Montgomery Co. panel amends bill on mandatory air conditioning for renters

A Montgomery County Council committee voted this week to amend a bill mandating that landlords provide air conditioning for rental tenants.

The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee voted on an amendment that would allow tenants to opt out of air conditioning in exchange for lower rent, the latest in a series of changes to a bill introduced in July.

Those in favor of the amendment argued that it gives tenants greater control over the terms of their leases, while opponents said it would toss aside health and safety concerns.

“When it gets to 100 degrees, and you have no A/C, and you have a senior or a young child — I don’t think we want to be in the position of saying that empowers a tenant,” said Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando.

A proposed Montgomery County, Maryland, bill would make air conditioning mandatory for rental housing, but now tenants can opt out to save on rent. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/tommaso79)

Committee Chair Hans Riemer disagreed, saying, “I have been that tenant who did not have air conditioning; I don’t know that I would have wanted to pay more.”

Bill 24-19, proposed by Council member Tom Hucker on July 16, would require landlords to provide and maintain air conditioning in rental housing during the summer months.

Under current Montgomery County regulations, landlords are not required to provide A/C, but must ensure provided air conditioning is operating properly.

“It’s a health and safety bill,” Jawando said. “To allow the tenant to opt out is to say to someone who’s low-income, ‘Hey, you can get this lower rent,’ and when it’s not hot out, that’s gonna sound like a pretty good deal.”

“This is where we’re trying to balance affordability and housing quality,” Riemer said.

The committee’s meeting was the third in a series of committee work sessions since late September to consider the specifics of the bill.

Previous sessions set the maximum allowable temperature at 80 degrees, clarified how the Department of Housing and Community Affairs would measure that temperature, and created exemptions for farmhouses, historical properties and single-family homes.

Jawando took time to reiterate his opposition to exempting single-family homes, saying the committee was taking away protections for a “vast, large number of people who rent.”

He suggested that topic would be revisited when the bill went before the full council.

WTOP’s Melissa Howell contributed to this report.

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