistance to small landlords and low-income tenants “who would be unnecessarily burdened by a renovation requirement,” the motion said.

California is considering setting state-level home cooling guidelines, and some opponents urged the administration to wait for that decision.

“This motion is extremely premature,” said Jesus Rojas, government affairs coordinator at the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, the board said Tuesday. He underscored the high cost of adding cooling to housing units, and said the administration should let state-level officials complete their research and develop any recommendations before moving forward.

“At a time when both owners and tenants are still struggling financially to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, this motion seems particularly insensitive and tone-deaf to the needs of LA County residents,” he said.

The state is also considering setting cooling standards for indoor workers. Previous reports have shown that in places like the Inland Empire, temperatures in warehouses can reach 90 degrees or higher.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is expected to vote on the issue as early as March.

“Part of the benefit of the county ordinance is that it encourages the state and supports that process, and creates momentum for action at the state level,” Blumberg said.

Such decisions cannot come soon enough, he said. California’s “heat season” starts in about 90 days.

“We could save lives,” Blumberg said. “These are preventable deaths.”


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