City Council Advances Air Conditioning Resolution

By Elizabeth Pagano | Thursday, September 7th 2023

This article was originally published by the Austin Monitor. To see the original post, click [here]( "Monitor: council approves push to make ac a requirement").

This summer, a stretch of hot, dry weather in Austin has tested everyone’s patience. The record-high heat has also posed a danger to those not lucky enough to feel the relief of air conditioning. A new City Council resolution looks to make sure that’s as few people as possible.

The resolution, approved by Council on Thursday, initiates amendments to the city’s Land Development Code that will require residential property owners to provide and maintain cooling systems able to keep habitable rooms “a temperature that is comfortable and less than the outside temperatures.”

“I think anyone that steps outside understands just how hot it is, and how we’ve had a really tough summer this year. And we can only expect more extreme weather events, as well as more extreme heat moving forward, especially with the worsening climate crisis that we’re in,” said Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who sponsored the resolution. “What this item seeks to do is codify and really bring up our language to ensure that, just like we have requirements around heating, we have requirements around AC units.”

“I think this will go a long way in educating Austinites on their rights,” she said.

Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services responded to more heat-related illnesses this year than last. The resolution notes that “paramedics have responded to 176 heat-related calls so far in July, according to the most recent data available, which averages out to about nine calls per day, compared with approximately eight calls per day in June, when 18 paramedics responded to 234 heat-related calls total.”

In addition, the resolution notes, at least 279 Texans died because of the heat in 2022; of those, 137 were resident deaths.

Jake Salinas, who is a legislative director for state Rep. Sheryl Cole, spoke in support of the resolution. This year, Cole – a former Council member and mayor pro tem – filed House Bill 2592, which would have guaranteed air conditioning in every apartment unit in Texas and sped up the process for repairing units in rentals from seven days (which is the current requirement) to five days.

“Our bill did not make it very far in the process, and we know this was in part due to opposition from the Texas Apartment Association. This is an issue our office is still working diligently on at the state level. Air conditioning is arguably the most important utility we can have here in Texas, and it will become even more important as our summers continue getting hotter and hotter,” Salinas said.

“The bill was inspired by a constituent of ours who reached out to me last summer and told me that they had been without air conditioning for a full week in the month of July,” he said. “Thanks to our office, and a KXAN investigation into the apartment complex, the constituent’s air conditioning was fixed. But it shouldn’t have had to have been this way, and it should have been much easier for the tenant to get their air conditioning fixed.”

Emily Blair, the Austin Apartment Association’s executive vice president, said in a statement to the Austin Monitor, “In this unprecedented heatwave we can appreciate bringing to the forefront a discussion about the physical health and safety of Austinites. There is an existing statewide code here in Texas that requires landlords to repair or remedy conditions that materially (affect) the physical health or safety of tenants.” The Austin Apartment Association is a local affiliate of the Texas Apartment Association.

She continued, “While the City is exploring the proposition of an ordinance such as this, it is imperative that existing standards are enforced and supported while carefully factoring in the potential housing affordability ramifications for within the rental housing community.”

Though there currently is no legislation requiring air conditioning statewide, Texas cities like Houston and Dallas have air conditioning ordinances in place.

In Houston, properties without screened windows are required to have habitable spaces that are “20 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the outside temperature or 80 degrees Fahrenheit, whichever is warmer,” according to the code.

In Dallas, the code states that “an owner shall provide and maintain in operating condition, refrigerated air equipment capable of maintaining a room temperature of at least 15 degrees cooler than the outside temperature, but in no event higher than 85 (degrees) in each habitable room.”

Though the resolution was approved by Council, it will not become law until it returns as an ordinance and goes through another vote. That vote is expected by August 2024, per the resolution.

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